Escorting the Dead

 ellisnelson

AN INTERVIEW WITH TA SULLIVANpsychopomp-3d-dls-8pxls-2

One of my favorite movies is The Ghost and Mrs. Muir starring Rex Harrison (1947). In it, the ghost of a sea captain comes back for Lucy when she’s ready to pass. I always loved that he came back for her when it was time. Many of us will have heard stories about people getting close to death who see their loved ones, or sometimes angels. Beautiful, satisfying stories. But what if they’re not stories? What if that’s precisely what happens for many of us?

I recently finished “Escorting the Dead: My Life as a Psychopomp” by TA Sullivan. It’s a fascinating read about her experience as a death escort for the recently departed. As a child she was sensitive, but it wasn’t until she had her own near-death experience (NDE) that her life took a turn and she started to train as a guide for the dead.

Please welcome author and photographer, TA Sullivan. Thank you for agreeing to talk about what is a difficult subject for many.

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Psychopomp vs. Grim Reaper

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What’s the difference between a grim reaper and a psychopomp (other than the fact that psychopomp sounds much cooler; while grim reaper has become a Halloween and horror story cliche and an overused media trope)?

Both are spiritual entities that assist the soul to cross over to the afterlife; so, what really makes them different?

grim reapers:

  • actually take lives
  • are considered the personification of death or demons
  • escort souls to the afterlife, but are primarily associated with the underworld
  • are identified with Halloween and horror stories, so present themselves as frightening figures or demons
  • bring fear, regret, and despair to those they interact with

So, in brief, grim reapers are the personification of death and demons. They represents all the fears of the unknown that people still harbor about death, dying, and the afterlife.

psychopomps:

  • wait until the person has died
  • act as guides and escorts between planes
  • are identified with angels and demigods
  • can present themselves as friends or relatives of the dying person
  • bring comfort, solace, and hope to the dying

Briefly, psychopomps are angel-like beings. They represent all the hope, love, and spiritual comfort that people expect and hope for when they die.

A grim reaper is a much more grisly being than a psychopomp. In fact, the fourth horseman of the Apocalypse (Death) is depicted as a grim reaper. You can’t get much more grisly than that. Whereas Psychopomps, when depicted in human form, are usually shown as angels—gentle, kind, and with an ethereal glow about them. This is just one of the fundamental differences between a psychopomp and a grim reaper.

Reapers are, as their countenance depicts, there to reap your soul. However, they are not there to ease the soul’s hurt or turmoil during the transition. If anything, they may deliberately make the crossing as traumatic as possible. This is because it is their job to fulfill every fear that the transitioning soul has regarding death and dying.

However, when psychopomps come, they counter the soul’s fear and try to ease the trauma. Psychopomps attempt to show the soul that death is just a new beginning and not a fearsome or pain-filled event.

Neither option is wrong or right. In fact, both options are needed so that every soul can have a wide range of experiences. Some people embrace death and the act of dying because they’ve had nothing but positive experiences. So, perhaps they need a less-positive experience to understand and develop compassion for those who are more fearful of dying. Just as those who are ‘deathly’ afraid of dying may need several positive experiences before they begin to understand that the experience of dying isn’t always something to fear. It is simply another part of life. A moving beyond this reality by the spiritual part of you.

The real key to dying (besides not doing it), is to understand that the choice of guide (grim reaper or psychopomp) is up to you. You get to decide what type of death experience you will have. So, if you want something traumatic and eventful because you feel the need to learn some spiritual lesson, then (by all means) let the grim reaper be your escort. However, if what you want is something more tranquil and a little less gruesome, then call on that psychopomp. Either one will come when you ‘call.’ And either one will give you whatever type of experience you desire. Therefore, only you can decide whether your experience of death requires a grim reaper or a psychopomp.

So, which will it be?

DEATH – Why Does It Frighten Us So?

Death.

That word probably frightens people more than any other.

Why?

Because it represents the ‘great unknown.’ We know less about death than we do about outer space or the deep recesses of Earth’s oceans. After all, it’s not easy to explore a dimension or state of being that requires us to cease living. So, for most of us, death becomes the area that, like on maps of old, was marked with the words: ‘There be monsters here.’

Monsters. Demons. Angels.

 

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These are what we think of when we think about death, because that’s all we know, or at least suspect, based on the stories that we are told about the land of beyond. Of course, some people eschew the typical concept of death being a place or a continuation of some form of life. Instead, they see death as a black nothingness. Still others divide the realm of death into two states: one where demons and monsters abide, and another where angels and cherubs live.

Proof.

