An Impeccable Death
Some years ago, my daughter died. In this essay I tell the story of her death, not to evoke your sympathy or condolences or to induce you to feel sorry for me – although those things are perfectly normal responses – but because there is a philosophical point to be made. I had communication with her after her bodily death. I have reason to believe that I know some things about what happened to her and what she did after that event. In this essay, I present the evidence for those startling assertions. Please reserve your judgment until you have read to the end.
Just the facts
On September 15, 2013, Katherine Claire Hiles (her name from a previous marriage) was driving west out of Nelson, British Columbia on Route 3A, a two-lane road, with her wife, Mireille Evans. At 3:26 p.m. about 15 kilometres from Nelson near the intersection with Curtis Road a vehicle crossed the center line and struck Katy’s car, killing her instantly. She was taken to a nearby hospital but could not be resuscitated. No alcohol or drugs were involved. Mireille was bruised and scratched, but otherwise physically unharmed. The other driver also sustained injuries but lived. Police say that he does not remember what happened. At the last instant, Katy turned her car to the right, taking the full brunt of the impact on herself and sparing Mireille. Police say that a trained race-car driver could not have avoided the collision. Katy’s death was immediate, and there is no reason to believe that she suffered any pain.
I did not find out about this until the next day when some officials from the Texas Attorney General’s Office showed up at my door to tell me. I immediately called my wife, who hurried home, and we called a few friends.
Before I tell the rest of the story, I need to give some background about Katy. 31 years old at the time, she had been studying Native American spirituality for several years with a group of women in British Columbia. Specifically, she studied the ways of the Lakota, in the tradition of Wallace Black Elk. Her teacher, Kat McCooeye, is a woman of Celtic, Huron and African ancestry who was raised by Native peoples in northern BC and who has been authorized in the lineage of Wallace Black Elk to teach the tradition. Katy was deeply committed to this path, very knowledgeable about its teachings and practices, and a member of a strong community of women and men who participated regularly in sweat lodges and other ceremonies.
An extraordinary communication
My wife had an appointment that day with a spiritual healer from Chile. I do not have permission to reveal the healer’s name (not that she has refused; I just haven’t asked, as she has gone back to Chile), so I will call her M. M speaks very little English, and our friend Casey translated. M had been told about Katy’s death and told me to come into the treatment room as well. There were thus four people present: M, Casey Bledsoe, Patricia Michael and I, Bill Meacham. Neither Patricia nor I had ever met M before.
M said Katy was in good hands, with a grandfather figure who was helping her through her surprise and confusion.
Now, unbeknownst to me, the previous day just after Katy’s death her lodge sisters had come to the hospital where Katy and Mireille had been taken. One of the women, Jessica Bamford, has told me that they could sense that Katy was still present and a bit confused. One of them said to her, “Katy, darling, you’re dead.” Katy replied, “Oh. That’s why I can see Grandpa.”
None of us in the treatment room had any knowledge that that exchange had taken place. Here are two entirely independent reports that Katy was in the presence of a grandfather figure after her body had died.
(By the way, I, as her father, am extremely grateful that she was greeted and cared for by a wise, competent elder male.)
M then said that Katy said something about running. M asked whether I had run with Katy when she was young. I was puzzled and said that we had climbed trees together, but had not run. M said no, there was something about running. Then I remembered a game I used to play with Katy when she was little, four, five and six years old or thereabouts, a game we called Run-Past. I would sit on the couch, and she would run past me as I tried to grab her. Of course, I acted quite clumsy and failed most of the time, and she would shriek with laughter as she got away. Occasionally I would catch her and toss her around and nuzzle her, humorously saying I was going to eat the little girl. It was lots of fun.
There was no way M could have known that. There was no way Casey, our translator could have known that.
M then told me that Katy said she had gone first and that she had promised to take care of me when I died, but she had deceived me.
A year earlier, on a previous trip to Canada, I had talked to Katy about my own end of life. I told her that at some point I would most likely get old and die and that I wanted her to be with me when that happened. She said, of course, she would, but asked me please not to do it any time soon.
Now Katy was telling me that she was not going to care for me as I died. Again, there was no way that M, whom I had never met before, could have known about my conversation with Katy a year earlier, nor could Casey, whom I had not told about it.
Then Katy, through M, told Patricia some things and said that we would meet again. At the end, Katy said that she was trespassing for this brief time to talk to us, implying that she was breaking a rule against talking to those of us still in our physical bodies. The conversation with her ended.
