Ceremony at Death: Do Nothing

Ceremony at Death: Do Nothing

In the Presence of Death: Using ceremony to explore mindfulness in the journey of dying, death, and the years following, in this 9-part series

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How do you stay present in an out-of-time time?

Someone you care about has just died. Perhaps you’ve been at the bedside, in the vigil watching her move into actively dying, taking the ragged last breaths as she leaves her body. Now, she’s still as a statue, without animation, without life.

Or perhaps you get a phone call that this person who matters in your life has died. Expected, or unexpected, it is a thunderous shock, even if it’s days after the actual moment of death.

Wherever and whenever you are when the reality that she’s gone finds you, what kind of ceremony can hold these first moments of shock? How do you stay present in an out-of-time time?

If you can remember one thing when you may not even remember your own name, try to summon this: Do Nothing.

For an hour, stop and breathe.

This can be a challenge, because when we learn the news, there’s often a rush of adrenalin and strong emotions. We want to do something, immediately.

Try to remember to ‘hurry up and do nothing.’ Death is not an emergency, though it certainly can feel that way. Death is a finality. And yes, there’s much to be done afterward. But for now, allow yourself to just be with your feelings.

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At the bedside, sit with the newly dead, and take it in. If there are doctors and nurses and machines, ask for an hour alone, and the quiet of no beeps and bells. The quiet of no suffering from the bed. Just be in the presence of death. Touch your dead one. Sit in silence or talk or cry or laugh. Whatever surfaces.

If you are not present with the dead person, try not to instantly spring into action. Pull the car over and stare out the window. Sit quietly in your favorite chair, light a candle, and breathe. Go outside and lay in the grass, and watch the clouds move by in the sky, like your emotions. Give yourself the time to do nothing.

What to do when you learn someone close to you has died:

  1. Stop for an hour
  2. Breathe
  3. Light a candle if possible
  4. Allow your feelings to unfold
  5. Cry, sing, share, listen, hug, laugh, reflect, be silent – whatever fits for you
  6. Drink water

Here are some poems you could look at in this time. Even if you might think you don’t care for poetry, it can be a surprisingly soft place to help hold what cannot otherwise be expressed.

To Those Who Are Crushed By Mourning

Those who are worn out and crushed by this mourning,

let your hearts consider this: This is the path that has existed from the time

of creation and will exist forever.

Many have drunk from it and many will yet drink.

As was the first meal, so shall be the last.

May the master of comfort comfort you.

Blessed are those who comfort the mourners.

-- Jewish blessing

Find ‘At Death’ readings, poetry, and prayers on the, a resource co-edited by Funeral Director Amy Cunningham and Funeral Celebrant Kateyanne Unullisi.

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