Knock, Knock, Knocking

heaven door

“This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet.” Rumi

Life is all about change.  In our day to day world it is easy to forget that fact.  We go about our days thinking the same thoughts, doing the same things, slight variations of a constant stream of sameness.  It brings comfort and lulls us into a false sense of security.  We nestle into our routines and create a nice, comfortable illusion for ourselves.

But then something happens and that illusion is shattered.

Which brings us to last week.  Message received from Mom:  Dad is in the hospital with multiple pulmonary embolisms (emboli?) and while she ensures that everything is fine, I decide to hop a flight anyways, to see for myself. What, me worry?

*SPOILER ALERT*

He is fine.  I am happy to report that through the magic of blood thinners and after a week in the hospital they sprang him and he is back to his former self, only better because now he can breathe.  Which is important.

But for a while there he was knock knock knocking on heaven’s door. He actually came close enough to the other side that he had a peek at it.  As he was laying in the hospital his first day in, he had a couple of visitors show up.  His parents.  They stood there in his room, smiling, dressed in their best going to town clothes and looking to be in their early thirties, which is cool because they’ve been dead for quite a long time.  Dad reported later that he had the thought that he must be passing over and that they had come to meet him.  He claimed to have no fear at all, just a sense of comforting recognition. And then Mom walked into the room and they disappeared.

Exit not taken, for which I am sincerely grateful. Back off Grandma and Grandpa… we are keeping him here.

Dad’s experience reminded me of a book I had read not long ago by David Kessler, called Visions, Trips and Crowded Rooms.  David Kessler is a hospice expert and through many years of working with the dying came to realize that a very large portion of those in their end days had similar experiences.  Upon further inquiry with other healthcare professionals, David managed to compile accounts of the phenomena that people seem to experience at the end of their lives.  While each experience is unique to the individual there seem to be three distinct themes.

The first is Visions.  Many people in their final hours or days will have visions of another place or of deceased friends or relatives popping in for a visit.  The visions while unique to each person all seem to have one thing in common. They are comforting, bringing a peaceful exit that seems devoid of fear.  Having that peek across to the other side and seeing the beauty and love that awaits takes the fear out of death for both the dying and the bereaved who are left behind.

The second phenomena is that the dying, in their final days, will often make reference to taking a trip.  They will talk about waiting for a bus or train or ship.  They will sense the need to prepare, get packed and ready to leave.  The metaphor of dying as a journey to another place is made manifest in these visions that many of the dying share.

The third shared experience common among the dying is the sense that the room becomes crowded.  Many of those at the end of their lives will talk about the crowds of people standing about.  When asked to identify the people in the crowd it seems that they are the deceased friends and relatives of the person getting ready to pass over.  Must be one heck of a party when the dying person finally joins all of them.

The medical and scientific communities have long sought to ignore these events, chalking them up to oxygen deprivation or hallucinations brought on my drugs or a dying mind, but there is a growing movement of researchers determined to bring these experiences into the light.  Latest studies put the frequency of visions and phenomena upwards of 90%.  That seems a mighty big coincidence, don’t you think?

It is comforting to realize that there is nothing to fear in dying. If anything these experiences make me understand that death is a sacred  part of life.  Taking fear out of death and dying helps to take the fear out of life and living.  At death the veil lifts and the dying see that they are surrounded by crowds of loving beings.  It makes me wonder.  Have they been there all along, walking with us through life, whispering , laughing, cajoling and comforting?  I think so.  Yes.

At Steven Jobs’ funeral his sister eulogized him.  She talked about his final words as he passed from life to death.  His words really do say it all:

“Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.”