How can we explain these messages that seem to have come from the dead? To me it is obvious that they were indeed messages from Katy, who was still alive in some form after her physical body died. Materialists deny the possibility of such a thing. They say that the mind is merely a byproduct of the brain, and when the brain dies one’s mind – one’s subjectivity, one’s personhood – dies with it. To maintain their view, I suppose, they would have to say that what I heard from M was coincidence or dissembling. That seems unlikely to me. Or that I am lying, which I’m not.
There is no way to know with the certainty that objective science gives us which interpretation is correct. And even if we grant that it is more likely that Katy really did talk to us after her physical death than that the healer somehow guessed what she had no way of knowing, that does not tell us for sure about anybody else’s death. We have only one data point, one communication that purports to come from beyond the physical world that science investigates so well. From this one data point we cannot confidently say that everyone lives on after physical death. Maybe only some people do. Katy had undergone rigorous training. Maybe only those with such training live on.
We can’t ethically do a replicable scientific experiment. We can’t pick a group of people who have had spiritual training and a control group who haven’t and kill them all suddenly and see which ones survive on the other side and in what way.
There is some additional evidence for the assertion that at least some people live on after physical death. There are numerous other stories like mine, of people who had physically died communicating with the living, revealing things that the person facilitating the communication could not have known. No doubt many such stories are the result of wishful thinking, delusion or outright charlatanry. But all of them? We could find fault with each one, but the likelihood of lots of people all coming up with the same falsehood seems slim.(1)
In any case, we do have objective verification of my story. Four people, Casey, Patricia, I and M herself, heard what M reported that Katy said. Katy’s mother and sister can verify that I used to play Run-Past with her. Patricia can verify that I had talked to Katy about my end of life. And we have two independent reports, separated in time by almost a day and in space by two thousand miles, of Katy’s being in the presence of a grandfather figure. I am not making this up.
What we have here is some data that contradict the materialistic dominant scientific paradigm.(2) I have speculated elsewhere about what might replace that paradigm(3), but discussing ontology is not my aim in this essay. My aim is just to tell the story and see what it might imply for us, the living.
What follows includes some things told to me by people in Katy’s lodge. I am inclined to believe what they say about her. Because M’s independent report of her being with a grandfather corroborates their testimony that they heard her say she could see Grandpa, I assume the truth of their other reports as well.
The rest of the story
I am extremely grateful after I had received the shocking news from some guys I did not know, that Katy spoke to me and Patricia. I am completely convinced that she was there in some form, after her physical form was dead, to talk to us.
Patricia and I went up to Canada. There was a ceremony of washing the body, there was a cremation, there was a big public memorial and celebration of her life, all of which was helpful in dealing with our grief.
She died on a Sunday, and we got up there late on Wednesday. Earlier that day, four days after Katy’s death, the women and men in her lodge had done a ceremony and had prayed and sung sacred songs to help the soul pass on from its intermediate state to the next. They said that at that time Katy passed on and became a spirit, specifically an eagle spirit. The eagle is very important to her lodge and to the tradition of Wallace Black Elk. She had been learning the ways of the eagle; and on the fourth day, she became a spirit being in the form of an eagle.
Seven days after her death I participated in an inipi, a sweat lodge ceremony, at which Kat McCooeye was the water-pourer, the person who leads the ceremony. This was to have been Katy’s first time pouring water, the most important role in the ceremony. Katy usually tended the fire that heats the rocks. She wasn’t there, so I did that job.
The sweat lodge is found all over North and Central America. In Mexico, it is a permanent structure made of stone, called temazcal. In the Lakota tradition, it is a rounded hut made of saplings over which are draped blankets or animal skins. You kneel down to crawl in, then hot rocks are brought in from the fire, the door flap is closed, and you are in complete darkness. The leader pours water on the rocks, creating steam and making it very hot in there, beats on the drum, and leads the group in prayer and sacred songs. It’s very intense. My experience has been that in that extreme physical environment whatever is not essential in your mind goes away; and when you pray you speak from a very deep, authentic place in yourself.
There are several rounds, in between which they open the door. In the third round they sang songs to call in the spirits. Kat said that the eagle spirits would come in, and Katy would be among them. I waited with eager anticipation for some profound feeling or sensation, but none came. Then I saw in my mind’s eye her face, as if from a distance. That was nice; that was good.
We did that, we came home, and several days later our Sufi group had a chanting ceremony, called zikr. I typically drum for the zikr on my dumbek, and this evening I was deep into drumming while my friend played guitar and the group chanted various sacred phrases. I was absorbed, in a sort of trance, concentrating only on the drumming. I idly thought of Katy as an eagle; and I saw in my mind an eagle flying around, circling in the air. It circled closer and closer and then came and looked me right in the eye. Its eye was a golden yellow. It looked at me and then went on. At the time I didn’t think about it, but the next day it occurred to me that Katy was telling me, “Dad, I’m over here now. I’m in this form now.”
