Those who suffer from cancer (along with their families and friends) share camaraderie. There is an aspect of this experience, facing pain and death, which is much like being a war veteran. You don’t understand it until you personally faced it. As someone who knows people facing cancer, there is an aspect of cancer that has become apparent to myself.
Can someone live between life and death, in both the physical world and the spirit world at the same time? I believe this happens with many terminal cancer sufferers. The last words of Steve Jobs (who died of pancreas cancer) as he looked on his family were “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.” I believe he was glimpsing the reality beyond life, as is often described by those who had the near-death experience. But for Mr. Jobs there was no return.
Steve Jobs’s last words: ‘Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow’
As people slowly die, they may begin to walk between the worlds of the living and the afterlife. This is beginning to happen with my own brother. He has terminal kidney cancer. At first he was so fearful; he worried constantly. I would often talk with him to encourage and comfort him saying everything would work out. He asked how did I know? Well I didn’t; I just had hope. Those with cancer need hope for as long as there is life there is hope.
Now when I talk to my brother, he rarely mentions his cancer. We’ll debate politics or discuss what he is watching on television. As he fades away physically, his attitude has improved. I don’t understand how his previous fear has diminished the sicker he has become.
It has been a year since he has been diagnosed with this cancer. It now seems he has come into acceptance with his fate. It is a dreadful thing to know you will die, but then again we will all die. Since my brother is a Catholic his faith comforts him. He has discovered a grace, a spiritual dignity in the face of oblivion. I believe he is now beginning his journey between both life and death, existing in both simultaneously.
I had not expected this. I expected the closer death approached the more he would feel panic and dread, but that is not the situation. It is the opposite. He is doing fine. It defies all logic. My only explanation is that there is a special gift granted the dying if they accept it. One may coexist between life and death, even if we don’t exactly understand it.
I don’t know how much more time my brother has. It could be another month or another year. But he is so thin; his arms are like sticks. He mostly throws up his food as the tumor presses in on his stomach. He is fading away and I am profoundly saddened. But I am amazed by his courage. I am learning something by his experience and how he handles it. With the history of cancer in my family, the odds are I will get cancer myself one day. I am learning a lesson I don’t want.
My mother died a year ago, at the same time this late August. She had cancer of the pancreas. Which is pretty much a death sentence. She did not realize this until the biopsy, after which the doctor gave her two weeks to live. And that diagnosis was right on target…two weeks later she passed away.
People are justifiably terrorized by cancer. It is the most awful thing imaginable. I saw my mom turn yellow with jaundice, her bowels stopped moving, and she began to suffer unrelenting pain. To see your mom in torture is the most horrible experience I would not wish on anyone. But every day people face this fate along with their families.
Both my father and mother had a legal document created where they could deny extreme measures to prolong life. When my mom was in the hospital, they wanted to put her on life support. My dad gave them this document. Nothing was going to save her life, and both my mom and dad had the courage to accept her death.
We will all die, our only hope is that is comes peacefully. My mom was actually fortunate in that she had only a brief time with her disease. My father is a practical man. He experienced WWII in Europe as a child and saw many horrible things during the war, much death. My mom’s passing was harder then anything he knew, having to endure his beloved wife’s lingering death. And he had to hand over the document to end her life without extreme measures. That is a hard thing, a tough thing. Yet he did not want to see her suffer any more. Dad is a strong guy.
My father is an agnostic. He neither believes or disbelieves in a spiritual existence. Being a practical man, he said he will only know for sure when his time comes. Yet, my father told me that he believed mom visited him a week later after her death. He saw a pillar of light that slowly moved around him, with the scent of lilacs. Not being a person susceptible to illusions, I take this experience seriously.
The purpose of my blog, its mission statement, is to encourage people to hope in a spiritual existence, regardless of anyone’s religion or theology. All the stories I tell are true, names are changed in respect of privacy. If only one ghost story is true, if only one out-of-body experience is true, it means the spiritual world is not an illusion, but an objective reality. That is a comforting thought.
Here is my original story a year ago:
There is an interesting article in the May 2010 issue of National Geographic magazine, titled “Mexico’s Shocking New Saints”. The article deals with the cult of Santa Muerte, the saint named Holy Death. La Santa Muerte takes the form of Death, the grim reaper, a skeleton draped in a shroud holding a scythe or a globe of the earth. Here is the story:
Mexico’s Shocking New Saints
La Santa Muerte is a saint for outsiders, the poorest, the disenfranchised, and the criminal world of prostitutes, drug dealers, thieves and worse. For those who face death in a hostile world, like taxi drivers or security guards. I know nothing about this cult, but I do know something about people who live on the edge of existence. I’ve had acquaintances that were lost souls, people in trouble, those who fell into trouble with the law. These people are not necessarily evil, but mostly get into trouble because of poverty, stupidity, or substance abuse and addiction issues.
