UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Attention Readers

Effective June 27, 2016, the offices of The Observer will be located at Suite 304, 177 Danforth Avenue, Toronto, ON M4K 1N2.

Sarah Kerr (third from the left) offers nature-based spiritual support for illness, death or loss. Courtesy of Soul Passages

A weekend with the Angel of Death

If we lived in a death-denying society before, avoidance is more difficult now

By Carolyn Pogue


I spent the weekend with the Angel of Death. At least, that's what some call Sarah Kerr. Others name her Death Midwife or Death Doula. She is cheerful about all of these titles as she goes about her imaginative, pioneering work, offering nature-based spiritual support for illness, death or loss. Her weekend workshop, Death Undoes Us: Rituals for Family and Close Friends, brought together healers from Nova Scotia, British Columbia, Alberta and Texas. Her work has even gained national attention from the likes of Maclean's and The Walrus.

These days, death is on our minds. We wrestle with assisted dying on one hand while watching horrified as suicide claims our young. Another American massacre means that the inevitable flowers, candles, vigils are everywhere. If we lived in a death-denying society before, avoidance is more difficult now.

In April, Observer columnist Anne Bokma's wrote that people are seeking "secular sacraments for those life passages that have been mostly ignored by religious institutions." On the weekend, we were a blend of religious and "Spiritual but not Religious" learners. Sarah's approach fits well for both, I think.

In my book, Language of the Heart: Rituals, Stories and Information about Death, I wrote: "After the Industrial Revolution, much of our secular society shunned rituals as magic or superstitious nonsense that we could do very well without if we used logic, science and common sense. But . . . although some of life if logical much of it is not. Even the young know that life is full of mystery." Rituals and ceremonies help us understand life on other levels; rituals are the language of the heart. Christian communion or the exchange of wedding rings, for example, move us into sacred space and invite transformation.

Sarah's workshop was part of her series, "Rituals for Living and Dying: Practical Skills Training for Death Midwives and Celebrants." Twenty-five of us explored rituals, attitudes and alternative ways of dealing with life transitions. The tools of her trade are shamanic drums, bells and rattles; artistic, fabric art and rocks beaded with exquisite patterns — all prayerful in addressing the Great Mystery. She uses stories, too, spinning them with the ease of a Joseph Campbell.

Our paths have crossed periodically for years, but this year, I wanted to learn more about Sarah's work. So I attended a New Moon Transition Ritual in April with eight other women. It was beautiful, as were our surroundings; Sarah is a gifted artist. Her bright and bubbly personality are quite present in her painting, sculptures and fabric art.

Hers is energetic work in all senses of that word. Her rituals help to move energy and offer space for transformation for individual and communities. After the New Moon Ritual, I downloaded her doctoral thesis from her Soul Passages website; it’s not something I'd do lightly. I found the title hard to resist: Dreams, Rituals, and the Creation of Sacred Objects: An Inquiry into a Contemporary Western Shamanic Initiation.

During the weekend, we discussed not only rituals for the dying or bereaved, but for other losses: a limb, job, driver's license, miscarriage, abortion, health, marriage and our planet's overall health. I also recalled that since The Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearing, Canada has struggled with the loss of our identity as “nice” people.

Spending the weekend with therapists, hospice workers, chaplains, writers, trauma counsellors, life coaches and ceremonialists was inspiring. I intend to spend more time with this Angel.



Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
June 2016

Listen! Mother's calling

By Carolyn Pogue

It’s high time to heal Earth and each other

May 2016

Those who walk (Part Two)

By Carolyn Pogue

Re-entering the land is a Sacred Journey

May 2016

Those who walk (Part One)

By Carolyn Pogue

Taking to the trails is a way to slow down and be present in the world

April 2016

Holy rebels

By Carolyn Pogue

Calgary’s St. Brigid's heralds a new era with womenpriests

April 2016

No more wannabes

By Carolyn Pogue

In our new Canada, we can be our authentic selves

March 2016

A long walk together

By Carolyn Pogue

When one falters, the other offers strength

March 2016

‘Bright Wings’

By Carolyn Pogue

A new, lighthearted novel tells us about disappointment, destruction and death

February 2016

Travelling to the ’spirit world’ — Part 2

By Carolyn Pogue

Meet Wade Prpich: hockey dad and shamanic practitioner

February 2016

Travelling to the ’spirit world’ — Part 1

By Carolyn Pogue

Is deep Christian meditation any different from a shamanic journey?

