The Creativity of Death

A Personal Connection with the Divine

By Shelley Klammer | Posted 3/27/11 | Updated 11/14/23

"Some great confusion has fallen like a shadow across the world, a mass forgetting in which the sense of meaning waiting to be discovered right under the surface of events has been obscured in favor of compiling information and a recitation of facts that only become forgotten. This is a time of great forgetting; especially forgetting that life is full of mysteries trying to be revealed." —Micheal Meade

A Personal Connection with the Divine

As I mature in my life, I see that my whole life is a canvas — a creation that speaks to me, that teaches me what I need to know. My life creates me and acts on me, just as I create and act on my own life. This past month I have been thinking about my father's death 14 years ago in February. My dad's death was a rich creative and spiritual experience for me in that I experienced many things beyond the normal. Ondrea and I often joke that in our society, God is in the closet! Not that organized religion is at all in the closet but that genuine accounts of personal pivotal spiritual experiences are hidden in our normal conversations with each other. Because we live in a world of evidence and facts, most people are very cautious about sharing stories of their personal relationship with the Divine that is ever trying to reveal itself in our daily lives.

I am fortunate that I work with 80 and 90 year old people and nearly everyone I have talked to in my work has met with a personal experience of the Divine in their long lives. After I get to know people well, I find that most people — even if they label themselves as atheists — have had an unexplainable spiritual experience at some point in their experience. And many keep their spiritual stories to themselves for fear of being called crazy. When invited, I find the elderly to be compellingly honest about the truth of what they have experienced.

Reconciling death in the midst of my own life has been a profound journey. I have heard many stories in the the course of my work week working with elderly veterans about what it means to live and what it means to face death. Perhaps because they are nearing their own death I hear many stories of intuition and mystery and unexplainable spiritual experiences. I hear of experiences such as just "knowing" that a loved one is going to die and getting dressed for a funeral. I hear many stories of near death experiences and the intensity of war. I hear of seeing ghosts on the battlefields and how no soldier is an atheist. I hear from a nurse that just as a person is dying alone the radio turns on to the song. "Calling all Angels." I have also heard stories of encountering powerful energies within dreams and within daily life that are enough to shift a person's perspective forever.

A Personal Spiritual Experience

I had a profound perspective-changing spiritual experience when I was a young college student in Toronto and it reverberated within me for years. It profoundly made me understand that we are much more than just our bodies and our minds. I remember waking up in the middle of the night with the directive: "Go sit on the couch." Too sleepy to second guess myself, I walked over to the next room I sat on the couch cross-legged. My gray and white tabby cat promptly sat on my lap and began to purr loudly.

What happened next defies verbal explanation but I can only describe it as a powerful heart opening that was a spontaneous as it was profound. Never before in my life had I been stilled by an energy that was so much larger than myself. It was as if my heart was powerfully pulsating with the Universal tempo and that there was nothing to do but surrender to it. It was impossible to think any thoughts during this pulsation — my mind went completely still, nor was it possible to know how much time went by.

I had only one marker in my literal experience. When my mind went still — and the powerful heart pulsations began — my tabby cat went utterly still with me at the very same moment. She stopped purring and sat in utter stillness with me as the experience continued. When the heart pulsations ended and my ordinary mind came back — my cat started purring again immediately.

While with many people in my life I have had to work on forgiveness, what I was left after my spiritual experience with was the indelible impression, "I love and forgive my dad." My dad and I were not close at the time. I was in college in Toronto and for the seven years that I lived there, he did not communicate with me unless I traveled home to see him. He was a drinker and a bar owner and I did not have much connection with him during my teen years.

That night I realized that as human beings we can be influenced by larger forces and I was gifted with a healing grace that was beyond my understanding. I understood that relationship difficulties could be healed in an instant. It was as if by grace, my misunderstandings about my dad's unavailability vanished and I found a natural compassion for him.

My father and I had an effortlessly deep relationship after that night and never did I speak a word of my spiritual experience to him. Nothing needed to be talked out or reconciled through words between us. The next time I went back home to visit him, he had created a fatherly "shrine" to me in his garage. He had dug up all of my old sports awards from grade school and had hung them up on the wall.

About 5 years later, my dad was diagnosed with cancer. During the five years after my spiritual experience we had built an easy relationship. He build me large canvas stretchers for my paintings in his wood shop. He went to see all of my art exhibitions and I still have the pictures that he took of me, holding my baby, standing in front of my paintings at the gallery.

