Blog. Blogger. Blogging. How many times did I hear these words before I had any clue what they meant? Blog made me think of glop and glop took me back to eggplant glop, the name my family gave to a gooey, cheesy dish my daughters would beg me to make when they were young. Yet here I am writing a new blog every week, so who says an old dog can’t be taught new tricks? I refuse to describe myself as a blogger though, any more than I was a glopper back then.
In the early 2000s, when I first saw the film Vera (www.facetsdvd.com) presented by its Mexican director Francisco Athie at the Taos Talking Picture Festival, I was mesmerized. This visionary film depicts the journey from life into death of an old Maya man. He is a miner who dies in an accident, though neither the old man nor I realize this for quite some time. Lest he lose his way on his journey, a guide—Vera—appears to escort him across.
Vera is so ethereal, so unearthly it’s difficult to get that she is actually played by the living, breathing Japanese actress and Butoh dancer, Urara Kusanagi, rather than by some being created in an animation department. In a boat that slides silently through underground passages, Vera transports the man from the mine into the land of the dead with the utmost gentleness and love. One could never hope for more supportive assistance.
This is the thrust of the story. You must see the film to feel its magic, the pace slow and lyrical as poetry. It is in Mayan and Spanish. There are English subtitles, but there is so little need for language they seem almost irrelevant.
Though the film is fictional, it aligns perfectly with accounts from the dying and from near-death experiencers. Vera is also reflective of the peace that emits from those dead who communicate through the veil that separates life from death.
I remember how cold my mother’s feet became and then her legs, hours before her last breath. She seemed to die from the toes up. Yet even before that, she lost her desire to open her eyes and look at life, to speak, to drink, to eat. To please my sister, she took one bite of her daughter’s homemade pumpkin mousse on Thanksgiving, but that she did out of love not hunger.
I was interrupted just now by a phone call with the news of the death of a distant relative in her late eighties, who had been failing for a while. She died at home, her family at her bedside. Last week, when she refused dialysis, her dying began in earnest.
Certain doctors, especially those involved in the cutting edge work of resuscitation medicine, are beginning to understand that the body’s last breath is only part of a complex process. Beloveds, as well as hospice workers—nurses, doctors, orderlies, and palliative care therapists alike—get to see before-death experiences where the dying address people unseen by others. Those who die briefly and are resuscitated tell of what lies beyond death. In the middle of this rich texture is that point which modern medicine calls the moment of death.
The whole process, emotionally draining as it usually is for those left behind, is a sacred one, replete with a sense of mystery that Vera ably portrays.
The After Death Chronicles: True Stories of Comfort, Guidance, and Wisdom from Beyond the Veil. To be released October 6, 2017. Pre-order on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound. Find out more on my Book Page.