By Christel Broederlow
If ever there was a time and a place for empathy senses to be thrown completely off balance it would have to be at a funeral. Some find that when they attend funerals, regardless if they know the person closely or not that they feel inundated with everyone’s emotions and am left physically and emotionally drained, possibly fraught with fear at the mere thought of attending another funeral and question how they can overcome this?
The emotions people release from the death of a loved one are intensely powerful, bring a family or group of people who are grieving at such a loss into the world of one so sensitive can be an extremely overwhelming experience. A blend of insurmountable grief, confusion, anger, fear of being alone and many more power packed emotions wrapped into one human is enough for anyone to cope with let alone for a person whose empathy is in overdrive.
In situations where we have a closer connection to the person who has passed, combined with everyone else’s emotions will only heighten that which we feel in ourselves. It is one of the most challenging situations to do so, yet It is really important to know what it is one is feeling as belonging to them/self, acknowledge the grief, and go through each and every emotion as they come up, and there will be a myriad of them.
Death is the most extreme life experience where we may lose all self control, all empathic awareness flies out the door and that is completely understandable, for we are human and every now and then we will be tested at what appears beyond our means of coping. We cannot try to be strong, we either are or aren’t and beating one’s self up in such a life altering time certainly does not help in the healing process. Go with it, feel the grief as it comes to pass, acknowledge how you feel, because you deserve that much and do not fear expressing your emotions as and when they come up.
Tangihanga (Maori for Funeral)
We all have different perspectives towards death; some cultures embrace death as in life, with meaningful rituals and rites of passage. As is traditional and continually practiced today in my Maori culture (Indigenous of Aotearoa/New Zealand) and known as a tangihanga (Maori funeral, burial process) which is generally held at our whanau (family) whare tipuna (Ancestral house).
As manuhiri (visitors) come to pay their respects, they gather at the gate entrance to the Marae until a Kai Karanga (woman caller) is carried out by the tangata whenua (people of the Marae, region) to summons the manuhiri towards the whare tipuna (meeting house). A Kai Whakaatu (wahine/woman from the visiting side) returns the karanga as the first callers karanga almost comes to an end, and then returned again by the Kai Karanga. The karanga also allows the opening of the spiritual and physical realms of the living and the dead of the departed to come together.
There is great significance in the karanga being carried out by the wahine (woman) as it is the spiritual weaving of the strands of the rope that brings a safe passage of the manuhiri (visitors) together as one with the tangata whenua, as in the bringing in of the waka (large canoe) onto the shore. The karanga is all powerful, a shrill echo across the atea (front area of the Marae) that uplifts and ignites the emotions in all and brings a strong sense of ‘coming home’ to loved ones, and unity of aroha (love) strengthened and maintained. Many other rituals, all of deep spiritual significance occurs throughout the tangihanga that have been practiced for thousands of years.
The passing of a loved one and the passage from the physical to the spiritual realm occurs over several days with immediate and extended family and friends, sometimes several hundred gathering to farewell their beloved who has passed and bringing with them a sea of emotions and aroha (love) expressed for not only from within themselves, but also importantly in support of and for the immediate grieving loved ones.
In the Maori culture death is embraced fully – together. Open expressions of grief by both men and women and children of all ages (age has no barrier). Rivers of tears flow as memories are shared and emotions though pure and raw are allowed to breath and are released by all with the loving support given unconditionally to those in attendance.
Throughout the duration of the tangihanga including on the day of the burial Maori wahine (women) wail deeply from the core of their inner being, and this wail can and often does reignite further grief to flow, it is the deepest of all cries that sends shivers up the spine of even the most hardest, reminding us of our mortality in this physical world we exist upon and yet also of what lays on the other side – a continuum.
We bury our beloved with the knowledge that their wairua (spirit) has passed over and is met, guided and forever embraced by our Tipuna (our Ancestors), and yet with further comfort and understanding that their wairua (spirit) walk with us, hear us, communicate and guide us throughout our lifetime, and although their physical presence is no longer with us and we yearn that hug of love, we just know instinctively it is not the end, it is the beginning of the end.
We need only be in the ‘quiet’ of our mind, of our being, to still the ‘noise’, to reconnect with our dearly beloved who have departed as to sense, hear, feel or smell their beautiful presence. Often we pray that they would hear us, and they always do, but the emotions of grieving can knock us around so much that it overrides us hearing or sensing their response and the subtle yet eternal existence of their spirit being made known to us.
