A blessing way is a ritual and tradition based in Native American culture that has made it’s way into ours. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s in lieu of what is our common day baby shower, however, it is to honor the journey of the mother. You don’t bring gifts and play games. It’s a ritual. You nourish the mother-to-be, along with those special invited guests, by sitting around a table and serving a meal family style. The mother’s feet are washed with cornmeal (a tradition in the Native American culture to honor the person by using, what would be precious food for the tribe, to instead be used to wash the feet). One by one the women say how they met the mother-to-be and talk about their friendship and love for each other. The guests can then “present” to the guest of honor readings, poems, and mantras that are special to them, many times these would be about womanhood or motherhood.
Six years ago I hosted a blessing way at my house for one of my dearest friends. As we all sat around remarking on how moving and special this evening was, I commented how amazing this could be during the dying process. It would be spiritually powerful. (Luckily, my friends all know and love me and understand my thoughts and feelings about dying.)
I other evening I was given the opportunity to do just that. A client of mine has a tight knit sisterhood of woman who have been together for over thirty years, through marriages, babies and divorces. They were having a hard time dealing with her impending death and felt like they needed to come together to support each other. I was honored to be invited into this circle. After introductions and pleasantries had been exchanged, it felt that the woman needed a starting point. How do you start this dialogue? I was able to begin the blessing way.
I asked everyone to tell me their story of how they met “Kate” and the love they share for her. And there it started. I sat back and watched as friend after friend told how amazing she is and their history together. I saw them support one another, offer ideas on how to say goodbye and giving each other permission to cry and start grieving. We talked about honoring their journey and the importance of being present. We chanted Om Tryambakam (a healing mantra) together and recorded it so we could play it for her as she was dying (a wish she had made in her vigil plan).
I would love to share a poem that was recited that evening. An amazingly beautiful one written by Wendell Berry and one that I would love to memorize.
“The Peace of Wild Things”
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
Who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
and I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Over a year ago I had spoken to another death midwife about this idea of a blessing way for the dying. She was toying with changing the name. I think blessing way is the perfect name for that night. Death is special, a weird and sad right of passage but one that, nevertheless, needs to be honored and witnessed by love.