Regular Christians would consider the veneration of La Santa Muerte as devil worship. Yet, I can sort of understand why the spiritually lost would be attracted to La Santa Muerte. Ideally one could turn to any of the great spiritual traditions for salvation, so why embrace the grim reaper? If the dominant culture does not accept you, what to do? Invent your own spirituality.
Dance Of Death
Followers of la Santa Muerte claim they had prayers answered in her name. They actually believe in La Santa Muerte, it is not just a funky tattoo. In my previous post I mentioned how there may be spiritual powers available, which we all have access to, if we follow the process. These powers are neutral, available to any belief system. And they can be used for both constructive and destructive means.
Yet these spiritual powers do not exist in a vacuum. There are other spiritual laws too, including something similar to karma. What goes around comes around, and in the end we get what we deserve one way or another. The problem with veneration of a saint of Holy Death is that life has so much more to offer. We don’t have to accept our fate as it is. Any spiritual tradition can be positive or negative. Christianity had the crusades and the inquisition, Islam had its jihads. It seems like many people of faith throughout history worshiped Holy Death.
The image of Santa Muerte looks similar to the European version of the grim reaper. The classic image of the grim reaper is in the tarot, card number 13. Just like people would misinterpret the imagery of Santa Muerte, so would it be easy to misconstrue the meaning of tarot’s death card. The death card can mean physical death. But its real meaning is of the death of old ways, in other words…change. Most people don’t like change, fear change, resist change but for good or bad change is inevitable. And without change there cannot be renewal, rebirth and growth. We need to be flexible in the face of changing circumstances and adapt. That is the way of nature, of evolution. Species that cannot adapt perish. On a personal level, if we can’t adapt to a changing world, we falter.
An interesting component of the earlier versions of tarot’s death card is that it is shown not as a complete skeleton, but was a decaying cadaver. There is still flesh on those bones. The symbolism is clear…a state of transition is taking place. Decay leads to rebirth. The world is changing, adapt or perish.
After my mother died recently, my father had an extraordinary experience.
My mother had a strong attachment to family and home. She was a stay-at-home mom for most of her life. Family and home were the center of her life. A few weeks ago she passed away. After feeling a pain in her abdomen, she went for a scan. They found a tumor on her pancreas, the worst type of cancer. With a speed I thought not possible, she became ill and within weeks died in a terrible way, entering into a place of pain and suffering. I can only be thankful she did not suffer for long, which is very little to be thankful for.
This was very hard on my father, who cared for my mom the best he could, but was helpless as he watched the symptoms of the cancer rapidly progress. After over 50 years of marriage, my father was suddenly alone. My father is a no-nonsense guy, and not a religious man. He said he did not know if there is life after death, but he doubted it. However, he said he knew mom was not suffering anymore, even if she was only in oblivion.
Then a few days ago my dad told me his story. It was early evening, eleven days after my mom died. He was sitting in a basement room that was made into a little office. He was on his computer doing some stuff, when he noticed a bright light in the corner of his right eye, where the open doorway was. He turned a bit to look, when the light slowly moved behind him and to his left. He looked to his left and saw a bright pillar of light. The light was not on the wall, but in midair, and as tall as a person. As the light had passed behind him, a fragrance filled the room, of flowers and lavender, as if someone were wearing a strong perfume.
My dad said the scent reminded him of perfume my mom liked to wear as a young lady. The light was bright, lasted for a number of seconds, then faded away. But the fragrance lingered longer. Dad said he was overcome with a feeling of true peace. And he felt…not words, but some knowledge, as if mom impressed on him that she was ok now, and for him to “Go do your thing.” Go on with life.
When dad told me his story, I was amazed. He said he thinks mom visited him one last time before going on to wherever she is going. And that he’ll not see her again, until his turn comes.
I believe Mom had visited him one last time. Perhaps dad needed to know mom still exists, and there is hope for life after death. Dad seemed to have a change of heart about some things now. He seems more open to possibilities, and at peace after mom’s passing.
I’ve been thinking about funerary customs and the significance of the symbolism involved. The symbolism of the traditional Christian funeral is obvious. The Christian concept of the resurrection is reflected in the modern burial. The body is buried in a nice casket since there is the belief the physical body will be recreated on Judgment Day.
