I knew Mrs. Seiberth, and we had liked each other. I knew that she was a religious woman and that she wished that her son would come and see her. Asked why he doesn’t come she said: “He’s living far away. – But also, he is afraid of seeing me so sick.” When I was visiting her now she was in coma. She looked into an empty space. With every breath she made a coughing sound. I put my hands on her arm. Calm and slowly, with long pauses in the pace of her breath I recited the psalm of the good shepherd. Her breath went calmer and the coughing noise went silent. But at the words “thy rod and staff they comfort me” the coughing came back. Maybe they reminded her of something that made her sad? The concept of systematic desensitation of fears came to my mind. So I repeated these very words so often in a very calm and friendly tone till the coughing disappeared again. Then I continued. At the words “in the presence of my enemies” the coughing came back. I did the same procedure of repeating the words in a friendly tone till the coughing was gone and she was breathing calmly. At the words “Goodness and mercy will follow me all my life” her breath got even calmer. So I repeated these words many times till it got even calmer. I finished the Psalm and said “I would like to say bye-bye now.” Immediately the coughing noise came back and continued with every breath. “I will come back, I will come back, I will come back…” I said, and the noise disappeared. The next day I visited her I read the same psalm to her. Her breath was calm and silent all the time. Only when I said that now I would leave the coughing noise came back. “I come again, I come again, I come again…” I said till it was calm again. The next day I was about ninety minutes later than on the previous days. Entering her room I saw a man who introduced himself as her son. “She’s died an hour ago.” He said. „Was she still alive when you came?“ „Yes“, he said. (Stefan Hammel, Handbook of Therapeutic Storytelling, Karnac, London 2017/18)
Noticing that the man I mentioned yesterday died so soon after my visit I got curious about the effectivity of the cloak room metaphor.
I remember I was called to the bed of a dying woman. When I arrived she was breathing about once per minute. I didn’t know that a person could breathe so little and still be alive. Her daughter and her son in law were there. I asked if it were appropriate to speak a prayer, to which they said “Yes”. After telling the dying woman that her daughter and son in law were there, who I was and what I was going to do I put my hand on her arm and spoke a prayer. Then I said to her: “I would like to tell you something, Mrs. S. I imagine there’s a door. When it will be the right time for you, you can go through that door. Next to the door there’s a cloak room. There’s someone who can have an eye on your things so they’re safe. It’s a special wardrobe. You can had in anything that’s a burden to you.
If you’re afraid – take it off. You don’t need any fear over there.
If you’re sad – hand it in. For what? You don’t have any use for that now.
If you bear a grudge or haven’t forgiven someone – hang it on the big wardrobe.
If you feel obliged to anything – take it off.
If you think you need to stay – there’s nothing you need to! If you want, give it to the one who’s standing there for guarding it.
If you think there’s still something left to do or that there’s anything missing – hand it in to the one who will guard it for you.
If there’s anything unpleasant in your body – give it to him as well.
If there’s any problem with breathing – give it to him as well.
If there’s anything else you would like to give to him – hand in anything that you don’t need any more.
Give him anything that has become a burden for you. Take it off. You don’t need it any more. And when you notice that it’s time for you, go through the door.” I finished with a blessing.
During the prayer the breath frequency of the woman had gon up to about six breaths per minutes, and thus it stayed for a while. Her daughter and son-in-law were observing her breath silently. The silence felt somewhat heavy for me and I had the imagination it could be the same for the dying woman. So I asked: “Can you tell me what happened so your mother got in this state?” The daughter said a few sentences. Her mother’s breath got very slow again. After five breaths there was a very tiny one. Then everything was still. (Stefan Hammel, Loslassen und leben. Impress, Mainz 2016)
Having learnt that dying people may well notice when their relatives decide to let go of them and, if you will, allow them to go, I more and more integrated the theme of „letting go“ in my work with dying people.
I remember being at the dying bed of a man. His wife was next to him. They knew each other only since two years and had been very happy with each other. He had been inspired by her Christian faith and had adapted more and more of it for himself. I had met him in a clear state some days ago. Now he was in coma. I told him about about a coat rack for his troubles… that he could imagine the cloak room of God where he could lay down anything that would burden him. He could take off any fear or grieve and it would be taken care of. After that his wife said that he could let go and that she could let go and that he could express his love to her also when he is on the other side and that he could care for her from over there. A quarter of an hour later he died without struggle.
En una pequeña isla en medio del océano extenso crecía una hermosa flor amarilla de oro. Nadie sabía cómo había llegado allí, porque en esta isla no había ninguna flor aparte de ella. Las gaviotas venían volando para contemplar este milagro con asombro. “Es linda como el sol”, decían. Los peces venían nadando. Levantaban las cabezas encima del agua para admirarla. “Es linda como un coral”, decían. Un cangrejo salió a la tierra para mirarla. “Es linda como una perla en el suelo del mar”, dijo. Y todos venían casi cada día para admirar esta flor.
