On Death and Dying

Do not go gentle into that good night

Old age should burn and rage at the close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light…

I’ve been told that tarot cards tell a story but it is up to you to write the ending.  I guess this works until the ending is inescapable and final, then they may very well predict that too.  I had a dear friend of mine pull a card for 2016 for me at the end of December.  The death card was the card that was drawn.  Generally, this card would mean that I would have some sort of transformation or something about my life would be reset or symbolically die to make way for new things, ideas, and directions.  Unfortunately, within two weeks I had lost one of my best friends from high school, a favorite uncle, and worst of all, my brother.  

I will be the first to say that I don’t think that this is a normal experience, but I will approach this card with respect and  reverence from now on.  That being said, this was a heartbreaking loss for me in many ways.  My brother had had a wretched decade.  He started out as a loan officer making a good living with a new wife, wonderful house, and young child and within ten years he had lost it all.  His job went first with the downturn of the economy, then his house, and when the money ran out, his wife left too.  He pulled himself together and retrained into a new field but could not find work for over a year.  Alcohol became his escape. He struggled to end this addiction with medication that was designed to make you sick if alcohol was consumed.  Unfortunately, he also became ill if someone was wearing a strong aftershave or perfume.  Somewhere in his darkest hour he turned to drugs.  I had no knowledge of this.  My brother died from methamphetamine abuse and subsequent kidney and liver failure. 

The day I saw him in the hospital was one of the worst days of my life.  He was always a big guy.  He stood 6 foot 4 inches tall and was well over 200 lbs. for most of his adult life. Sadly, in that hospital bed he was skin and bones.  He had lost patches of hair and was unshaven and gaunt with a ragged beard and yellow skin from jaundice.  I was shocked. My brother was strong and genuinely hilarious, how could he come to this? My visit to the hospital is a blur of memories.  One day we saw a doctor who practiced palliative medicine.  He told us that his probably should be wearing a black coat instead of a white one because he usually was the one to end life support.  Death was at the door again.  Incredibly, it was this doctor who told us that he didn’t give a damn what we wanted and he was an advocate for the patient.  He said we should give him time and a chance to pull through.  We did and he died anyway.  

Somewhere along the way he gave up on his life and slipped into the open and waiting hands of death. From a Pagan perspective death is a transition not to be feared.  It is a new beginning of sorts and a mystery to be respected.  My revelation during this whole experience is that I found I do not like that view of death.  Maybe it’s my typical cultural views of death that are to blame.  The western world doesn’t talk about death much and an untimely death is too awful to even consider.  Death is for the aged and decrepit, and even then, death is is to be shunned and fought against.  

The poem above basically sums up my very “unpagan” views of death and dying.  Dylan Thomas, a Welsh poet, who also struggled with alcoholism, financial ruin, and a bad marriage, who also succumbed to substance abuse, wrote about fighting to survive in the face of death.  He wrote of not succumbing to the peaceful release of death even though suffering may be at hand. Deep down, even considering all my very witchy, pagan views, I have had to come to terms with my belief that whatever has happened in your life, good or bad, you should not give up the struggle to live.  My trouble with my brother’s death lies in the realization that he was unwilling or just plain did not have the strength to “rage against the dying of the light…”  

Oh how I wish that you could have. You will be greatly missed.

And death shall have no dominion.

Dead man naked they shall be one

With the man in the wind and the west moon;

When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,

They shall have stars at elbow and foot;

Though they go mad they shall be sane,

Though they sink through the sea, they shall rise again;

Though lovers be lost love shall not;

And death shall have no dominion.

Dylan Thomas                   


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