The purpose of embalming, dressing and using cosmetology on the deceased comforts the living. Dead bodies are scary things. Really, the trappings of the wake and funeral are for the living, not the dead. The flowers, music, the funeral procession are for those who remain.
I know some Bulgarians, and they have their own unique funeral traditions. A few years ago I was invited to a Bulgarian friend’s wake for his mother. It was held at a Bulgarian Orthodox Church in Chicago. I had never been to a Bulgarian Orthodox Church before so it was very interesting. The priest spoke in Bulgarian, but I was told it was a very old version of Bulgarian that Bulgarians today barely understand. The church’s characteristic religious iconography was in full display and was quite different from what one would see other churches.
Bulgarian Orthodox Church
Bulgarians believe another informal memorial service should be held 40 days after the wake, for the soul of the departed. After attending the original service, I was indeed invited 40 days later to their second memorial service. What about this idea of a 40 day mourning period? It is their tradition. Here is what this tradition means from what I have been told.
It is suggested that the dead may not necessarily depart the physical world immediately after death. The soul may linger, returning to the places were they lived and frequented during life. The departed may return to their daily routines and live the same life for a certain period of time because the soul cannot change itself so quickly. This is something new for the soul. Therefore the relatives and friends of the departed have to help the soul feel comfortable. During these 40 days, when there is a family dinner, a place should be left at the dinner table for the departed and a meal set-aside at his or her favorite spot. The family should continue to talk with the departed soul, so the soul will not feel frustrated that nobody is listening to them. Eventually during this time, the soul will understand nobody can hear what they say, and that things have changed. And they will come to understand they have to move on to their new existence beyond. During this time, the dead will gradually break free of their connection to life, and by the 40th day they will have departed the physical world to be united with God.
I was told of another tradition held in Bulgaria where a special cup of wine is often left at the tombstone. Also, there was a glass box with a candle inside. The glass box was used to prevent the candle from being extinguished. Every time a loved one visited the grave, they would replace and light the candle and refill the wine cup. These traditions are what the souls of Bulgarians expect. After death, the souls could become confused, and these traditions help guide the dead towards their final destiny.
These unique Bulgarian customs are not meant to only comfort the living, but to actually comfort the dead and guide them to accept their new existence. For them death is a gradual process, and they continue to communicate with the dead during that time. It is a very spiritual way to accept death. Is it a better approach then our modern commercial approach to funerals, where we bury and then try to forget?
My dad and I picked up my mom’s ashes from the funeral home yesterday. My dad chose a nice urn, a box patterned with flowers. He put it on a space beneath a painting of the Madonna my mom had painted many years ago (pictured above).
My mom and dad were married in 1953. Back then when they were dating, my mother lived with her grandmother, while my dad rented a tiny apartment elsewhere. They had dated for about a year when one evening my dad was lying down in his bedroom. He was startled to see my mom’s grandmother in the open bedroom doorway. She stopped at the door, looked at my dad with a sad look on her face, then left. Mom’s grandma was not in my dad’s apartment. My dad saw some sort of apparition. Three days after his experience, my mom’s grandmother died in her sleep of old age. My mom discovered her grandma dead and was in a panic attack. My mom and dad married shortly after her grandmother’s passing.
Did my father experience an apparition premonition in 1953? I’ve heard a number of such stories first-hand. Maybe it was an actual apparition, or a mental premonition of something that just happened or is soon to occur.
Over the decades my parents had their up and downs in their relationship like everybody else, but they stuck together through the good times and the bad times. When my mom was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer a few weeks ago, it was the worst of times. My father’s concern was that my mother would not suffer. I have now seen terminal cancer’s terrible consequences in my family, and it is an awful experience. I have personal sympathy with all who has gone through this ordeal.
Two nights after my mom passed away, my dad way lying in bed asleep, when something awoke him. He said it felt like someone was touching, holding his hand, which was laid out on the bed. He suddenly awoke and was startled by the physical sensation, as if someone had physically moved his fingers.
He thought maybe mom visited him one last time, to let him know she was ok. I think that is what happened. Mom wanted dad to know everything was fine, don’t worry about her anymore. We don’t have to worry about the dead they are at peace. Worry is only for the living and those who remain.
