Wiccan author Ray Buckland did a presentation in the town of Lily Dale in Spring 2008 on the topic of death and dying. He has graciously permitted us to share the text of that presentation here on the Pagan/Wiccan website.
Death and Dying
by guest author Ray Buckland
It looks as though winter has finally gone. You know what winter is? It’s that long dead period when we sit around waiting for the new Lily Dale season to start.
One of the joys of Lily Dale, to my mind, is the fact that here you can talk about death and dying without being considered morbid or unusual. It was Woody Allen who said: “I’m not afraid to die... I just don’t want to be there when it happens!”
I think a lot of people have that fear. They’re fine with this life and they have no fear of the next, but it’s that actual transition that can be frightening. When and how will it happen? Will it be painful?
There are so many ways of passing. You can die peacefully in bed... your own or someone else’s! You can be hit by a garbage truck. You can be accidentally shot when out hunting (especially with the Vice-President). You can die after lying sick and in pain for many days, weeks, or even months. It’s this last, which can really put you off the dying experience.
Isaac Asimov had a similar comment to Woody Allen’s. He said: “Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome.” On the other hand, Johnny Carson said: “For three days after death, hair and fingernails continue to grow . . . but phone calls taper off.”
If you expect to “die” when you die, you’ll be disappointed. The only thing dying does for you is to release you from the shell that was the physical you, and to give you the complete freedom that is Spirit. When you die, you lose your body; that’s all there is to it. You are not your body; that is just something you wore for a while.
In 1961 there was a very detailed study published by Dr. Karlis Otis. It was called Deathbed Observations by Physicians and Nurses and included the experiences of 10,000 professionals. Some of the conclusions drawn were as follows:
- The dying often go into inexplicable exaltation just before death.
- They see visions of apparitions to a much greater extent than people who are not dying.
- Usually these apparitions are of others who have already died, though sometimes they are of living or religious persons.
- These visions cannot be attributed to drugs or medication.
Many of the dying people seem to realize that these visions and apparitions are connected to the life after death and may even be there to take them over.
There do seem to be small distinctions between what happens at the moment of death and what happens in a near-death experience. For example, in the near-death experience we get reports of people looking down on their body – perhaps being operated upon or lying mangled in an automobile wreck – and feeling very much detached from it. As one person said, “I knew it was my body, but I had no feelings for it.”
But that doesn’t necessarily seem to be the case with actual death. Of course, it’s not until long afterward – through the agencies of a Spiritualist medium – that we may be able to question the deceased and get the details. But from those deathbed observations we’re told that the person involved seems to be connected to the body right up to the moment of separation. There seems to be no feeling of detachment.
The last of the Fox Sisters died in 1893. This was Margaretta Fox. She was lying on her death bed attended by a Mrs. Sellen, who sat with her for several hours every day. At a meeting of the Medico-Legal Society in New York on March 15, 1905, Mrs. Sellen described Margaretta’s last few minutes. It was in a tenement house on Ninth Street, New York. The Fox girl was lying in bed with severe inflammatory rheumatism; unable to move hand or foot. Although Margaretta was physically unable to move at the moment of dying, knockings were clearly heard coming from the walls, the ceiling, and the floor. Mrs. Sellen said that Margaretta “was as incapable of cracking her toe-joints at this time as I was!” Mrs. Sellen, incidentally, was not a Spiritualist.
As I’ve said, the main concern is that very moment of death... will it hurt? The answer is no; death itself will not hurt. Not only will it not hurt, but if you’ve been suffering terrible pain for months, even years, all that will come to an abrupt end. Relief is but a death step away.
“Did she suffer?” Is the question often asked. When the house fell on her, no she didn’t; death was instantaneous. When she drowned, or when she fell out of the back of the pick-up truck, yes there’s a good chance she did suffer. But – and it’s a big ‘but’ – that suffering was on this side of the transition. It was while still alive, however tenuously that life was being gripped, but while still alive that there may have been suffering. The thing to remember here – addressing this main question – is that, at the moment of death; at the moment that spirit leaves the body; any and all suffering ends. As Isaac Asimov said, “It’s the transition that’s troublesome.”
It was Dr. Raymond Moody who coined the term “near death experience”. Previously these had been referred to as “death bed visions” and similar. Although we can’t say categorically that the near death experience is the same procedure that takes place at actual death, it seems highly probable. Certainly the two are very close. We can therefore think in terms of leaving the physical body and setting off down a long tunnel-like setting, toward the light.
Initially the person may not realize that he or she is dead. Yet the doctor’s pronouncement of death is heard loud and clear and this certainly drives home the point to the deceased. There can be several different reactions. “Thank goodness!” “There’ll be hell to pay at the office on Monday.” “But wait – I haven’t finished whatever!” “Ah! No more honey-do-this; honey-do-that!” And so on. But instead of dwelling on those immediate repercussions, you’ll start off down the tunnel.