Back to Blog

The Open Heart of Death

celtic death reindigenization Jan 07, 2023

A dear friend of mine has imparted to me the concept of re-indigenization, a return to balance with nature through the reintroduction of the indigenous philosophies, rituals and customs of my ancestors. 
As part of my re-indigenization I have been studying Celtic spirituality. In my research I came across this poem:

“Opening the Heart to Death”

“Can you be with me in the cold morning of dying?
When the fire in me is out and nothing warms my blood
Can you watch with the eye of the mother?
When the candle is burnt and the friends have gone?
Can you just BE (emphasis mine), not wishing one more breath in me?
And when my eyes are closed shut,
Glad of the long quiet rest
Will you then travel still  (emphasis mine) with me?
As I close this door behind
And open into the open heart of death
Sweet love call that brought me birth,
Now calls me safely back in earth.”
- originally written in Gaelic by Phyllida Anam-Áire in "A Celtic Book of Dying" p.21
As I read this poem I was brought back to the moment of my mothers death in the early morning hours of December 7th 2008. It was still dark and I sat watch with two of my mothers sisters.
My Aunt Judy's presence was a great relief to me over the last few weeks of my mothers life. She was there lovingly and even joyfully attending to my mother, bathing and helping her relieve herself.

The last 2 weeks of her life was spent at home with hospice care for which I am also very grateful. To have mom home, in her own bed was hopefully a great comfort to her, and certainly made me feel a lot better. I couldn’t bare the thought of her dying in a sanitized hospital room surrounded by strangers with hearts hardened by death.
The hospice nurse had taught me how to administer morphine. Someone had told me or I read somewhere that the morphine will shut down her organs so in my mind lingered the idea that when I started the morphine that would be time to say goodbye. I hated and even feared the responsibility, but it was mine as her eldest son. My intention was to be as balanced as I could in how I medicated her.
My mother was a born again Christian. She had a powerful faith that she developed the first time she had breast cancer in the early 1990’s. She became a Christian as a way to transmute the pain of her divorce from my father and her first bout with cancer. Looking back now I can recognize that she was in a lot of emotional pain. She had a traumatic childhood growing up in an Irish Catholic household the youngest of 11 children and a severely alcoholic father. I had never experienced my grandfather sober.
During her divorce my mother was spiritually seeking. I remember going to blockbuster video, and while I brought home “Back to the Future” and “Teen Wolf” mom would rent self help and “new age” hypnosis and meditation videos. Sometimes we would watch them together, she was convinced that my brother and I were suppressing emotions about the divorce.
I was of course suppressing my feelings on some level, but many of my friends parents were divorced and at 12 years old I was aware of the flaws in both my parents and felt some relief that the fighting in the house was over. I didn't feel abandoned by my dad moving out, it felt practical to me at the time.
Eventually my Aunt Judy invited mom to her Pentecostal Church. I resisted church, It gave me a cause to rebel. I felt a sense of power in that rebellion and here began the cleaving process where I individuated myself from my mother. Secretly I enjoyed Church, I felt God's presence and it comforted me. In all of our conflict over my rejection of Christianity I would never let my mother know that my rebellion was a front. Eventually I publicly confessed my Christian faith and in some ways became zealous like my mother but I would wear the armor of rebellion for the rest of my Mothers life.
My mother imparted her strong faith to me and for that I will always be grateful to her but there was an element of fear embedded in it that she also passed down.Through my own inner work I have come to recognize that fear as existential shame. My mother passed down feelings of unworthiness, a belief that I had to earn my salvation. The belief was the foundation of my judgements of myself which I projected on to my mother as well as deep resentment which I now understand was… or is… an inner discomfort with the untruth that I am NOT worthy.
I no longer consider myself a Christian in the mainstream sense, although I maintain a deep relationship with Christ. I don’t resonate with the patriarchal, dominator interpretation of Christ and the scriptures. In my consciousness Jesus is more Ram Dass than the Pope or Billy Graham.

13 years almost to the day that my mother was declared cancer free her cancer returned aggressively. In March 2005 she was given 2 years to live.
Mom never believed the doctor’s prognosis. She stubbornly insisted that God was going to heal her. My mother had been waiting 17 years for another miracle that would never come. After the divorce my mother never entertained another romantic relationship. She prayed and waited for the day that her first love, her high school sweetheart, my father would find God and come home to her.
It almost feels to me like her disappointment and loneliness could not allow her to give up hope of her physical healing, almost like all of her faith in God was now in that basket. Maybe deep down she feared that if she wasn’t healed miraculously of cancer her beliefs about God were proven wrong. Or maybe she knew all along but couldn't admit it to her children.
On the morning of her transition, in deep sadness and grief when it was clear she was suffering and would not return to life, I began to administer the morphine. I held her in my arms and placed the drops under her tongue and wondered if it burned. She whispered through the fluid in her lungs, “God is going to heal me Danial.”
“I know ma.” I replied with tears streaming down my face.
Mom was asking me to “be", to not ask her for more breaths. To sit with her as she finally received the healing she had desired for the last two decades. I held her and listened as she gargled her last breaths. I was fully in that moment. Immersed in grief. Grief for how she treated me. Why couldn’t she have loved me without judgement?! Grief for how I judged her back. Grief for how that judgement made me treat her. Grief for the walls I built between us to protect myself from my own feelings of unworthiness. Unworthiness that I unknowingly trapped behind those walls deep in my heart.
For the next 10 years I buried that grief behind walls of guilt. I avoided thinking about my mother. I would cry once a year on her birthday and make an obligatory Facebook post that I tried to make sound sincere. My feelings were sincere, I just couldn’t feel them from behind the walls of guilt.
When I started my plant medicine and shadow work healing journey I was finally able to let go of enough of the guilt to finally start processing my grief. As I look back now on that moment I still feel sadness. I miss my mom, and I feel proud that I traveled still with her as she opened to the heart of death. For a long time I thought holding her as she passed was a trauma, now I see it for the blessing that it is.
To the Celts the heart of death is the bosom of God. The zero point. Unity consciousness. Source. As I integrate this ancient wisdom of my ancestors, I feel now more deeply than ever that my faith is true. Physical death is not an end but a change.
I love what The Vision said in the sci-fi sitcom WandaVision, “Grief is love with no where to go.” It’s a romantic quote but it’s not the full truth. These days I feel my mother with me. Watching Marvel movies with my son on the couch I can sense my mothers presence doting on the grandson that she never met. Tears well up in a flush of joy infused with sadness and I smile. The sadness is more about Xander not having experienced his grandmother in the flesh, although I know he experiences her spirit even if he doesn’t recognize it yet.
I believe there was a transfer of energy in my mothers room that morning. She passed a mantle on to me, like Elijah to Elisha. I now carry on the transmutation work that she began, healing generational trauma embedded in our DNA.
My wife and I are teaching Xander to honor his ancestors. We have incorporated rituals into our everyday lives that remind us to have gratitude for the foundation they built for us. I know one day he will experience his grandmother in a way I never have and that feels good. Together we will continue to transmute his grandmothers mantle until it is time for us to join the ancestors in the heart of death.

Don't miss a beat!

New moves, motivation, and classes delivered to your inbox. 

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.