January 2016

‘Everyone is welcome’

By Carolyn Pogue

The motto of one of Canada’s early Muslim leaders is no less important today

January 2016

A new year for peace

By Carolyn Pogue

We can strengthen our commitment to non-violence, not only with acts of charity, but with education

December 2015

Like Bad King John

By Carolyn Pogue

How undeserving we humans have been of the bounty and beauty of Earth

December 2015

Care-fully into Advent

By Carolyn Pogue

Self-care can help prepare us to receive — and give — the joy of Christmas

November 2015

Shoeboxes for Kids? No thanks.

By Carolyn Pogue

It's unfair to introduce Christianity to impoverished children through trinkets

November 2015

Healing with Mother Nature

By Carolyn Pogue

Gardening gives veterans a 'fighting chance'

October 2015

'Cool old squash'

By Carolyn Pogue

It's back to the future with seeds of hope

October 2015

Waking up to Gaia’s call

By Carolyn Pogue

By working with diverse communities across old boundaries, we will get it right for Earth

September 2015

'Draw the circle wide'

By Carolyn Pogue

The Syrian refugee crisis reminds us that no one should stand alone

September 2015

Sacred spaces, critical decisions

By Carolyn Pogue

Do you know how your nearest learning centre is faring?

July 2015

To live with respect in Creation

By Carolyn Pogue

Writing by a tree helps people to remember our deep connection to the planet, physically and spiritually

July 2015

Hard family truths

By Carolyn Pogue

Some people pass on learned violence while many others turn their world around

June 2015

'Consider the lilies of the field'

By Carolyn Pogue

UnRavel helps me rethink clothes

May 2015

Resurrection hope

By Carolyn Pogue

Lois Wilson showed us a fierce and tender church

May 2015

Alberta election

By Carolyn Pogue

Nellie McClung, were you watching?

April 2015

Watching for resurrections

By Carolyn Pogue

Easter isn't a single day; it's an entire season

April 2015

The Palace

By Carolyn Pogue

The Holy Week story begs many questions and imaginings

March 2015

The power of story

By Carolyn Pogue

Narratives become alive once we invite them into our hearts and minds

March 2015

Lenten walk

By Carolyn Pogue

This season invites us to take much-needed steps with each other

February 2015

Rolling the dice

By Carolyn Pogue

Research shows that gambling is unhealthy, so why do public leaders continue to promote it?

Promotional Image

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

The one and only

Promotional Image

Video

Merle Robillard

ObserverDocs: Out of Syria

by Observer Staff

For nearly half a century, the Elnabrees family has fled one war after another: Palestine, Kuwait, Iraq and, more recently, Syria. This year, they arrived as refugees in Canada, sponsored by relatives and United churches. Ayman Elshafiy, his wife, Sonia, their two daughters, his sister and mother, were among them.

Promotional Image

Society

May 2016

Are vegans right?

by David Macfarlane

The writer is in the midst of a radical six-month change of diet. He’s discovering that no cheeseburger tastes as good as being ethical feels.

Ethics

May 2016

Spare the rod, protect the child

by John Barber

With the Trudeau government on the verge of banning spanking, critics ask: why has it taken Canada so long?

Society

May 2016

Special report: Syrian refugees

by Various Writers

More than 300 congregations mobilized to help Syrian refugees. A sampling follows.

Faith

March 2016

The Walrus Talks Spirituality

by Observer Staff

Justice

April 2016

Hell and high water

by Josiah Neufeld

The writer visits the shifting shorelines of Bangladesh and discovers tens of millions of people on the brink of climate disaster

Society

May 2016

Are vegans right?

by David Macfarlane

The writer is in the midst of a radical six-month change of diet. He’s discovering that no cheeseburger tastes as good as being ethical feels.

Promotional Image
Promotional Image