Eric Butterworth Speaks: Essays on Abundant Living #28
Delivered by Eric Butterworth on May 27, 1975
“Dear Eric Butterworth: I guess this a kind of unusual and not a very openly discussed subject, but it has been plaguing me for years. I am a girl of twenty-one and have only once attended a funeral home. While I was there I felt so uncomfortable. The body seemed set up as a phony showcase. I just couldn’t comprehend it at all. I know I must pay my respects, but I felt so terrified and frightful at the sight of a deceased body. I would greatly appreciate any kind of advice you can give on this matter to overcome this fear.”
The grief at the passing of a loved one is difficult and universal. All our attitudes and beliefs are put to the test, and if our faith has been built on superficiality, it can be swept away. It is a great problem of our time that, although we express a belief in the eternity of existence, we continue to act as if this here and now life is the beginning and the end of all. We regard birth as a brand new product coming forth from some soul factory, and after existing for a certain number of years, the product is swept into oblivion. One of the great truths of the Bible is Paul’s statement: “The free gift of God is eternal life.” This means to me that life did not begin with birth nor does it cease with death, any more than we begin to live when we put on a certain garment or stop living when we take it off.
We must lift up our eyes to gaze at the truth instead of the appearance in the case of a loved one who has passed. Jesus said, “Judge not by appearances, but judge righteous judgment.” It we are disturbed at the passing of a loved one, we must recognize that we are disturbed by our confusion of thought. We lack a clear idea of what birth and death are. We think of them as opposites, but this is quite false.
Life is a divine activity, ceaseless, a fundamental principle. It is the free flow of God’s activity expressing as that unique idea which you are and I am and your loved one is. It is not static but dynamic. In the unfoldment of life man, a living soul, weaves for himself a physical form, a body temple of the living God, in which the soul lives for a while. But what we term death is not the end of life, it is simply the manifestation, the revealing of the life principle at this point in time. Even though the body temple under the consciousness of limitation wears out or runs down and is laid aside, this can have no influence on the life idea that is molded as you. Death is the manifestation of a soul moving forward to new experiences and a new expression.
It is important to remember that the form in the coffin or tomb is not the real person our soul at all. It is but a form used for a while. The person is not there!
Stepping from one room into another may be described either as leaving a room or entering a room—what you say it is determines what it is to you: How you see it reveals what is your mental attitude toward change. Death is really a step in rebirth, and birth is but the other end of death. Life’s experiences do not have identity in themselves, but they become to us what we see them as being. Looking at a sunrise or sunset is a perception that has nothing to do with the sun, but everything to do with where we are standing. What we see as a sunset is at that very moment seen as a sunrise on the other side of the globe.
To meet bereavement, know that this is not the end for your beloved, who has simply moved into a new experience. Do not think of goodbye, rather think of blessings and Godspeed on his way. For the departed, it is a moving forward, and for us it is a new beginning. Your grief represents your effort to hold back the change, which must be accepted and we must move on. Grief is not for your loved one, but for you. It is an expression of self-pity that helps no-one.
A woman came to see me once who had been suffering grief for more than a year after the passing of her husband. After hearing her whole story, I rather shocked her when I pointed out that she probably resented him for leaving her alone without sufficient means, and with added responsibilities. This jolted her into a re-awakening, and soon she began to see herself in a new light, and once more began coping creatively with life. As Jesus said, “Loose him and let him go.” Free him into his on-going, and give thanks that somewhere there is a forward experience for him and for you and for all of us. This means accepting change, and it means painful growth, but change is the law of life. As the poet says, “I will go out into the darkness and put my hand into the hand of God and it will be better than a light and safer than the known way.”
Accompanying grief is the feeling of frustration at not being able to do something tangible. Of course, there is something you can do. You can hold the person in a loving thought in return for whatever he may have given you over the years. This is the greatest thing you can do for anyone. Even the tangible things we do for others in life are but the outward manifestations of the thoughts we hold for them...and the thoughts are all that is important. We can no longer give tangible evidence to those who have passed, but we can bless them, think lovingly of them, and pray for their spiritual progress. Never think that just because one has reached another plane of existence that he is beyond the influence of our thoughts and prayers. Know that life does go on, and let go, giving thanks that you are a pathway of unfoldment. It is important that the feelings you send across this plane are of release and love and blessing, and not a grasping or remorse.
The young lady who wrote the letter poses the question of the conduct of our funeral tradition. Much of the display of the deceased is a carry over of ancient practices of body worship, and is a contradiction to all we have been taught. Funeral directors have been blamed for these almost pagan (and overexpensive) practices, but they are not to blame. The industry has been created by our tendencies to assuage our guilt by lavish displays. Changes in this area will eventually come, but only through people coming to understand themselves and their attitudes. I predict that someday cremation will be widely accepted as a sensible way of disposing of the no longer needed body. In any case, don’t become chained to cemetary visits. Let go. It may be wise, in respecting the wishes of the family, to maintain good relations by honoring their traditions. But remember that the funeral ceremony must not define your attitude toward the event. There is something more than this, and if you hold transcendent thoughts, the ceremony won’t effect the tranquility you hold and the blessings you send to the loved one.
Many years ago, when I was working in a struggling ministry in the East, I heard that my mother had died in California. I called my family to ask if there was anything that I could do, but I didn’t go to the funeral. Somehow I felt, quite sincerely, that I was just as close to her at that time as the people at the ceremony. The family understood, and although there were some who thought this a mark of great disrespect, I wasn’t needed, and I felt absolutely no guilt about not going. I felt that my mother would have wanted me to be engaging in creative efforts, looking toward the future rather than the past.
In fact, my mother had instructed that her ashes be scattered across the ocean so that there would be no temptation to think of “where” she was. Her memorial service was a time her friends joined together with only a picture, and wished her Godspeed.
To the young girl who wrote the letter, I say, don’t resist the outward trappings. Deal with them to the extent of your present ability and strength and go on! Remember that the physical garment is not the one you love, but only the outward evidence of the passing. Develop a greater awareness of life that transcends death. Develop a greater awareness in consciousness so that you can overcome your fear of death.
© 1975, by Eric Butterworth