At the Threshold

When I turned 50 a couple of years ago I had the feeling at once overwhelming and uplifting that I had reached a threshold, that I was standing on the doorstep of the rest of my life. It was not a venerable granite step before a brightly painted door with a polite brass knocker awaiting my announcement.  It was more like standing in a busy hotel lobby amongst a bewildering bustle of people all coming and going in a commotion of intent and purpose while I lacked any clear direction.  Still, I have always treasured those moments, of being poised on the brink of… something!  Preparing to consciously choose a new direction is always exhilarating – be it blissful, just plain terrifying or somewhere in between.

I have encountered many thresholds in my life; leaving home and starting work, setting off alone for Africa, entering into marriage, divorce then remarriage.  Becoming a parent is the most life-changing threshold I have yet crossed, with its twin gifts of challenge and joy.  Both of my children were born at home.  Healthy pregnancies and a wonderful midwife supported my choice to forgo the technology and drugs of the hospital and instead to follow the inner wisdom of my miraculous body that knew just how to bring a new being into the world.  At home, even in the most tumultuous surges of birthing, I could find  peace and feel the lovely holiness of the door opening between the worlds. I had the space I needed to fully experience the irrefutable beauty of a soul’s transition.  Every race and culture on earth celebrates birth with rituals that honor the beginning of a life and most have equally strong traditions to mark the end of earthly life.  That is the corresponding threshold of course, that leading out of life – death.  It is the same door that opens, the same threshold that is crossed, just in a different direction.  Yet, within our society, we seem to have lost our recognition of death as a direct consequence of life.  Unhealthy and macabre attitudes towards death and dying are everywhere, from teen zombie and vampire fiction to Halloween monstrosities, while we are losing touch with our inner wisdom and the healing traditions of death ritual.

Xmas 2009

Christmas 2009

Death comes to us all.  My father died after a long chronic illness, and my younger brother was killed instantly a motorbike accident.  More recently a beloved family member, Alex, left this life in an incredible example of ‘passing’ with flying colors.  Alex had survived Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a teenager and was an exceptionally warm, generous and spiritual man.  He had been working in hospice for 18 years when he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of stomach cancer in 2009.  Over the years that I knew him we had had many talks about death and about what might come next.  Our conversations grew more spiritual as the cancer progressed and his final Christmas, spent with my family in Rhode Island, was the most meaningful I have ever experienced.  Alex lived every minute of his dying and shared what he learned with all who were willing to accompany him on his journey.

Alex fulfilled the dream most of us have of passing away peacefully at home, surrounded with love.  His grace throughout his transition made it possible for those of us left behind to experience a gift of holiness, a kind of loveliness that lends strength through even the most grief-filled of times.  A few days after his death, some of Alex’s hospice co-workers visited his wife at their home in Delaware.  Arriving at the house on a chilly, damp March day they were captivated by an ‘upside-down rainbow’ in the sky above the house.  It was a circumzenithal arc, occasionally seen in northern latitudes when light is refracted through ice crystals high in the atmosphere.  A rainbow smile from the heavens.

Alex Smile II keep a photograph of Alex’s rainbow smile on my kitchen wall as a reminder that, at least in the big picture of life, all is well.  Shortly after Christmas 2012 another rainbow smile appeared in the sky, this time over my home in Rhode Island.  It was a beautiful winter’s day that Alex would have loved and I felt so happy thinking of him being with us in spirit.  A couple of days later a new friend was visiting and asked about the rainbow picture on my wall.  After I had told her about the two rainbows I went to the computer to find some information she needed.  At once I saw a message that a young woman I knew had died in an accident.  As our community came together in that time of loss, grief and memorial, I was strengthened by my travels with Alex.  The personal threshold I faced was clearing, I began to see that my path was calling me to work in end of life care.  I decided to become a hospice volunteer as a first step to becoming a Soul Midwife.

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4 Responses to At the Threshold

  1. mikeabz says:

    Dearest Sis, This is inspiring. What you say about thresholds is so true and how you say it is wonderful. Bereavement in our society has become the loneliest of times. We don’t know anymore how to talk to each other of a loved one’s passing or the feelings, joyful memories or moments of grief, for fear of further upsetting the survivors. It sometimes feels that we’re afraid either of being dragged into a chasm of pain, or of pushing the bereaved further into it. While the shock and insult of sudden loss leaves us no time to prepare, anyone’s passing should be a time to enrich the future by rediscovering the shared past.

    I met Alex only a few times, but he left a lasting impression. You have clearly found a great deal of shared ground with his view of life. The huge crowd of well-wishers at his funeral tells me how important his message and his impact were; the joy in peoples’ memory of him shows how much of a difference can be made in how we live with death. I am enormously happy that you have found your way through the lobby and awed by the journey you now embark upon.

    From time to time you too will need help and support; I hope that I can give you that; I know Alex’s smile always will.

    Big Love,


  2. Penny Vigilante says:

    Very lovely essay, Beth. Wish you all the best in your new endeavour! ….. ox pv

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