Personal Reflections on the Home Vigil for Jack Heckelman
By Lisa Venable, close friend
Linda had left a message saying he (Jack) had crossed over. I expected to hear tears and feelings but instead she invited me to “Come and help wash the body.” I took a deep breath. This was all completely new to me and yet ancient at the same time. “Wash the body.” Not, “What am I going to do?” or “I can’t live without him,” but, “Come, wash the body.” Jack’s passing was not a mourning or a fear of the future but a sacred service. This was a time for pure, holy giving. I ran to the car, tears strolling down my face for Linda, for Jack, for myself and for the opening this created for what I now call, “beautiful death.”
Magic swept the crisp morning air as I looked up at the sky. This was a day the angels had made not only for Jack but also for all of us who would be touched by what lie ahead. I arrived at Jack and Linda’s house and quietly entered to the sound of low, chanting voices. I saw Jack’s casket, carved in love, sitting empty in the dining room. I fell into more tears knowing Jack was truly gone now. Linda greeted me with open arms and invited me into the space where Jack was being washed.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. Real people (not morticians!) were actually caring and gently loving this dead body as if it were a newborn child just entering the world. There was no fear or unbearable grief, only nourishment. Reverence. This was a holy being now, fully clothed in the Great Spirit and we given the privilege to be in sacred service. I felt fully honored to be in the room as they finished the washing and then began to anoint him with oils. I touched Jack’s forehead and heart and laid my head gently on his chest. “Thank you,” I whispered. “For being like a father to me and for showing me how to die so gracefully.”
I sat alone with Jack awhile feeling this deep, sweet presence. Nancy, his sister, had said that death is birthing yourself back to the Spirit, only you do the labor. Jack had and now his Spirit was in the room with me. The energy felt strong and I sensed I was being lifted right up with it. ….
I witnessed a community of people come and go for 3 days, keeping close vigil with Jack’s body and spirit. Beautiful people streamed through the house all longing to help, ready to serve by taking turns sitting with Jack. The hours were filled with thanks, prayer, inspirational reading, poetry, long evenings of beautiful singing, socializing of all ages and telling “Jack” stories. Even the children watched the process in wonder, albeit some were timid, knowing they too, would someday meet this fate. …
Friends, encouraged by Linda’s great openness, warmth, and gracious invitation for good byes at any hour, came to what all experienced as a truly unique and uplifting life celebration, blessed by Jack’s spiritual presence. Whenever I walked in the house, I often experienced joy, yet it was okay to show any emotion. What seemed different to me was that people were in service to one who had made his way through life and now to another. It was a time for blessing and hope. A time for honoring and helping Jack gently cross the threshold into his new and glorious life….
As I look back now, I realize Jack’s death did not seem like a death at all, but a joyful opening for all of us who were there. Thank you, Jack, for a truly holy gift. I am forever changed.
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