Samhain: Memories and Thoughts of my Fathers Death
Just over 18 months ago my father died. I was fortunate that I was able to spend time with his in his last few months and we were able to talk, not just about his illness and what he wanted at the end, or didn’t want to be more accurate, but about memories, both good and bad, times spent together and apart. Some things he said didn’t make too much sense at the time, but now I can see and understand what he was trying to say to me.
In his last few weeks I would sit beside his bed, and talk. I’m not sure he heard me, or if he did was able to understand but my presence seemed to calm his somewhat. In his last few days he seemed to become more agitated and while I wouldn’t say distressed certainly confused about where, or indeed who, he was.
This wasn’t a simple not knowing that he was in a hospice, or exhibiting the memory loss associated with dementia. No this seemed to be something more than that. Almost as if the world he was experiencing was very very different to the one we live in and he was struggling to make sense of it. Struggling to adapt to the new environment where all the learnt skills and expectations were of no use.
‘Terminal Agitation’ as it is known is fairly common but poorly understood with theories ranging from an opportunistic infection to the slow shutdown of the body causing metabolic imbalances. From a rational and scientific point of view these explanations would make sense, even though there is no real understanding of exactly how this would operate.
From a Pagan perspective however there maybe another answer, or at least a partial answer. At Samhain we believe that the barriers between this world and the Otherland are thin and with help it is possible for us to interact with each other. It is a time historically when people believed that the souls of those who had died could reach out to the living and for the living to peer through the veil to glimpse the Otherland.
Is it possible that for people nearing the end of their time here, as the begin the process of turning the wheel towards the next phase of their existence that for them too the boundary between this world and the Otherland becomes more permeable? There are certainly reports of near death experiences in most religious traditions.
I remember the agitation my father experienced I would like to think that in his last hours before the wheel turned for him he was catching glimpses, experiencing the sights and sounds and beginning to feel the Otherland. After a lifetime here that would be more than enough to confuse and agitate a person who simply wouldn’t understand or have the experience to process those feeling and experiences.
Maybe the Otherland is so different form our conceptions, the conceptions of religious thought through the ages, so far removed from our Earthly experiences that when we begin to see through the veil it is the cognitive dissonance it produces that generates the symptoms of Terminal Agitation?