The Feather

A man died today(9/25/12). As I held his left hand, lightly curling my fingers around his long, spindly finger, while his father held his other hand and Melissa, his former wife and the mother of two of their children, lay next to him.

Thirty-year old Mattie rested between Joe and Melissa, nearing his final journey following the diagnosis of cancer one year ago. Melissa had called me a few weeks earlier, requesting that I come and be with Mattie. She had a feeling that it would provide some sort of comfort for him as it became increasingly evident that he would die fairly soon. The treatments had delayed the onset of the
ultimate conclusion yet the cancer continued to devour more of his system.

I don’t know all the details and they are not important. My youngest daughter Catherine is a close friend of Melissa’s, whom I’ve known for a long time. I recall doing a shamanic treatment with her when she was younger at her request, and it really shifted her. I also facilitated a baby blessing ceremony with one of her children when she and Mattie were still together, so there’s always been this thread of connection. A family shaman of sorts I guess.

She understands and respects the kind of work that I do, so she asked me to come visit Mattie before he left. Due to my schedule I wasn’t able to do so until today. In fact, when I planned to go see him was the time I was called to Iowa to be with my sister Nancy following the death of her husband of forty-seven years. Seems to be a theme here for me in the month of September.

I had just returned the day before and was still catching up on both my work and my rest from a travel filled three weeks. I had told Melissa this and that I could go see him on Wednesday my first full day back, or the following day. Today I planned to finish some work, clean up my office, and possibly take a nap.

When we finally talked in the early afternoon, she said she felt it would be important to come today rather than tomorrow. “I left last night,” she said, “and didn’t think he’d make it through the night.” She urged me to come today. I immediately said, “of course,” but for the next ten seconds I was wondering whether I should go when I heard the voice of my higher self saying clearly and emphatically, “YOU HAVE TO GO! THERE IS NO CHOICE IN THIS!”

I immediately revised my plans, letting Joe and Melissa know I would be there. I scrambled about the house, going through some of my sacreds, listening closely as to what I should bring. In a small handled bag, I placed some tuning forks, sage, tobacco, three nag champa scented tea lights, a small egg rattle, bottle of lavender scented oil, some holy water from Lourdes, and a feather. It was a turkey feather but became a symbol for a falcon feather. This was related to a falcon that Melissa spotted staying close by to Mattie’s father’s place, where he had been staying.

I felt very clear that this was an important mission. I’d been with people who were close to death and I got a chance to say farewell and to offer my blessings for safe travels. In a few instances, I even facilitated ceremonies for those that were about to pass. But until this happened, I’d never actually been with someone who died while I was in their presence. There are those who deal with this daily, but it was a new experience for me. Yet I was crystal clear on what to do.

It turned out to be a poignantly beautiful experience.

When I arrived Melissa greeted me in the parking lot. Her eyes were rimmed with red from the crying she’d been doing; yet through it all she remained calm and very present. We walked up the stairs to his father’s home, where Mattie had been staying during this last year. We greeted each other and he reminded me that he’d attended the christening of his grandchild.

It was clear to me within a few moments that Joe was ready to take that walk with his son. His love and grief were apparent, though he was doing his best to be stoic throughout. The three of us walked into the bedroom where Mattie-or at least what was left of him-was lying on the bed.

He was down to seventy pounds, literally just skin and bones, and his breathing was very raspy and erratic. I kneeled next to him and took his left hand in mine. Joe got on the bed and held his other hand, while Melissa lay on the bed near him, touching his shoulder. I first said, “Mattie, this is Steven Farmer. I know you’ve been expecting me. We’re all here to pray for you.” I then lit a combination of tobacco and sage and brushed his withered body with the smoke, then anointed him on his forehead, throat, chest, hands, and feet with lavender essential oil.

A song came to me so I hummed an unidentifiable lullaby, words being entirely unnecessary. After this I rattled around his body with a very soft and gentle eggshell rattle, then sat back next to him. I reached into my medicine kit, took the feather out and laid it on his chest.

Then the three of us sat for several minutes in silence, listening to his gasping breath and feeling the diminishing presence of his life force. Being in an altered state this entire time, I now focused my gaze on the feather lying on his chest. I watched as it fluttered slightly, rising and falling to the rhythm of his heartbeat. His rate of breathing slowed. Every so often either Joe or I would say gently, “It’s okay. You can let go.”

He took what we thought was his last breath, and I sensed his soul leave his body. Yet after a few brief seconds that felt like an eternity, he took four more breaths. My gaze continued on the feather. He took what was his last breath and I saw the feather twitch twice more and stop.

He was at peace. Joe and Melissa cried even more, yet even though my eyes were wet, I was filled with a wondrous, expansive, heartfelt sensation of release and gratitude. After a year of declining health and considerable pain, he shed his skin and transitioned to that invisible realm: the world of Spirit.

It was profound, tragic, and beautiful all in one. There is Light even in the seeming darkness of death.


Shirley E.
Shirley E6 years ago

I'd hope that when my time comes to pass I'd have a bit of peace and privacy to do my own spiritual preparation and make peace with my maker, rather than have my senses distracted by the sounds and smells of what seems a fairly random ritual. I'd like to have a bit of hush, not some outsider muscling in on my experience of death, the ultimate initiation, to add to his personal repertoire of life experience.

Penny B.
.6 years ago

Very beautiful, thank you.

Elsie Hovav
Elsie Hovav6 years ago

Moving and uplifting

Ms H.
Michelle F6 years ago

Linda R - there is more than one culture which has shamen. Africa, South America even Eurpean countries all have their versions of Shamanic people. To do this kind of job is not about the money, nor is it about the publicity or the kudos others may think someone gains from this kind of role. It is about people. The greater love you can feel for the human race and the wanting to help people for the greater good - not the greater greed.

Linda R.
Linda R6 years ago

I think it is wonderful to help a dying person make that transition into the spirit world .
However I couldn't help but be disturbed by Dr Farmer's ritual being part Native American ceremony with the sage and tobacco , part New Age with the lavender oil and part Christian with the holy oil from Lourdes . I read where you called yourself a shaman in this article Dr Farmer, I would hope that you are a Native American if you are going to call yourself a shaman ( holy man )!

I do take issue with someone who is not of Native American ancestry calling themselves a shaman and making money writing books and preforming rituals as such !

Dresia Vaughn
Dresia Vaughn6 years ago

What a painful thing to witness, to see a loved one going right before your eyes, and you feel like your hands are tied behind your back and there is nothing you can do to stop this invisible death about to take your loved one away. It's like something evil is snatching them from you, yet, to know that they know, their loved ones were there with them before they traveled that tunnel slowly walking towards the light and seeing Jesus at the end with open arms waiting for them. We experience this with my father, one uncle, and grandmother, seeing them pass before our eyes. I am weak and can't stomach watching someone die, so I just either sat outside the room or wait for that painful call. But the ones who are there for their loved ones as they passed, will always have a special bond and peace from being there for their loved ones. I pray and I truly hope, that one day, there is a cure for Cancer.

Penny B.
.6 years ago

Beautiful, thank you.

Debbie L.
Debbie Lim6 years ago

Thank you.

Mary S.
Mary S6 years ago

I am sitting here with tears in my eyes, remembering the death of my mother almost six years ago. It is difficult, but good to remember, thanks.

Paula G.
Paula G6 years ago

I admire your ability to be there for those who are dying. And to bring a sense of calm tothose who need it most; the family. YOu have a gift.