Keeping the Vigil

As Winter blankets much of the land with snow, I wanted to share something I wrote while I sat at my Grandmother’s beside as she lay dying on December 10, 2011. I share this with you because I know of others who have been in this situation, are in this situation, and are searching for meaning and comfort. I found at the time that there really was not much information out there as I had hoped on this path, but I found great wisdom in the experience of others and in writings from different traditions.

Since then I have found several books and other sources and am researching for a workshop that I will teach at this year’s Pagan Picnic – Journeying with Death: A Shamanic Perspective on the Death and Dying Process (workshop details may be found at!/events/124170244418083/?fref=ts).

Part of the below writing includes a beautiful quote from The Prophet Kahlil Gibran. In addition, I wrote an article for the Samhain 2012 issue of Temple Bell, which is the Temple of Witchcraft’s online quarterly newsletter, to which I have been a regular contributor. It talks about the journey in helping my Grandmother cross to the other side of the veil.

There was another writing that also helped me as I sat vigil with my Grandmother and helped her to crossover. It is called simply “The Caregiver’s Journey,” and I have included it at the end of this writing as well. It was written by someone who was that caregiver for their loved one.

I plan to add a writing in keeping with the transition from Winter to Spring/Ostara, death and rebirth, as Awen kissed me with a gift this morning, but for now, I wanted to share this with you. To all those who are grieving, know that there is no judgment in grief, you will experience it in your own unique way, in grief’s own time, as it keeps no timetable but its own. Honor your unique journey while the divine Spirit, the Lord and Lady, hold you safe in their arms.


Keeping the Vigil
December 10, 2011

Last night after leaving the nursing home somewhere around 2 a.m., I did sleep. Lots of dreams, and all related to my Grandmother, Margaret Lucille Kilpatrick. In one dream, I was under this huge tree, and a flock flew up. At first I thought it was bats, but it was owls. About 20 owls landed in this tree. Many paired up and held out their winged hands to the others. One was by itself watching the rest. I have to wonder if that one owl was for Grandma, waiting to help her cross.

I know that my Grandma has always loved birds. Birds of all kinds. She painted ceramics for years and painted every kind of bird imaginable – all beautiful, of course. Owl has been one of my guides and is an ally of mine. It and hawk sit at my solar plexus. Last night, though the room was set at 70 degrees, I was also cold, which is unusual for me. I had to wonder – were there visitors coming to greet my Grandma already that were making the room cold in spots? Yet, she was warm under the extra blankets I had brought in for her.

I thought I saw a few around her, but even with my awareness and ability to see, sometimes I will still question it as wishful thinking or imagination. But I have started to feel more. Dad and I took the final version of her obituary that I helped Mom with this week, to the funeral home. I could feel the spirits all around, saw and heard many of them. So why do I doubt what I see and feel in this room? It is because my heart is too close to it. Or, perhaps, because allowing myself to see it all on some level might be too emotionally difficult, and I have a responsibility to be here in the moment and be here for her with strength and peace. As I type these words, I have goosebumps rushing into my crown and through my body.

As I sit here with my Grandmother this beautiful, sunny afternoon of the full moon/lunar eclipse earlier this morning, she has declined eating or drinking anything. I think she is done now with food and liquids. So we sit. Her breathing is labored…it speeds…stops….slows…pauses. Yet, somehow, she is at peace. Loving, peaceful, comforting light surrounds her from the divine. My guides are here. She knows I am here, she spoke to me once with one request. Otherwise, today, her responses are slight movements of her head only. Speaking is too much effort.

I started surfing the internet for more understanding, in addition to the understanding I have been seeking from the divine. I think Grandma is lucky in so many respects, in addition to her fabulous 98 year life, in that her wishes are being honored. She will have a natural and beautiful crossing. As I searched for information, I came across a site with spiritual readings for vigils, and I have copied in just one below.

Recently, I have had many conversations with the Apple Tree and the Opossum, for those who have been watching my posts. The idea of the Mystery in Silence. One sentence struck me in the below – well, admittedly, so many did. But this one is “Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.”

And isn’t that listen to the really what it is all about? Your soul sings when it sees the mystery and it finds the answer to the mystery in silence. And really, isn’t death the ultimate silence? The moment in time when you truly listen and hear the sounds of your own soul. All the experiences you have had in life, combined with that knowledge, result in unlocking the mysteries at the moment of death. The ultimate in “ah-ha” moments, if you will.