Of course, trying to prove if there is a type of life after the physical body dies isn’t easy to do. After all, how do you gather statistics and measurements when you have no physical form? It is just this conundrum that has plagued most of us who have died and returned. We have garnered little acceptance from the scientific community regarding our experiences simply because we lack the physical proof of what occurred. All we have is our memory of the events, and even those vary widely based on each person’s interpretation. For instance, for someone who is a strict Catholic, the experience may be interpreted through the filter of their Catholic iconography and tenets; while, someone who is an atheist may describe their experience using a filter of science or space aliens.

Some experiments have been conducted. They are usually of the sort wherein someone is forced into a chemically- or electronically-induced death, and then revived within the time limits deemed safe. While these experiments are done within the confines of labs and under the supervision of ‘specialists,’ the interpretation of what did or did not occur on the ‘other side’ (if indeed, the other side was even reached) is still up to the individual who died.

The specialists monitoring the physical side of the experiment can note data on the ‘traveler’s’ body—heart rate, brain waves, blood pressure, etc.—however, they are unable to experience what the traveler who died experienced. Scientists can site all types of speculation and theories to explain what may or may not have happened—low oxygen levels in the brain, random electrical pulses, or a bad interpretation of what was happening around the person who was ‘dead’—but without proof of whether or not the dead person actually traveled their suppositions are as bogus as their disdain of what the travelers experienced.

Been There.

Having made the roundtrip at least once in this lifetime, I suppose that until we devise some sort of carrier to ferry us (the physical us) into the realm of death and back, we will simply have to rely on our own beliefs and truths as to what awaits us when we die.

To that end, I have written my interpretation of my experiences with the hope that they help people overcome some of their fear of Death. Death isn’t anything to fear. It’s merely another step along life’s path.

 

Immortal Death

Choices Cover 03I watched an episode of Through the Wormhole the other night. It was about different types of scientists who were (desperately) working toward finding a way to make people immortal. Some biologists were busy studying creatures that had lifespans that lasted hundreds of years; while other bio-specialists were busy mucking around with DNA and genomes in an attempt to ensure that all future children would be ‘perfect’ (and who defines what is perfect?). Still other scientists were busy seeking a way to create a non-biological or only partial biological body that could house our brains/souls so that we would never have to worry about sickness or death again.

Yet, no one ever explained why this is so important. Why would someone want to live forever? Are most people so afraid of dying that they would prefer becoming some sort of robot? Unfortunately, whenever I think of a world full of immortal people, I become very frightened. To me, it would be a curse to have to live for hundreds of years. People rarely change. They form opinions, habits, preconceptions, and ideologies and seldom do they allow these ingrained mindsets to shift. So, do you really want to see what happens to the world when someone like Hitler (or Trump), who is afraid of everyone and everything, lives forever?

And if that thought doesn’t scare you, how about all the overcrowding and lack of natural resources that would occur when people stop dying? Talk about a dystopian world. Nothing but blighted cities, with polluted air too foul to breathe, no viable drinking water, and food…yeah, let’s all take our protein pill.

Rather than wasting our time and resources on trying to make people immortal, I think we would do better as a species to spend some time trying to help planet Earth cope with the load of humans she already carries. I also think we should spend more time recognizing and coping with the fact that death is real. It’s not going away and it’s not something to be feared. Death isn’t the end of everything. It isn’t a permanent ‘dirt nap’ or a ‘deep dark hole of nothingness.’ It is simply the end of one physical existence and the continuation of life. Your sentience, the awareness that comprises your true being isn’t limited by the container you call your body. That is simply a conveyance, a method of operating and participating in the physical world.

Just because one body fails doesn’t mean your life is over. Your life as Sam or Jessica is over, yes, but you pick another life, another set of parents, another body, and you start again. Now, you can try out some other options. Maybe as Sam/Jessica you didn’t like the way things worked out in terms of your romantic life. Okay, now as Joe/Abby you can try some different options and see if those romances work out the way you want them to.

But the best part is that when you pick up this new body, you also lose many of the old preconceptions and prejudices that you had. It’s a whole new fresh start. Talk about a science lab. Physical life is just one big classroom where you can study biology, sociology, psychology, mathematics, physics, zoology and every other type of science there is. And if science isn’t your thing, then you can focus on music, art, drama, or medicine.

So, instead of trying to be immortal, maybe we should think about what we want to do next. After all, death is just another step in that long road we call life. It’s nothing to be afraid of, I know…I’ve been to the other side, and I’ve come back. It’s different, but different doesn’t have to be scary.  Psychopomp 3D - DLS - 8pxls - 2

Where is Love?

wave washed heart and pink shovel_4500Where has the romantic gone?

How did she become lost?

Where is the lonely little girl who constantly poured her soul

Into a few choice words—laying bare her life, her heart, and her mind?

I have searched everywhere, yet she remains lost.

I see a form; it could be her.

Instead I am confronted with some glowering old woman

Whose sour disposition seeps forth from every seam of her face,

and every pore of her skin.