When we don’t ‘hear’, our loved ones may leave us physical signs such as a feather, a brisk yet gentle breeze passing over our face and the goosebumps it leaves behind confirming we ‘felt’ their presence or an advertisement that says, “always here”, or a picture they drew which hangs on the wall suddenly shifts sideways, or a song upon the radio that catches your attention, yet is a direct message from our dearly departed. Or waking up in the morning and the first thing you do is begin to sing a song you haven’t heard for many years! In that moment be tempted to find the lyrics and read the message contained within it. It may be a particular lyric within the song that the message is contained; one will know instinctively where its origin lay as it is felt rather than thought through.
Communicating with the Dearly Departed
For people with strong empathy, very little effort if at all is needed to connect with the departed; their channels are always open and aren’t shut down by society’s ignorance and/or fear of the unknown. It is the natural world of the Ancient’s eternally existent in our present. Being able to speak to the departed, or hear them desperately (at times) want to pass messages on to their living loved ones can be both a blessing and for the living who aren’t open to receive far from it, it can be very distressing, even intimidating, especially if they don’t have the understanding of the spirit world.
When a message is being passed on by the dearly departed, is the recipient actually ready to receive it? I have found very few are, where the majority certainly aren’t and it is vitally important that you attune to the wairua (spirit) consciousness of the recipient and ask as this is not a physical act of speaking here, it is wairua to wairua (spirit consciousness to spirit consciousness).
I recall some years ago meeting a mother whose daughter had committed suicide just a few weeks prior, the mother distinctly distraught and very much baring the scars of her internal grief, immediately the spirit of her daughter ‘stood’ beside me and began to persistently beg me to give her mother a message, it was so important to her, I kept saying within my mind to her, ‘now is not the right time’, this went on throughout the event I was attending and at times I had to maintain focus as without question her daughter was distracting me with her persistence.
When we went outside of the building, my son beside me and all too aware of what was happening, as I had filled him in earlier, said, ‘Mum, why don’t you just tell her Mother the message she wants to give?’ At the very same time her daughter was in my ‘ear’ pleading with me. I looked at her Mother and attuned myself to her spirit and said within my mind to her daughter who had followed me outside and was again standing right beside me and in a very firm voice said, ‘look at your mother standing there, does she look like she is ready to receive your message right now?!’ The response from her daughter after a moment’s pause, ‘No, Mum is not ready’. I said, ‘One day honey your Mummy will be ready and she will seek to know, until then you must be patient and embrace where your Mum is at’, she was peaceful in that knowledge and left lighter in herself. It wasn’t about me, or the daughter, it was about her Mother barely coping with her daughters sudden passing.
Just because one may be able to receive messages does not necessarily mean we are the forwarder of it too, with all things within the physical and spiritual realms, we must also be attuned to the physical implications that may arise through our actions, and it must always come from a place of heartfelt love and respect.
That particular experience played on my mind for a short time after, and at one point I second guessed myself to if I should have said something? Only to be told an emphatic, NO! And once again I was shown the clarity of what had occurred, for in that moment, it was clear as wairua to wairua, (spirit consciousness to spirit consciousness), she simply would not have dealt with the message from her daughter as it contained information she was not yet capable of processing – then.
On other occasions the outcome has been the complete opposite where I have simply just told the message, which in itself can be quite detailed. No prior relationship with the departed is required to ‘hear and receive’, and I have long learned and accepted not to question the giver of the message, who am I to question what they are giving to me, I either just say it directly or write it and give it to the receiver. The content of the message is only known and understood by the receiver, those most closest to the departed. Not my job to interpret the message further, unless that is, I am asked directly by the recipient, than the messenger will give me more information to clarify if there is anything to be added.
Messengers from the departed can appear cryptic, like riddles, as in the spirit realm communication is not as complicated, we have done a fine job in the physical world on that one and can only be accountable for making the simplistic so far removed. We are capable of understanding the language of body movement through a frown, or a smile, or when one shrugs their shoulders as an expression of confusion or not knowing, yet when it comes to understanding communication of the spoken or written word we can misinterpret what is being said or ‘read into it’, that which we will without connecting to the spirit of the speaker, for it is in the latter that the act of empathy flows.
Being a frequent or clear dreamer is not unusual for those who experience heightened empathy and the dreams can come with incredible vividness as though one is actually awake. If your conscious of what is going on in the dream, than you are lucid, and have awoken within the dream and are clear on your thoughts and notice anomalies, (things that appear abnormal, these are signs of lucidity when you notice them), it also opens the opportunity for the dreamer to direct or control certain aspects within the dream. It is here that one can be taken upon journeys with the departed to give clarity, not necessarily a message either but clarity of the person, as they were in life and may likely occur as an indirect result of the receiver having a close or connected relationship with the departed’s loved one(s).
