I received a call to conduct a ceremony for someone unknown to me who was in the end stage of dying. The caller said the dying man had a connection to Tibetan Buddhism and had requested a ceremony in that tradition if he was near death. The man, whose middle name is Raven, was not a practitioner but he felt a deep resonance with the Vajrayana world view.
Raven had a heart attack that morphed into something more severe stemming from a congenital condition. So, family and friends scrambled to place him in hospice care and do other final arrangements. I entered this somewhat chaotic situation accompanied by the Dharma. I shared a bit about the dying process from the Tibetan Book of the Dead (Bardö Thödal) and we shared chants for Raven and all beings making the transition into the bardo, “in between,” of death.
Raven died the following day and I was invited to his wake. This happened to be on the evening of our usual sangha practice so I politely declined, citing my responsibilities at the Dharma center. When I arrived at the center, a very large raven was standing at the entrance. I immediately thought, “Well, hello Raven,” referring to the recently deceased man. The bird acted like it knew me and hopped up onto the porch overhang. We continued to ‘communicate’ for a few minutes until the raven flew to the top of another building, chattering away. It circled around as I entered the Dharma center.
I decided this was an important sign and left the practice event a bit early to share the story of meeting Raven as a raven with those attending his wake. I was greeted warmly by his wife and numerous family and friends. Raven was laid out, surrounded by flowers and plants tucked in and around his body. He looked beautiful. I shared my story and a few other things with some of the gathered folks. It seemed to be beneficial.
Eventually everyone went outside to drum, dance, and watch the setting sun. I was left alone with Raven to offer some prayers and send him into the sky to be with his name sake. This felt perfectly natural and complete. I faded out of the room and returned home, leaving Raven’s family and friends to experience the wake of their beloved’s passing.
In some Pacific Northwest native mythologies, the raven is the creator of the world or the one who gave the sun and stars to humans. The bird is depicted in many ways: creator, benefactor, childish, and a trickster. From what little I know of Raven the man, he seemed to have all good aspects of these qualities. He was loved by many and enjoyed an extended family in the parasailing community—a tribe of soarers. He is now flying with the ravens, continuing to bless his tribe through their memories, for as long as the sky exists.