Like the odor of spoiled meat, it surrounds her in a miasma,

full of despair and dislike.

When she sees me, she grabs my sleeve

and demands querulously, “Where is love? Where has it gone?”

“I was a young woman once—in love with life and filled with joy.

Now, here I am dressed in these rags. My hair is coarse and my

face is wrinkled. I do not understand. How did I come to be this way?”

Her tears follow the runnels of her face

until they tumble free and splash against her shawl.

Her claw-like fingers still grip my sleeve

and I find myself patting her age-speckled hand.

Love is so fleeting, so swiftly fading.

With its departure do we lose our youth,

our beauty and our way.

Feeling her pain, I turn her toward the light.

Wiping away her tears, I softly explain

that love is there, in front of her.

For within the light all is joy,

and within the light all is music,

and within the light everything is love.

With a look of awe, she releases me

and reaches toward the light.

As she shuffles forward, her countenance changes.

Her face grows smoother, and her back straighter,

and as the glow surrounds her, somewhere deep

within myself I feel the tones of love resound.

Tran’zr series…coming soon

I’m currently working on the first book in a paranormal romance series. I’m finding it fun, and definitely different from any of the other books I’ve written.

Here’s a draft of the blurb that will go on the back of the book:

Changing dance partners can be dangerous. When a young lawyer waltzes into Terra’s life, she decides to give him a whirl. But when she tangoes with Death, someone she never expected dips into her life and steals her heart.

I’ve already gotten some book cover ideas from my pal at DL Design and Digital Art, which I’ve posted here. (If you like any of the designs, let me know. I always enjoy learning what appeals to folks.)

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The short synopsis is:

I’m Terra McGinley…Tran’zr and technical writer, and I’m dating-impaired. I’m okay at getting first dates (though my mom would say otherwise—she’s always trying to fix me up; if it’s male, single, and over the age of consent, she’ll drag it home for me to meet.) However, when it comes to follow-up dates…well, let’s just say that my mother shouldn’t expect to hear wedding bells any time soon.

Being a tran’zr is a part-time gig—which is a good thing, because the pay is non-existent and the hours are horrible; otherwise, it’s a great job. Tran’zrs help transition people from the physical world to the spiritual and vice versa. Some people call us Grim Reapers, while others refer to us as Death Escorts, but we prefer Transitioner, or Tran’zr for short.

Telling the Story

psychopomp-3d-dls-8pxls-2Do you know the difference between a novel and a non-fiction book? A non-fiction book is based in truth. However, the biggest mistake that non-fiction authors make is equating truth with a dry recitation of facts rather than the telling of a story. Despite your history teacher’s attempts to bore you with lists of dates and tables of facts, history can (and is) actually interesting. People want to know why something happened or why someone acted or reacted as they did. They want to understand the reason for events, and that’s where your story telling ability comes in. You need to show them why; you need to give them the story surrounding the event.

All stories, both fiction and non-fiction, are just that—stories. When writing a memoir, biography, or other bit of non-fiction, you still need to follow the same guidelines as an author writing a novel; however, you have a major advantage. Your story is already loosely defined for you. You have the timeline, timeframe, characters, major conflicts, and key dramatic elements, all you need to do is add the story components.

You need to develop your characters so that your readers can see them the way you do—are they shy, dynamic, geeky, or ne’er do well? The characters need depth, life, purpose, and motivation to go along with that dramatic moment. Does the moment you’re recording have to do with star-crossed lovers, a robbery gone wrong, a heroic deed, or just a crazy moment that changed the character’s life? You also need to build up the environment. What was the time period like, the culture, and the society? Help your readers understand your character’s perspectives, actions, and reactions. (For instance, the American culture and societal mores are much different today than they were in the 1970’s and understanding that can help the reader connect with the character and their plight.)

Also, just as a fictional character has wants, needs, fears, and motivations, so do your non-fictional characters. By using a first- or third-person point of view, action verbs, and a show-not-tell writing style you can catapult your readers into the story and help them appreciate the little slice of true life that you are sharing with them.

Here’s an example of a memoir that, while historically accurate, is rather dry:

In 1973, Terry got a job for the local newspaper. She did many jobs while there, such as typesetting, layout and design, and bundling (which is the bundling of flyers, ads, and other inserts with the paper). However, her favorite job was junior reporter.

Her first really major story involved the murder of a local schoolteacher. When the body was discovered, Terry was at the school to cover the latest protests.

Here is that same example, but written in a more story-like way:

1973 was a tumultuous year. It was the time of flower power, (Viet Nam) war protests, hippies dropping out, dropping in, and dropping acid, flag and bra burnings, and it was the year that Terry saw her first murder victim.

As a junior reporter for the local paper, she was at the school covering the latest protest when the screams ripped through the air.

 

Now, which memoir would you rather read?