Expressing Grief is to Live Through its Origins
We are born to feel, to sense and to express and release and move forward, when we don’t, the repercussions can be detrimental to our well-being and state of mind.
Being able to mourn is not always acceptable across every culture, for many it is considered a sign of weakness to even begin to express such powerful and even crippling grief, and instead the emotional upheaval one feels within is bottled up, pushed aside, if not suppressed altogether.
Over time these suppressed emotions seep and bleed directly from the spirit, which cannot be contained, for only our mind is capable of achieving such. Suppressed emotions can and will ultimately affect future life experiences, years can pass and one may not even realize the sheer grip it has had with twists and turns at ever corner until one chooses to confront with their innermost feelings held and begin the process of openly expressing what exactly is being felt.
This is going into the origin of emotions and coming to a gentle point of understanding what it is that makes us who we are. In our lifetime, we are constantly dictated by what it is we feel and act outwardly and accordingly, more so than by thought, for it is in the emotion, the feeling that thought pursues.
We are born into this world coming from the guidance and place of our spirit and are always reminded of what and who we are by what we feel, other times we may need to come from a place of being analytical, (of the mind) to undertake a job given to us in our workplace, yet always our spirit is attuned and will warn us if a decision we are about to do (based on work processes) has danger within and the spirit will give a distinct warning feeling, ‘alarm bells’ begin to sound. It is a fine balance between the spirit and the mind to which one prevails and the reasoning behind everything we do.
The origin of emotions stem from the center of our spirit, it is the stem cell of our DNA that science will not ever be able to duplicate. It is what binds us as living human beings.
Our spirit without need or want of effort is always one step ahead of us in the physical world, it is in our mind and mind alone that we are held in the past, present or future. In order to understand what our life is about, we must endeavour to understand who we are by learning to interpret and acknowledge what it is we feel, each and every emotion no matter how raw or painful it may be comes with deep meaningfulness when we choose to go into and embrace it, for in turn we are embracing our right to exist, to survive, to breath, to live our life’s as fully as we choose too.
By acknowledging where we are at in any given moment through the connectedness of our spirit to an emotion, a feeling and truly understanding what each emotion teaches us, we are being ever present, living in the now, and it is when we feel most alive.
Each and every single emotion we feel (and there are far more than we can imagine) opens the door to the spirit to gather clarity and understanding, it brings forth the opportunity to go inside one’s self and ask, what is this grief I am feeling? Grief or mourning in and of itself comes with a series of emotions that are yearning to be understood, we subconsciously want to understand, yet have an inner battle going on within the mind (conscious) to suffocate our right to identify with (self) and move onto the next one.
There are many questions that immediately follow a feeling, if we choose to ‘hear’ and then ask; we will inevitably know the answer, as an example;
“I feel so ‘hurt’ and don’t want to get out of bed today” – “What is this hurt I feel?”
“I can’t get through this day when I feel so ‘down’ inside” – “Why am I feeling so down?”
“I feel so ‘alone’ all the time” – “Why does this loneliness consume me?”
“I can’t bare this ‘pain’ in my heart” – “What is this pain that I am feeling?”
They are not just feelings of hurt, of being down, feeling alone and pained, they are doorways to the deepest aspects of understanding who we are, what shifts and shapes us, what determines our walk and whether that walk will be one that is full of baggage that weighs us down, or is continually teaching us and lights the path ahead. Understanding what each emotion is unravels the mystery made only from the mind, alleviates our load, and makes us feel connected to the whole self. It is a shared and lived experience directly coming from the spirit into our conscious self.
When we embrace an emotion, each and every feeling that comes forth with awareness we are giving ourselves permission to heal and the depth is filled with meaningfulness that is now given the right of passage to dissolve into nothingness – the place of everythingness, the eternal void.
When we truly have gone within, we will inevitably be reminded of attaining such, when another life experience (not necessarily or even remotely the same) comes forth bringing with it the same emotion, how we react or respond will determine the level of understanding we gained from the first time around. There may be ‘fragments’ remaining which are nonetheless to be learned, yet will not hold so much of an impact as it initially had. You will know what those fragments are simply by asking, and in doing so you will identify, acknowledge and ultimately it will be released into your heart at peace where it ought to be, and not fraught with fear held in the dark recesses of the mind.
If however full understanding has been attained, one will know exactly what it is they are feeling and won’t be held by it as it simply has no crippling impact and is acknowledged without need or want of effort, it peacefully passes through an inner awareness and respect of your very existence.
