reflections on working with the living & the dead

The year has flown by and here we are, again, at that time when so many of the world’s people turn their attention to the dead. Samhain, Dia de los Muertos, All Soul’s Day, All Saint’s Day, Festival of Hungry Ghosts (recently passed) – each one is different, but they each share some similar elements, and sometimes similar activities, such an making offerings or prayer.

Connecting with a deceased loved one is possible, no matter whether you engage in hypnosis, dreaming, deep prayer, imaginal journeying, altar-making, or use a black mirror, the fire place, quartz crystals, or what-have-you. Regardless of the object used or state induced, even a brief connection can hold tremendous meaning for those grieving or for those simply wanting to remember. My most preferred methods are dreaming and hypnosis, as both have offered positive experiences along with profound and memorable results. Any method, tool, or nonordinary conscious state can be accessed individually, but group work also holds promise, especially with an experienced therapist, medicine person, or guide.Il tavolo

One potent ritual involves constructing an altar. While I currently offer altar-making in individual psychotherapy sessions, many years ago, I co-led an altar-making and process group with another therapist. The attendees comprised of teenagers and pre-adolescents with unresolved grief/loss issues from loosing a parent or family member to ‘the life’ – a term referring to street life, addiction, overdose. Even though some of the participant’s parents died during the participant’s early childhood years, there was no shortage of memorabilia, stories, or recollections. The act of constructing the altar itself elicited spontaneous memories of shared experiences that were previously believed to be forgotten. By this, I mean that when asked directly to share a story from long ago, many children could not produce one, however, that all changed when they entered this collective ‘sacred’ container, or space, where the memory of the deceased was very much alive. Near the end of the weeks-long process, the attendees reported that the experience left them feeling closer to the deceased loved one, and this turned tears into smiles. Gratitude and peace were married in this new way of remembering.

Large-scale community altar-making has also left an impression. I participated in these activities in Arizona. I discovered that community bonds strengthen in meaningful ways when people join together to make offerings, blessings, or witness one another in prayer to deceased loved ones. These sizable collective altars were modifiable and continued to expand for days. They were multi-cultural in the truest sense. While I am no longer an Arizona resident, I still know the ritual continues, and I sit here in California today, Nonnityping this, shifting through recollections.

At this time, as I turn my attention to the dead, seven female elders immediately come to mind: Mary, Anne, Eva, Florinda, ‘Nonni’/Netta, Maria, and Censina. I feel so fortunate to hold a clear memory of each one, even though most of them (and their spouses) transitioned when I was still a child. Also at this time, I add extra flowers, fresh water, and dust off the prayer cards on the family altar that stands year-round in my home. If I am extra lucky, I will get a visit…who knows, maybe even in tonight’s dream.

 

May the veil be thin,

Kim

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