Un día, cuando volvieron para contemplar la flor, se encontraron con que los pétalos dorados de la flor se habían vuelto marones y secos. “Ay de nosotros”, dijeron las gaviotas, los peces y el cangrejo. “El sol quemó nuestra flor. ¿Quién ahora nos refrescará el corazón?”. Y todos se pusieron tristes.
Pero algunos días más tarde apareció en lugar de la flor una maravillosa bola de color blanco tierno. “¿Qué es eso?”, preguntaron los animales. “Es tan blando como una nube”, dijeron las gaviotas. “Es tan ligero como la espuma de las olas”, dijeron los peces. “Es tan fino como el resplandor del sol en la arena”, dijo el cangrejo. Y todos los animales se alegraron.
En este momento un golpe de viento barrió la isla y sopló este milagro blanco dispersándolo por ella en miles de copos. “Ay de nosotros”, hablaron las gaviotas, los peces y el cangrejo. “El viento ha dispersado nuestra bola. ¿Qué alegrará nuestro ánimo ahora?” Y todos estaban tristes entonces.
Un día por la mañana, al levantarse el sol sobre la mar, allí en la luz dorada matinal relucieron cientos y cientos de hermosas flores color amarillo de oro. Entonces bailaron las gaviotas en el cielo y los peces en el agua, y el cangrejo bailó con sus amigos una danza de rueda en medio de las flores, y todos se alegraron.
(Por Stefan Hammel, traducción: Bettina Betz)
Another beautiful story by Katharina Lamprecht…
One day, it was Midsummer and the Swedish days where as long as the dinner table for the king’s birthday. A wise old moose on his evening stroll met a young boy, sitting on a moss covered tree trunk, sobbing deeply. The old moose stopped and looked at the boy who did not notice him because of all his despair. Not until the moose nudged him with his soft muzzle did the boy raise his eyes. And just in front of him he saw the big brown eyes of the moose. He saw in those eyes all the stars in the heavens that he could not see before on this Midsummer night. So big, so deep and so endless the eyes seemed to be that he got the feeling he could just take a walk right into them. The stars where so beautiful, like jewels, iridescent and glittering in all colors he could imagine, scattered like the crumbles on grandma’s apple-pie, big ones and small ones, thick and thin ones, each of them meaningful and unique. At the sight of all those treasures the boy got the feeling he was surrounded by good friends, who bestowed upon him potency and love.
So they stood for a long time and looked at each other, the young boy and the old moose. Then the moose blew his warm and soft breath through the boy’s hair, turned around and faded into the forest. The boy looked after him for a long time, as if in trance, and only after a while did he discover that his infinite sadness had transformed. It was still there but all of a sudden there was also a happiness and cheerfulness. And he somehow felt that this had something to do with the stars he had seen in the fathomless eyes of the old moose.
He turned around and walked back home. And whistling happily away he kicked at the stones that laid on his way.
In a professional forum a colleague asked, if anybody knew of a certain therapeutical story. He remembered one that he once heard and thought that it was from a famous storyteller. Until then I never had actually written in this forum but now I wrote on behalf of this colleague’s question that I thought it was the famous story about a tiger. I was quite happy that I was able to contribute something at last until I read the response of another colleague. “I don’t know anything about a tiger”, he wrote, “but I guess you may have thought about the famous lion story”. I instantly sank into a hole three miles deep, full of shame and embarrassment. Now wasn’t that just typical of me and my incomplete knowledge? Shortly afterward I told a friend of mine what had happened, still very ashamed. But he hugged me and said “But you gave that wrong information with much love and enthusiasm”. I looked at him and began to work my way out of that hole.
The goal of each life is – in some sense – death. When one among us reaches this point, the others often say he has lost his life. When a person died among the first Christians, they used to say: He has won his life! He has succeeded! And they wove this man a victory wreath so as to celebrate with him! A victory wreath, just as the ones the victors from tournaments had received in those days! The custom of sending a man to his grave with a wreath has remained. The message of this wreath is forgotten. It goes thus: You are a winner!
In a land in our time there lived a man, who read a book and found lots of wonderful stories therein. There were true and invented stories, experienced and pensive, enjoyable and painful stories. There were stories which contained stories, and such which were actually not stories. For every story he read, there occurred to him nearly five which he had either experienced or thought up himself. So the thought came to him, that a lot in the world was a story which could be healing for himself and others; he only needed to absorb the healing stories well and to forget the terrible ones immediately. Then he would learn which story he had used when and for what. So he organised his own stories which he knew, and which had become a help to himself and others, or could become so. Sometimes he noted it down when a new story came to his ears and sometimes when a helpful story occurred to him, he memorised it.
Then he saw before him in a picture the storystories of this life arranged in long shelves, as in a large pharmacy. And behind the counter there sat a man who had learnt to listen to himself and others. He was a master of his subjectspecialty. His talent was that he understood how to tell the right thing at the right time to himself and to those who visited him.