(And by the way, the eyes of a mature eagle are yellow.(4) I looked it up.)
In the sweat lodge, Kat had said “Katy is here. Katy says that she’s really happy, because she’s an eagle sprit and she gets to serve the people 24-7. She doesn’t have to sleep.”
So in the space of seven days Katy died instantly, was met by grandfather, learned what she needed to learn, became an eagle spirit, appeared in the sweat lodge, and expressed happiness at being able to be of continuous service. And later appeared to me in my semi-trance to reassure me that she was still around.
Well done, Katy!
I am astonished and delighted that she made the transition so quickly and smoothly, and to such a good place. And that her idea of a good time after death is to be of service continuously. She found herself an excellent gig! I am extraordinarily proud of that girl. She was prepared. She did it, impeccably.
I am proud of her. And, I can’t tell her that. She’s a spirit and I’m here. I am a mammal. I need touch. I want to hug my daughter and feel her and look her in the eye and tell her how proud I am of her. But I can’t do that. I am very grateful that she contacted us after her physical death and that I know what happened to her on the other side. I am simultaneously elated that she made such a spectacularly successful transition and heartbroken that she’s not here any more.
In the Phaedo Plato has Socrates say that the true philosopher should be cheerful in the face of death. “Those who really apply themselves in the right way to philosophy are … preparing themselves for dying and death,” he says.(5) When I was an undergraduate I thought the idea quite morbid and unappealing, but now I see the wisdom in it. We probably can’t all go in such an elegant way as Katy, nor to such an elevated state of being. But it is plausible to think that we will all continue in some form after the physical body dies.
Just as there is a being who is you on this side, a subjective state of mind, a point of view that acts, so there will be a you on the other side. You won’t have all the physical stuff you have here. But you will have memories, feelings, attitudes, a point of view and your own way of being in the world, your own way of approaching and interacting with whatever surrounds you. Your world will be different, but you will be there. What qualities of character would help you in that condition? You’ll still be you. What kind of person would you like to be?
Appendix: How I deal with it emotionally
One of my teachers said that how long it takes grief to heal is a function, not of the amount of time that has passed, but of the quantity of tears that have been shed. I have been fortunate to have ample opportunity to cry, in fact to bawl my heart out. That’s what ceremonies are for, and time with friends. As I say in more detail in the chapter of my book titled “The Overlooked Adaptation,” the discharge of painful emotion is a healing process.(6) It is our body-mind-spirit’s way of removing tensions and mental pollutants that get in the way of exuberant enjoyment of life. The sweat lodge in particular was a good place for crying away grief, as well as pounding away rage and shaking away terror. For a time, in between bouts of emotional release my mood was grey. I was surrounded by gloom, and I knew it, but it seemed even less interesting to try to do or feel something else. That gloom has now lifted, and I find myself with enjoyable things to do and fun people to be with. And then the tears come again. I don’t try to push them away, nor do I try to prolong them. I just let them take their course, and after a while I raise my head to the present again. All we have is now.
(1) Grimes, The Fun of Dying, p. 22.
(2) Wikipedia, “Paradigm shift.”
(3) Meacham, “Being Human in a Conscious Universe” and “Matter, Mind and Metaphysics.”
(4) Nye, “Bald Eagle Frequently Asked Questions.”
(5) Plato, Phaedo, 64a.
(6) Meacham, How To Be An Excellent Human, pp. 117-127.
Grimes, Roberta. The Fun of Dying: Find Out What Really Happens Next. Greater Reality Publications (http://greaterreality.com), 2010.
Meacham, Bill. “Being Human in a Conscious Universe.” Online publication http://bmeacham.com/whatswhat/BeingHumanConsciousUniverse.htm.
Meacham, Bill. How To Be An Excellent Human. Austin: Earth Harmony, 2013. Available at http://bmeacham.com.
Meacham, Bill. “Matter, Mind and Metaphysics.” Online publication http://www.bmeacham.com/blog/?p=951.
Nye, Peter. “Bald Eagle Frequently Asked Questions.” Online publication http://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/eagle/ExpertAnswer05.html as of 22 October 2013.
Plato. Phaedo. In The Collected Dialogues of Plato, 2nd printing. Ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns. New York, Pantheon Books, 1963.
Wikipedia. “Paradigm shift.” Online publication https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradigm_shift as of 22 October 2013.