We need not seek outside of self the ability to heal our heart, body and mind, we were born with the innate knowledge that we can do this in all of life’s experiences delivered. Others can be an integral part in allowing our healing of self to take place when the person unselfishly becomes the stepping stone in which to lovingly hold one up, or simply allow one to express self openly and truthfully if even in the essence brutally so by our expressions alone, not theirs, ours, however we so deliver it, it is ours to do so.
How a person responds can make all the difference if they are comfortable in yet another innate ability to listen with all senses attuned, they will know instinctively, as their spirit is attuned to the spirit of the person expressing themself whether to say anything or say nothing at all, or to simply just ‘be there’. They will come from a peaceful place of respect, of flowing empathy – aroha (love).
At times they may give ‘key words’ that fill in the missing links in understanding a specific feeling without even intending to do so consciously, (as it has come direct from the spirit of that person), one will know because it generates more understanding, perhaps not immediately but soon after when one ‘mulls’ over it. All answers are within us, we need only open ourselves to receive and understand the meaningfulness that comes and enlighten us in the free-flow of our spirit.
We are our greatest teacher when we acknowledge the student within; the teacher in us comes thru. No one can instil in us what is already of us, they can all but open the door until we are ready to walk within. The moment when it ‘clicks’, and makes ‘sense’, is the moment the student and teacher within become one, the lesson is learned and we move onto the next one.
Rarely do we ever, but when we take one day at a time, we are more in the present than most; we are at the pinnacle of experiencing our journey with what may appear to be a crude reality when in actuality we are being placed in a space of super learning. When in mourning the last thing anyone ever wants to experience is accelerated learning, nevertheless it is certain. Grief is surmountable (contains many emotions to overcome) and there are other life experiences that can place us upon this path such as the birth of a newborn, an accident or other tragedy, illness or disease or an experience that comes with a sense of a miracle occurring.
Maturity does not come from age alone, it comes forth in the acceptance, acknowledgment and understanding by embracing intricate teachings brought forward by the most overwhelming of emotions, a ‘sense of maturity’ is becoming and emanates without cause or effect. It is not commanded throughout life, nor is it given; it is earned by what we come to know through firsthand experience.
When an emotion matures, it goes back to hence it came, the source of creation and the person is enlightened by that emotion, and in doing so will light the way for others yet to experience.
How Not to Feel so Overwhelmed at a Funeral?
Unless one is negated of emotion it is impossible to not feel emotional energy to some degree. If the person who has passed is close to you, acknowledge each and every feeling that comes up when it does is so important to flowing with the grief being experienced, rather than feeling held by it all. Be the emotional energy of sorrow, fear, anger, resentment or loneliness whatever it is that is being felt acknowledge by the act of stating in your mind, “I feel so lost without you, how will I cope without you, why did you leave me alone?” The act in being conscious can become the stepping stone to inner healing. Being able to express your emotions to a friend, or loved one can really help in this process, sometimes speaking out aloud that which we feel and the thoughts we have allows us to deal with it far better than within the quiet space of our mind that no one else is privy too until we speak it out.
Ask yourself about death, what is it specifically that bothers you so much? Sometimes our mind builds a fear based scenario that holds no bearing in reality, let alone in the spirit realm, especially if we come from a cultural background which the more we understand about and the cultural process of death, the more open we are to accepting, not necessarily the easier it becomes, but instead we come to a place of just being. We cannot change the circumstances, the ‘how, what, where and why’ of it all by tossing a situation relentlessly through our mind, what is done is done, and as humans we have this need to change everything to make us feel better, only but by thought and yearning. So why torture the mind and soul into a place that simply prolongs accepting that which we cannot change? There is no solace in doing such as it suspends us in a moment of time, a truly life altering moment at that.
If ‘unfinished business’ prevails, things we wished we had said prior to a loved one passing, or things we wished we had done together can leave us equally torn and thus it is, only to ourselves we suffer immensely, again we cannot change circumstance and when we allow our mind to carry us away to the place that makes us immensely sad, we begin to feel broken inside, perhaps even being drawn into a feeling that one may not be able to continue to move forward, even more concerning, choose not to go on with their own life. If we could ask our dearly departed loved one how they feel about the state one dwells in after their passing, do we seriously believe that they would relish, let alone encourage our crippling grief, that this would bring them incredible joy? Our loss and struggles to comprehend let alone remotely accept death as in life comes to us all, and that not one of us is immune to mortality is something we would rather not experience, but life does not work in that way – yet still we choose to fight or fear the inevitable. It was not ever intended to be so.
Copyright © 1998 Christel Broederlow
Edited March 2013