And maybe that is what helps with the comfort and peace as well at the time of crossing over. Thinking of the tiniest moments like that by comparison, in ritual or in those private, quiet moments, when you feel that you truly see – this is that multiplied and manifested into a level that we cannot comprehend in this life, until we are in the moment. That my friends, is why they call it the Mystery.

And so we sit…

“Then Almitra spoke, saying, We would ask now of death. And he said:

You would know the secret of death. But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heath of life? The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light. If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life. For life and death are one, even as the river and sea are one.
In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond; and like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring. Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.

Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honor. Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king? Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?

For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.”

The Prophet
Kahlil Gibran
Walker & Company
Phoenix Press, 1923

The Caregiver’s Journey
source: – author unidentified.

The caregiver has given time and love in ways that people see and respect, even if they do not fully understand. But the caregiver has received “gifts” from the dying person: trust and love of a kind rarely experienced, and the dying experience itself. It is all of this and something more that the caregiver receives. In trying to explain what it is about, one man offered the following analogy that he referred to as “The Journey.”

Imagine helping a friend on a journey to a remote monastery perched on top of a mountain. As you begin your trip, the path is fairly clearly marked and the goal easily seen in the distance. But as you approach, the monastery is often obscured by the tops of trees in the forests through which you pass. And you say ” if only we could get out of this woods, we would be able to see the monastery again and see where we’re going.” And as you continue the climb, the path fades and much is accomplished by guesswork. You call on your friend for help. After all, this is his trip and he should know what he’s doing. But he becomes older and weaker and relies more on you moment by moment.

Things get worse. You lose the path and you are tired and hungry. But, he can not proceed alone and you can’t leave him on the mountain while you return to the warmth and safety of home. So, you find a new reserve of strength, enough for both of you, and you continue up the mountain, for now it is your journey, as well. You look at yourself anew and find that you have gown older, become more mature like your friend, and you accept this as part of the mutual trip. And in accepting your role as guide you find that you are guided, that your friend, whose legs have crumpled beneath him by now, offers you wellsprings of courage and hope. You drink deeply, for you realize that if either of you are to make it to the top, it will need both of you guiding and supporting the other in ways constantly changing and unimaginable.

One day when you least expect it, the heavy cedar gates of the monastery are suddenly dead ahead. The trip had become the whole purpose, it seemed, and the monastery forgotten. But there it stands: Your friend’s objective has been reached The door opens to admit your friend and, as if you had performed the ritual many times before, you hand your friend over the threshold. The door closes, and you stand there numb, alone, bewildered.

Out of habit you continue walking. It doesn’t seem to matter in what direction, for each of the possible paths lead back down from the mountain.

The trip down seems easier than the trip up was. The mountain holds few surprises, now, and there is ample time to sit and ponder before reaching the valley below. And somehow in reviewing the trip with your friend, its moments of desperation and fear are overshadowed by the times of giving and accepting, of sharing and journeying together.

Memory of the monastery fades and in its place stand crystal images of points along the upward trek. There was the time you picked him up and carried him across the rocks when his strength failed. And there was the time when you slipped and lost your grasp, but he held you up and supported you with the power of his mind. There was something special in those moments, something, which if you could string all of those images together in just the right order, that then, maybe then, you would understand.

As it is, you return to the valley a different person, quieter and stronger, knowing only that you have been a part of something …. holy. This friend shared with you his most personal possession, his death. And though you can’t quite comprehend its true value, you find yourself hoping that you will have the ability to fully experience and share your final journey with another wayfarer to whom you can pass on crystal images.

Deep gratitude and celebration are the order of the day for those of us who are called to assist in this challenge. The suffering, remember, is found only in our refusal to let go, only when we refuse to go through the pain and move to the other side. We get through by going through. The rewards are wonderful: the joy and blessings that come from extending the self beyond its own comfort zone; the knowledge we gain of life and death; the love that is lost and found again on a higher plane; and the areas of awareness that are opened. Grief is a healing process to be welcomed and not feared, for when it is allowed to go its own course unobstructed, it will fill with wonder the void that the loss created.

Blessed be.

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