A month ago my mother felt a pain in her midsection. My dad took her for a CAT scan. The doctors found something that did not look good on her pancreas. A biopsy was scheduled. A week later they took a sample. When the results came back, they said my mom had maybe two weeks to live. I got this news while driving home from work and I could not believe it. I believed that as long as we live, there is hope, and anything is possible. My mom survived colon cancer from twelve years ago, when she was given only six months to live.
This time, the two weeks to live was accurate almost to the day. My mom got her first chemo treatment Tuesday August 18. She did not live to make it to her next Tuesday chemo treatment. Over the weekend she got too weak for my dad to care for her, and he called an ambulance to take her to the hospital. In a few days, on Monday August 24 she passed away.
I am in shock how cancer can kill so fast. The only comfort is her end came quickly and she did not linger in pain for long. Many people who suffer from cancer suffer a terrible, awful ordeal for months.
I believe in a spiritual existence, and my mother is now in peace. I don’t worry about my mom anymore, she is fine now. I now have to worry about my dad. Mom and dad have been married for over 50 years. I have to keep an eye on my father, and make sure he handles being alone, and adapts to a new chapter in his life.
Death personified in Ingmar Berman's Seventh Seal
I’ve been away from blogging the past couple of weeks. My mom has been diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas, liver and lung. So I‘ve not been in a blogging mood lately. I wrote about how my mum survived colon cancer 12 years ago, with the aid of serious vegetable juicing. Back then she was given 6 months to live, but survived against all odds. Recently she had her annual scan and was free of any sign of cancer. Now it suddenly emerged form nowhere. I find it grimly ironic and sad that after I blogged about how my mother survived cancer, it returned.
I have a friend who is a certified Pentecostal minister and another friend who is a pagan active in his local pagan community. Both had prayers/healing rituals sent towards my mum. I think Pentecostals and Pagans are both magical people in their own unique way. Thank you Lettrice and Jamie.
Is it possible to cheat death? Do we all have a time to die, set in stone, and nothing we can do will avoid it? Do we have a date stamp on our lives, with an expiration date?
I wrote about a dear friend of mine who died of cancer. How I hate cancer! During an operation he nearly died and he had an out-of-body, near-death experience. At the end of this experience, a Voice told him “You have to go back, it is not your time yet.” He survived for three more years before his cancer returned and took him down. Back then we’d talk about his experience, and what was meant by “It’s not your time yet.” This suggests we all have our time to perish and nothing we do will avoid it.
However, is it still possible to cheat death?
Can destiny and free will coexist? Maybe our lives are like a movie. Our past, present and future already co-exist. Just like watching a movie, we live in the present. But like a movie, there is a conclusion that we have not reached yet. How else to explain phenomena like premonitions…glimpses of a few frames ahead?
I say we can cheat death, if only temporarily. Our choices in the present create our future. If our lives are like frames in a movie, then we are, to some extent, the director of our lives. If we have a set time to die, we don’t have only one expiration date, but many possible dates depending on our choices in life. Like a loaf of bread in the grocery store, we can pick the loaf with a later expiration date if we take the time to read the labels. We can choose to live an unhealthy or risky lifestyle that will put us on one life track with its own expiration date. Or we can live a life of good habits changing our personal expiration. This is all obvious.
However, there is always the possibility of random chance emerging. The chaos of life. A disaster, a car crash, an accident, an unexpected illnes, something that has nothing to do with our personal choices outside of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. If lifestyle choices can cheat death to some extent, can we also cheat the Grim Reaper when it comes chance and luck?
I’d suggest this might also be possible, if we develop and listen to our intuition. If life is a movie, we might change the ending if we have a glimpse of the outcome. I think this happens far more often then anybody realizes. Everyday someone senses something is amiss, and acts differently. Don’t go there, don’t do that. Avoid being at the wrong place at the wrong time. And some people seem to gravitate to being at the wrong place and time like a magnet, attracting endless trouble into their life. Do we want to go down that dark alley? It can often be a fatal choice. My family seemed to cheat death in 1967.
If we listen to our instincts, and sharpen our intuition, maybe we can cheat death (and other misfortune) for a time.
When it comes to cancer, can we still cheat death? It reminds me of the classic Ingmar Berman film, the ‘Seventh Seal’, where a knight is playing a chess game with the personification of Death. If the knight loses the game, Death claims him. The film suggests we have some control over our life’s chessboard, if only for a short time and as far as it goes. We all lose in the end; the point is to keep playing the game. We have to be a fighter and not be passive when the Reaper is knocking on our door.
In the end, we do all have our day, sooner or later. Death is a part of life; we can hope it is later and painless. I just hope my mom will be ok. I love my mom.