Death the Great Adventure – by Janice Dolley
Death the Great Adventure (part 1) by Janice Dolley
We are living in a time of great change in which our horizons are expanding in many directions. One of these directions is that our ideas about death are changing as we release the mediaeval ideas of death, the dust to dust and ashes to ashes in the liturgy and the Victorian ideas of the black solemnity of grief. Understandably an increased fear of death has been evident during the pandemic. We mostly all love this life even if it has challenges but in this article I’d like to show how our ideas about death and dying are currently expanding.
We are beginning to see life as an ongoing series of big adventures which we can engage in whilst we are here in this material reality as well as in the reality we enter into when we die.
We all know we are going to die and that very likely we will experience the passing of loved ones. In no way am I dismissing the experience of bereavement and what this means. My own beloved husband and soul companion of 65 years passed 18 months ago and so I really do know what this sort of loss can mean. My expanding ideas of death did help carry me through at the time and one just has to learn to live with the waves of grief and the challenge of taking up the share of the practicalities that were once theirs. It is not easy.
When I was young, my favourite play at the theatre was Peter Pan. My parents took me to see it so many times, not the Disney version I hastened to add, so I know and understand when James Barrie had Peter say “to die must be a very great adventure.” He may have been linked with Alice Bailey as one of the books that she was writing through the Master Dwal Kuhl at that time was called “Death the Great Adventure”, and this was one of the talks that Sir George Trevelyan used to give. We are slowly understanding that we are not our bodies, and our consciousness does not end when our brain ceases to function. I’ll quote from Sir George
“it is essential that we recognise that we are not our bodies but that as eternal beings we live through time ridden bodies. These in the end are shed like a worn out overcoat “
So my ideas about death were already expanding when, in my early 40s, I experienced the death of my own beloved father. I knew he was not well and had gone to stay with my sister who is a homoeopath in Lincolnshire while my mother took a much-needed break from caring for him. I was in church for the confirmation of our one of our daughters when suddenly there he was, standing in front of me and I was filled with an absolutely incredible sense of joy. I thought ‘How could Pop be here if he has not died, or if he has died how could I been feeling so much joy?’ When I got home my sister rang to say that he had died.
The following week he was so very present. We had some amazing conversations and our home seemed to enter another space with him entirely. So please do remember that the first week after someone has passed is very special and rather than rushing to practicalities just spend time absorbing the death and being available to be with them as they journey on.
Following this I did have a few brief visits from friends who had passed who all said something similar: “please tell my husband, or wife, that I am fine.” One of these was from a confirmed atheist!
This brings me to the death of Ursula. We had written books together. Our first was published in 1984, “Christian Evolution: Moving towards a Global Spirituality”. It was quite a risk as it broke through several fixed beliefs at that time, although it would be seen as ‘old hat’ now. She and I sort of knew that we might write together after one of us had died. She was ten years older than myself and developed an inoperable cancer and had the diagnosis three months before her death when she was 69 years old. We had shared a passion for opening up church thinking. I was working full time with the Open University so could only care for her at weekends while another friend Joyce Ferne cared for her during the week. So, on a Friday evening, I used to fly to Edinburgh and return on a Sunday evening. After one weekend I was working at home Monday and Tuesday and at midday on the Tuesday Joyce rang to say that she had passed, so I speedily packed a small bag, drove to Heathrow and jumped on a plane to Edinburgh where she was living. I had scarcely settled in my seat with my bag overhead but, as usual, with a pen in my hand, when to my complete surprise she appeared. I could see her with my inner eye clearly. She looked younger and radiant and this is some of what she said. The rest is in my book “Awakening to a New Reality: Conscious Conversations across the Horizon of Death”.
“I can see what you’re thinking, I can see thought.”
“How are you feeling?” I asked
Fine, a bit shaky but fine. It’s freedom glorious freedom. It’s all very new as you can appreciate, but I’m glad we have established a connection so early on, we’ll use this for the real work later. In the meantime just be with it, the apparent separation I mean. Be with me or what was me, the part I’ve left behind along with it the body. I feel I’ve left my ordinariness, all those everyday needs and concerns which we all have which is so restricting but necessary. You know how I used to fret at the limitations, well I can see that this is exactly what they are, limitations imposed as part of the conditions of learning through what we have called life, But that’s a misnomer. Life is so much more. Can you imagine limitless breath, space, light, purity, freedom, knowing who one truly is? We’ve talked about how it might be but this is much, much more than we imagined. You have the possibility of freedom to be where you are now. This is what we were working towards. If you can be where you are and I know I am being where I am then the way between us is easy. I can’t quite focus on the writing as yet but I know that it will come and that you will be given time to receive. There’s enough of my scribble to keep you going. Take what you need from the flat now and get your friend to start on the typing up.”
I have focused on this first conversation because I think a key thing I would like to stress is her words “I can see thought I can see what you are thinking,” and this is also what my husband said when I awoke and realised he had passed next to me in the night , “I can see what you are thinking”. He had been a wonderfully supportive husband and often typed up writing for me, giving it back to me saying “there you are but I don’t understand a word of it.” But now he did! A friend in Canada who was tuned in e-mailed me to say that she saw he was now delighted to experience “what you women had been on about all the time”. We have four daughters who were all on the same page as myself so at times he must have felt a little confused. It seems that as our physical bodies drop away, we experience another reality in an energy body of some kind which seems to them as real as our bodies seem to us now.
We kept Ursula’s body at home for three days as she had asked and Ursula said that her body felt like an anchor she could return to for a bit. It was also lovely having my husband’s body at home for the first three days, and we took it in turns to be with him and support his ongoing journey.
Another experience was that recently I took part in a zoomed version of a funeral service of the husband of a friend. He peeped into me several times and then when the priest was saying “in the hopes of eternal life in heaven”, he chuckled and said “she doesn’t realise I’m there already!”
My husband never spoke about what happens after death but I did ask Ursula and she said “Death is liberating. At first there’s a mixture. Bewilderment, slightly, even though one has been expecting it but then liberation, freedom. Even from a fit and healthy body I think you would feel this but from a sick or elderly body it really feels like true liberation from limitation. You can step and dance, breathe freely and feel joy all around. Then comes the adjustment. That bit is not so easy. There is a kind of review process that comes after a recovery period to get used to a new space. It’s like one relives every single detail of one’s life – details that you could not possibly remember on earth. At the same time, you see reasons for things, how such and such fitted into a pattern, how one’s own lacks, limitations of understanding even down right obstinacy in my case impeded a holy, natural flow.”
A key thing to say at this point is that there is no judgement from God or any place else and that as we go through this life review and can see all the things that we have done or not done and the effects for good or ill on others, there is a kind of self -judgement as we see the effect of some of the choices we have made. We are likely to be met by those we love who have already passed and are cared for in an atmosphere of love and forgiveness. It seems that intention is what moves us on to new experiences, so Ursula had a key intention to convey to me some of what she now understands and to give to me a higher perspective on our life here. My husband’s intention seemed to be to support his beloved family. For example, we had many hours debating the burial, funeral or whatever celebration we might have. Then my husband told me so clearly just what to arrange!
He still seems around when we gather. Then about five months later our youngest daughter who lives in Ireland had pneumonia following what I think was an early Covid and was struggling a bit so I asked him if he could help her. I did not tell her this but the next day she rang and said she had so strongly felt the presence of Dad that she could almost feel his hand holding hers.
So, it seems that it is thought that carries us forward for the ongoing journey. Can it be that the thoughts and prayers of others are really important at least in the early stages? Space and time as we know it are very different in the here-after, and I am sure the next adventure calls them just as it does us.
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