By Christel Lukoff, Ph.D. and David Lukoff, Ph.D.
Originally published in the The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 2011, Vol. 43, No. 2
The approach in this article is based on the first author’s experience using traditional folktales and myths as sources of spiritual wisdom and healing while accompanying a close friend throughout her end-of-life process. Over 200 folktales dealing with illness, death and grief were collected from books of folktales, mythology and spiritual traditions. Inspired by Chinen’s approach to Middle and Elder folktales, these stories were then thematically analyzed for main themes and ‘‘field-tested’’ in workshops at transpersonal, hospice and other conferences internationally. According to Kenneth Doka (1993), people at the end of their lives face three major spiritual tasks. Specific folktales are explored to illustrate spiritual care issues for each of these challenges: (a) To find meaning in one’s life, (b) To die appropriately, (c) To find hope that extends beyond the grave.
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By Christel Lukoff
In contemporary Western society, awareness of death is usually missing from our daily lives and consciousness. Folktales and myths from around the world remind us that death is as much a part of life as the night is part of the day. “And if they did not die, then they are still alive today” goes the traditional ending of most German folktales in a matter of fact way.
Stories about death and dying helped both myself and a close friend, who had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, find comfort and acceptance in the midst of crisis and fear. One day, my friend told me how she felt comforted by her belief that after her death she wouldn’t be bound to our earthly concepts of time, and what might seem to all others as another 40 years of life, might for her go by in no time at all. Then she asked me what I thought happened after death. I had not thought much about an afterlife, but the following story of The Mountains of Tibet came to my mind:
by Christel Lukoff
Little did I know that for me this was going to be the beginning of a new professional path into hospice work and a passionate plunge into the role of a storyteller when during a walk on a sunny fall day about 8 years ago my close friend, Jade, who had just been diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer, told me: ” I don’t want to spend the whole day talking about cancer and let my illness crowd out everything else. I want to be reminded of my aliveness.” Well, I had just come back from one of my storytelling mornings at my children’s’ kindergarten class and felt quite alive with the laughter and energy of a bunch of 5 year olds… so I shared with her one of the kindergarten stories of bear catching the moon. This story opened a window to our own imagination and creativity and we started a creative endeavor of mutual storytelling where we would give each other 3 words and on the spot come up with a story incorporating them.