Tag Archives: chant

Dancing With Death

Death, grief and the end of life, have been major themes in my life recently. Last week a 23 year-old man collapsed at the Pittsburgh Marathon and became its first casualty. Friends and family were shocked, there had been no personal or family history to indicate his risk, and the story became international news. “Such a young man, such a terrible tragedy,” people chanted to one another.  Afterwards doctors discovered an undetected heart defect, most likely present from birth, but with no warning signs, the man had no reason to suspect his vulnerability.


A few days later I received an email from a former high school boyfriend’s wife that after successful back surgery he had collapsed in his hospital room and medical personnel were unable to revive him. We had recently reconnected through the Internet and exchanged a series of emails. A couple of days before his wife’s email, I had received an envelope in the mail from him with a photo of the two of us, fifty years ago, formally dressed for a school dance. His comment, “Where did all those years go?”   

Yesterday, a friend left a message on my cell phone. A mutual acquaintance, probably younger then either of us, is in her last hours. She had been fighting cancer but the call was a request for prayers to help her cross peacefully. I could respond to that request. As a mother of two adult children who have predeceased me, I have had the honor of being present at this ceremonial time, and I know it to be holy. In fact, when death comes too swiftly, it can be hard to not have the time to say goodbye.

bell2.imagesWe don’t admit it often out loud, but death is one of life’s few certainties. It’s lessons include an encouragement to savior life, every beautiful, terrible moment of it, and to learn to dance with the uncertainty of when, as John Donne suggested, the bell will begin tolling for thee. 

A Healing Ritual at Serpent Mound

It was a trek, as all spiritual journeys are, with five of us traveling six hours from Pittsburgh in my SUV. The Serpent Mound is in southern Ohio, not far from Cincinnati and my friend Vikki Hanchin’s recent book, The Seer and the Sayer http://www.amazon.com/The-Seer-Sayer-Revelations-Earth/dp/1452557276 told of her experiences there. So twenty or so of us set out to see for ourselves this jewel of Midwestern archeology. A world-class expert on the 5 to 6 thousand year-old effigy mound, Ross Hamilton, would be meeting us there.Serpent-Mound-panohttp://www.ohiohistory.org/museums-and-historic-sites/museum–historic-sites-by-name/serpent-mound

After the final hour’s roller coaster-like approach over hill and dale, on serpentine curves through fields and farms, Vikki’s stomach was talking to her, but not in a good way. Once we arrived, another passenger, a Reiki practitioner, began working on Vikki but each time she relaxed into the process she began to cry. It became clear she was tuning in to a sorrow beyond her own skin. When she told Mr. Hamilton of this, he shared that a few minutes before, he and his wife had learned of a dear friend’s daughter having been killed the previous night, crossing the highway near the Mound. A few minutes later when we began preparing for our Serpent Mound ceremony Vikki suggested, “We can help this family with our prayers,” and this death of a child shaped the ritual we were to do at the site.

imagestwowomengrief One of the participants, a Mohawk grandmother and friend of the family, taught us the chant her people sing to assist someone in their crossing. We began chanting to the young girl whose life had ended, suddenly and prematurely, the previous night.  As the ritual progressed, I began thinking of the girl’s mother and grandmother, and, having lost two of my own adult children, I felt called to do something for them. I brought to the group my need to call the names of these women, now in the midst of their unbearable loss.

I thought of what had helped me to heal and I taught the group a dance and chant developed by my Texas women’s spirituality group.  The movements begin as a spiraling of the hips, rocking back and forth as women do when comforting a child on their hips. “We are women, we grow out of the earth; beautiful, powerful and wise.”  The movements in the second verse repeat but the words change, as they did when I accompanied my friend Rose at her crossing. “We are women, we go back to the earth; beautiful, powerful and wise.”

After completing the chant and dance I felt a strong reassurance in my body that my book, currently in press, Warrior Mother, Fierce Love, Unbearable Loss and Rituals That Heal would be helpful to other families dealing with grief and loss.