What’s the worst thing that could happen during a workshop you are facilitating? I used to think that it would be having a client die – until one did.
On the morning of the last day of the workshop I was co-facilitating with Gadi and Saskia in the South of France, Christoph passed away peacefully in his sleep. What followed was a wonderful day of healing, peace, introspection and celebration.
I guessed that he had died when I saw Gadi and Axel (one of the retreat’s employees) walking past my studio towards Christoph’s which was next to mine. Sure enough, as I stepped out of my studio, Christine, Christoph’s sister, confirmed what I already knew.
Christoph had been given two weeks to live back in January. It was now mid-June. That he was at the workshop at all was miraculous and that he had the energy to participate as fully as he did was remarkable. Christoph’s body was fighting the immune system introduced eight years ago to combat his leukemia. He was partially blind and deaf, could
barely walk, weighed a mere 50 kgs and looked like an old man despite his being only 55 years old. His presence in our workshop on “Finding meaning in life” added a deeper level of enquiry – how is it to contemplate the meaning of life when one is so close to death? Christoph’s sharp mind, quick wit and irreverent humour were a welcome addition to the circle and he was determined to find peace before he died.
Most of his processes in the days before he died were to release the ideas he had that he was “F*!*ing bad news!”, and a “soft egg”. His mother had often told him that he was a nail in her coffin and that if he’d been born first (he was the youngest of six) he would have been an only child.
The day before he died Christoph came to the circle having had a bad night in which lots of fear had come up. He told us that he didn’t fear dying, nor getting well again, but he feared staying in the same condition for a long time, which he felt was a burden to others. We explored the fear that he was feeling and it revealed an early childhood memory in which he had found himself in his pajamas outside his home in the middle of the night. He had been sleep-walking and had no idea how he got there. The door was locked and he couldn’t make enough noise to rouse his brothers. His commotion did, however, wake the neighbours and they helped him get back in.
A little probing revealed that the fear he experienced as that little boy was about the punishment that he expected to get as a result of his predicament, rather than about being outside in the dark alone.
The forgiveness that Christoph did with Saskia and others in the circle was for choosing to believe that he was the epitome of evil and that he deserved to be punished. That seemed to give him a visible sense of relief. He understood that it was finally time to stop punishing himself. The last words he said in the circle were “I am innocent” which he said with conviction to everyone in the circle individually.
The story he told is such a perfect metaphor for the human condition. We find ourselves locked out of the entity known as Oneness, locked out of God’s love, fearing we have done something wrong and that we deserve to be horribly punished for it. Then we set about punishing ourselves with our relentless thoughts and guilt feelings, believing that we can never get back in.
The Truth is that nothing has gone wrong – the essence of our being is always home. The warm embrace is ours to remember and is available to us at all times – the door is open. Even if there had been a painful punishment waiting for little Christoph, which there often was, it would not have changed the Truth of his being. It said nothing about him, but revealed the pain his parents were in at the time.
Christoph’s death taught us that the meaning of life is to love and be loved, to seek and find the barriers to that awareness so that we can be at peace and connect to our essential innocence.
The group of staff and clients that had been together for just six days gathered around Christoph’s body, singing songs in harmony and hearing memories about Christoph from those who knew him well. He came to Les Labadous (where our retreat was held) seven weeks ago to recuperate because he felt at home there, close to family and friends, and had been determined to be at the Choose Again workshops that summer. His body didn’t heal, but his mind did. In the end, he timed his death perfectly so that we were all there to surround him with love.
Our workshop continued as usual with a morning circle in which clients addressed some deep fears of their own and healed misplaced beliefs. Sadness was not a part of the day, just gratitude, a sense of nature taking its course, and a felt Knowledge that love is eternal and that death is not a fearful thing. The essence of Christoph is still here. That didn’t change.
What a gift! Thank you Christoph – may you be at peace.
By Anne Andrew
Categories & Authors