Historically one of the most feared cards in the tarot deck, many would say Death is simply misunderstood. Death in a tarot reading rarely means a literal death, usually it’s some sort of transformation and moving on. This is true, but I think it’s worth taking a deeper look than that.
It’s easy to see this card and immediately gloss over the pain associated with it. We experience many deaths in our lives. Our bodies continuously die and renew on a cellular level, and generally that’s painless until our bodies break down and we eventually, actually, die. We also experience the death of relationships, the death of circumstances, and the death of loved ones. But to see this card and say “oh transformation! Fantastic!” is to miss, often, the deep pain a person is going through at the moment. Transformation, yeah great- except that it’s usually the result of a traumatically purifying (painful) fire.
When my health was especially bad and I was beginning my journey of healing on my own, my entire life was falling apart on the outside. I had to face my need to rely on others so that I could take care of myself. Fiercely independent, I left home at 17. I didn’t need anyone and I liked it that way. Then, years later, my body said no and I watched that independence crumble, taking with it my ideas of myself, exposing the hidden truths about what I really thought made me valuable and worthy of love. This illness was the death of my view of myself, and the death of a way of living that dishonored me. It ruthlessly stripped me down, taking with it all manner of falsehoods. It took, and it gave.
When not in the throes of grief, we can more easily recognize death as change. In physical death we change by shedding our corporeal forms. Out with the old, in with the new, whatever the new is. Death is a mysterious door, the night that eventually comes. It has its own secrets to share, its own hidden wonders, its own adventures. Yet we cling, naturally, to life and to what we know. We feel that what we know is safe even if it’s dead and even if we are tortured by it. Sometimes the universe has to pry our hands off of the old life, the old way of being, the old idea of security.
We don’t want to let go even though letting go is what this life is. Hands constantly open, giving and receiving. We let go of the people we love as they leave us in physical form, and we feel as if we are no longer whole. Yet we are. They haven’t left, yet they’re no longer physically present. We must sense them with our hearts now to see that they are still there.
Years ago a friend of mine died tragically and unexpectedly in a car accident. I was inconsolable. I dreamed he visited me at work, but I was busy, and he was about to leave before I hopped the counter and went to speak with him. He said we should go for a ride, and I asked him, “aren’t you afraid to ride in cars now?” He smiled and said no. As we drove along he told me that he was wasn’t in pain, that I didn’t need to worry. Just before I woke up he hugged me, a warm embrace that felt as though he was physically hugging me again. It felt real- it was real. He was visiting me in spirit form. He’s appeared in my dreams a few times since, often to give me a swift (loving) kick in the ass about something.
Death is heart-wrenching. In a reading, it’s nonetheless painful even if it heralds something new. It’s presence necessitates extra compassion, extra sensitivity. It requires our attention. It’s not something to run from, it’s something to understand. Look to the earth for wisdom and understanding.
I chose Enya’s song, “If I Could Be Where You Are” for this card.
Where are you this moment?
Only in my dreams.
You’re missing, but you’re always
A heartbeat from me.
I’m lost now without you,
I don’t know where you are.
I keep watching, I keep hoping,
But time keeps us apart
Is there a way I can find you,
Is there a sign I should know,
Is there a road I could follow
To bring you back home?
Winter lies before me
Now you’re so far away.
In the darkness of my dreaming
The light of you will stay
If I could be close beside you
If I could be where you are
If I could reach out and touch you
And bring you back home
Is there a way I can find you
Is there a sign I should know
Is there a road I can follow
To bring you back home to me