On Being a Witness

By: Vera Ubaldi

March 12th, 2021

On Being a Witness


MSIA Minister Vera Ubaldi

On 17th of October 2020, I was a witness to my twin brother’s passing.  Michael had suffered with stage 4 lung cancer for seven years.  In the sixth year of his illness, it became clear that he was deteriorating.  I brought him home to live with me again and then at the start of February 2020, COVID19 arrived in Australia.

Then also in late February my daughter Jordana came home from overseas with her partner, and in early March, my son Mark who lived in Los Angeles, also came home because of the spread of the virus overseas.  With a full house, my brother, who did not want to be a further burden, left to live with his married son, further away from the area close to his own home and his favourite haunts. I truly believe this move depressed him as he was comfortable at my place and he was close to all that he was familiar with.

This was the acceleration of his transition.  It had been a slow, long journey. While I had taken care of his physical and emotional needs during this time, Michael was not open to discussions of a spiritual nature.  He was still fighting off death and, I believe, scared of dying.

From August 2020 onward, it was clear that he had little time left. When it dawned on my family that he was dying, everyone wanted to do what they could for him. A learning curve for me as I had to learn to make room for them without judgement.

Michael was in and out of hospital during most of September and October. He was given the option of going to a hospice on the western side of the city (we lived on the eastern side) or staying with his son and dying at home.  Staying at his place was not an option as his son was not able to care for him.

My other brother offered his rental unit to bring Michael home and have his children take care of him in his final days. Palliative care staff were wonderful and outfitted the whole unit with supports to care for him. They called in every day as well, but the bulk of his care, once home, was up to his family. I had resistance to this plan as I did not trust them to take care of Michael – a judgement I had to process and deal with.

During this period, Wendy Bennett was to run a PTS class titled “Joyful Transitions” which I had wanted to do earlier but the timing had not been right.  This time was perfect, although I was sure Michael would transition before the course ended.

By early October when the class started, I knew that I needed to participate, not just to support my brother through his transition, but for myself as well.

When a loved one is dying there is much emotion and fear all round, I have noticed.  It brings home our own mortality, and if we have no faith or awareness of death being just what it is — a transition back to Soul — it can be very frightening.

I needed support myself to see through the last few weeks of my brother’s life. I had to let go of the heaviness around his passing, and I had to be mindful of how his passing would impact all those around him.

My role then was very clear, I had to live and demonstrate my ministry and become the vessel for the Light to work itself out through and in me; to maintain the calm and allow the process to move as it had to.

I had had plenty of opportunity to speak with Michael late at night at the hospital when others had gone. I knew, even while angry, he was ready to leave this life.  We spoke much and he asked me about my own faith and beliefs.

We had been raised strong Catholics as children, but he had moved away from the church, disillusioned by his experience of its hypocrisy.

The late-night talks with him were, for me, the most sacred times. I mostly chanted for him while he did his own process and revision of his own life.  He was searching for meaning and I just guided him to forgiveness.  It was the only thing I could do, and chant.  He was at the end, nothing else mattered other than letting go, and the only way to that was to forgive everything that still had a hold on him, even death.

During the Joyful transition course, it happened that on the third session of the Thursday night class before his death (he died on the Saturday afternoon), I was alone in the unit with Michael.

For a series of reasons, instead of being home I was still with my brother when the course started.  I had a feeling that his children would not be home on time, so I had my computer with me and logged in.

Wendy Bennett and the other participants graciously allowed me to participate knowing I would have to leave to attend Michael if he needed.  This, I appreciate, was a big ask and a tremendous gift to myself and my brother.  They were right there in the home while Michael in the next room was slowly withdrawing from the world. Wendy called in the Light, we chanted and prayed for him, and I was happy and relieved that instead of a priest that Michael would have hated, he had support in love and kindness through the group.

I can’t thank all those present enough for the Light that entered the house that night — the much, much needed Light present, that helped Michael.

He had been resisting letting go even though drugged with morphine, and he had been afraid to die.   Light was needed to ease his struggle and it came via the internet through the love and support of my spiritual family. With all the drama and high tension around us, I needed the support that the class gave me.

A prayer circle, for which I am also thankful to everyone who participated, was started on Friday and by Saturday he had passed. Everyone was able to say their last goodbyes, he managed to weakly squeeze his children’s hands. We played all his favourite songs as he left his body and finally, he was at peace.

Michael’s was not the first transition that I had participated in; my father, my mother, and two of my best friends had all passed and I had had the privilege of being present for their transition.

What I have learned is that death comes in all ways, some are ready for it, some are afraid of it, for some it is easy, for some fast, for some intense and painful.

No death is better or worse than another and for those that lose someone, there is a range of emotions and levels of awareness that are personal for each.  There is no right way to die and no right way to mourn.  It is what it is for each person.
For those of us who are more aware and have a different understanding of death, our place is to call in the Light,  be there in spirit if not in body, chant, stay calm and tranquil — so the Light is unencumbered by our own thoughts and fears around death when moving into the room or across the ether — and just witness and acknowledge a life lived.  Quietly rejoice in the knowledge that they have moved on. All this in the presence of the Holy Spirit which has it handled.

If anyone has the opportunity to be at or part of someone else’s transition, the most important thing to understand is that it is their journey not ours, that as ministers or initiates in the Movement we know and understand what others may or may not realise, that it is a transition, that there is awareness after death and that we do go on.

This is what I have learned in all my years of being in MSIA, this is the example that the Travelers, J-R and John Morton, taught me and this is what I had almost forgotten until I did the Joyful Transitions PTS class.

Not always easy but essential even in our pain, we can rejoice for them as we grieve our loved ones.

PS.  When my brother asked me what he would find on the other side, I did offer my view and told him he would travel a bit but to follow the Light and it would be beautiful.  He would be met by loved ones who had gone before him.

I made him promise me that if this was so, he should send me a magpie (he had a magpie as a pet when we were young that was devoted to him).  Not one but a whole lawn full to show me he was across safely.

That Saturday night as we were all sitting outside toasting his passing, a magpie came to rest on the pole outside the unit and then at least twelve of them flew onto the front lawn. Maybe a coincidence, maybe not.  I know it was Michael.

[I was one of those privileged to be part of the Joyful Transitions class that Vera refers to here. I was so awed by her strength, balance and loving during her ministry to her brother in his last days that I requested that she share her experience with us. For me, what she describes here captures, not only the physical challenges of the transition process, but also the beauty and blessing of being the witness. Thank you, Vera, and God bless you. – Sumi Menon]

For more information about the Joyful Transitions class, contact David Whitaker at PTS davidwhitaker@pts.org

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Thank you Vera. What a beautiful story!

What a beautiful service to your brother, your family and yourself. I love the magpies at the end. That’s the magic of spirit! Love and light.