He even came with me to a week-long painting retreat to take care of my baby. I remember laughing at how wonderful and weird it was to him. He was not used to the all vegetarian menu or the openly spiritual conversations. While my baby slept, he read through the entire book that was the basis for the painting retreat. He tried very sweetly to understand me even though I seemed strange to him. And he was already very sick.

Meeting Suffering and Death

"The essence of love and compassion is understanding, the ability to recognize the physical, material, and psychological suffering of others, to put ourselves 'inside the skin' of the other. We 'go inside' their body, feelings, and mental formations, and witness for ourselves their suffering. Shallow observation as an outsider is not enough to see their suffering. We must become one with the subject of our observation. When we are in contact with another's suffering, a feeling of compassion is born in us. Compassion means, literally, 'to suffer with.'" —Thich Nhat Hanh

When the cancer made it impossible for him to be home, I realized that most people, including my father feared death. Most people in our modern culture do not want to see it or speak of death. People do different things around death — everyone has different coping patterns. Given our cultural fear around death, it was challenging for many to move closer to my father when he lost his hair, his thinking and his dignity.

My Dad's brother and my Dad both had the exact same dream about a week before he died. They both dreamed that my father had fallen overboard from a boat and that his brother could not save him. I considered that life was preparing all of us for his death and I was grateful. I also considered that I might have been offered a heart opening years earlier so I that could move closer to my father during his last and difficult days. Life is strangely supportive and in its own way it provides the information and the solace needed for difficult times. Because I had my spontaneous heart opening years before, I was intensely reverent at the unseen mysteries around my father's death.

I sat with my dad in the hospice the day he died. We had a quiet afternoon together with no other visitors. My little daughter — almost two years old at the time — sat on his bed and shared his tray of lunch with him. After days of speaking anxious morphine induced gibberish about planes taking off and leaving, he grew quiet. We shared silence together not words. He smiled at my daughter grabbing food with both fists off of his plate. I knew he was going to die, and without speaking I let him know it was okay for him to go. When I left the hospice I knew I would never see him again. When I arrived home I got the call and I turned around and drove back to see him lying dead — his spirit had vacated his body and only the shell of him lay on his bed.

When I went to the hospice to pick up his personal effects the next day the nearby church bells started to melodiously ring and I looked at everyone on the busy street and silently implored them. "Wake up! Don't waste your life! Be your deepest self." I realized that I was speaking to myself. The gift of my father's death was, I began to listen more to the unseen and to trust my intuitions more. I began to let my life unfold in Its creative mystery so that It could speak to me and let me into Its larger life patterns instead of trying to control everything so much.

My father's spirit had left his body but our connection continued. I remember two instances that matched the energy of that initial heart opening. One was at his funeral. I was in the next room breastfeeding my daughter. His energy at once entered the room and unmistakably he was there. There was a lightness to his particular flavor of soul essence that felt different than when he was alive. His energy was often heavy laden with much sadness and anger when he was alive. At his own funeral, he felt free.

The next episode occurred on my birthday a year later. Before my father had died, he had gifted me with his car. Six months earlier I had sold it to a young girl in the mountain valley where I lived and had not seen it since. On my birthday I was sitting at my kitchen table feeling sad and I got the directive, "Drive to the Co-Op." It felt so powerful, I obeyed even though there was nothing I needed to buy. When I arrived I saw his burgundy car parked out front and I started to laugh! I thanked him for the birthday visit.

I have been reflecting back this month that here are many creative mysteries that are trying to be revealed in this world — each and every day. We have a choice to see them and follow them or not. When we do follow our deeper inclinations and our seemingly irrational directives, we are met with our embedded place in the Creative Whole of Life.

I leave you with the wise words of Michael Meade:

"Each has the surprising gift of life and each life has to come to the end of life's road one day. It's not simply that 'death must have it's due' but also that death has a place in life. Death and loss must have a place in life in order that life the creation of the world might continue. If we treat death as simply an absence of life, something essential to creation gets lost to our awareness. When seen in the context of ongoing creation, death can be found to have a place in the midst of life and a hand in both renewal and re-creation."

Next: The Creativity of Suffering

Copyright ©2011 Shelley Klammer. All rights reserved.