I have been doing akhu rites for the better part of six months now. Every time I have written the rubrics or performed the rites, my mind has always pictured me doing work for Osiris, the deity that pushed me to do akhu rites to begin with. But this month shifted my impressions of these rites as I got to experience a “slow” death first hand. Suddenly, more and more of the words were describing actions I was doing here in the physical for a man who was in the dying process. This post is to document the parallels I found between caregiving and ritualized tidbits I found in the Coffin Texts about tending to Osiris.
Hail to you who mourns the Bull of the West, who folds her arms on account of the Inert One within the secret place of the Great Hall; who knits up the soul, who builds up the shade and who gives breath to the Inert One in this her name of ‘Her who is in attendance on her lord’.
I’m semi surprised that I didn’t notice it before, but it wasn’t until I had to start doing 24/7 levels of caregiving that I really realized that caregiving is ultimately one of the biggest forms of “attending” to a person that you can do. While I understand that a lot of these rites are meant to be for someone who is already dead, and that the attending is more about preparing the body for funerary rites, in this situation it felt very applicable. When someone moves into pre-active, and finally into active dying, the caregiving you must give them is almost a full-time affair.
In the case of my grandfather, it got to where you had to assist him with almost everything. Getting out of bed. Going outside to smoke. Getting to the bathroom. Getting to the kitchen. Putting on clothing (if he bothered to change at all.) Drinking. Sometimes eating. Your life suddenly revolves around one other person because they’re not able to do very much for themself anymore. I can’t imagine a better picture of what it means to “attend” to someone as you’re facilitating almost all aspects of a person’s comfort and needs.
I belong to the House of Osiris, I watch over it; I veil his limpness, I ease his severe suffering for him; I know what Sia knows, and a path is opened for me, for I am the Lord of Air.
Nobody told me how much laundry you generate when someone is dying.
As much of a difficulty as it was to keep the house clean before things started to really ramp up, the pre-active dying process makes taking care of your “house of Osiris” all the more complicated. Because you’re busy helping a person get around, you find that dishes pile up, that things don’t get done, and slowly everything starts to look a little sad.
But the laundry. You see, when you start to really die, your bowels kinda do their own thing. You’ll relieve yourself in bed on accident because some part of you never got the memo to wake you up to go to the bathroom. There were days when we went through three or four pairs of pants and underwear. Where we needed to replace the sheets in the morning and again in the evening.
Another key job was to “veil his limpness” by making sure that he still looked presentable right up until the bitter end. To me, this plays right into “ease his severe suffering for him,” because you’re not only easing the physical pain via helping administer medications, but you’re also easing the pain of the ego from all of the inability to function. I remember one of the last days my grandfather was alive, I asked him if he was hurting anywhere, and he told me the only thing that hurt was his pride.
Due to my chronic conditions, I’m more or less used to having to give up parts of my autonomy to get things done. I’m used to needing assistance for a fair amount of things. However, for people who have never had to experience such a thing, it’s not easy to not be able to care for yourself. It’s not easy to lose your autonomy. It’s not easy to not even be able to go to the bathroom alone. And part of easing that pain, in my experience, was to create as much normalcy as possible. Treating him like a full-fledged adult up until the end, and never forgetting that there was a person with emotions still resting inside of the body, even after he had gone into his final coma.
To me, it was vital to achieve these things in order for him to have a relatively smooth time of processing the death he was about to experience.
I will not be ignorant of my path to the realm of the dead, for I am a spirit whose mouth is hale, and magic is what equips me according to my desire. I have come free from corruption, I have poured away my foulness.
Despite it being a well-documented thing, so very few people actually know what happens during the dying process. There are tons of web pages that outline what you can expect before you die, and its very unsettling how predictable and “expected” some aspects can be. Many of these things are more neutral-to-positive in nature including giving away of possessions, writing letters or tying up loose ends with other people, and having dreams about dead relatives/friends or your life.
While there are no proven reasons behind why some of these things happen (beyond “its your body shutting down”), there are a lot of people who believe that so many of the steps that a dying person goes through is simply their body trying to prepare them, and make them okay for the death they are about to endure. In many ways, you are “pouring away your foulness” by overcoming hurdles that prevented you from accepting things in your earlier years. Sometimes people will have a complete 180 in their attitude towards dying once they start to have these events happen, and in a way, it is sort of it’s own “magic” that your body equips for you.
Lady of All in the secret place; to whom Osiris turns his back in these his moments of inertness;
However, not every aspect of the pre-active drying phase is seen as being beneficial or even neutral. As it turns out, when your brain starts to shut down and misfire from your body slowly going, you might begin to do all sorts of things. Night terrors, screaming, agitation, and anger are all things that have been reported during the final phase of life. There is even something called “terminal restlessness” that often gets assigned to people who are particularly, well, restless throughout the process.
As I watched my grandfather muck through these particular aspects of dying, I couldn’t help but think of the statements about how Osiris is a Lord of Terror, how it is terrifying to be dying. How someone who is becoming increasingly restless and foreign can be a semi-scary thing to deal with day in and day out. That no amount of happy hormones from their brain can erase the fact that sometime in the near future, this person will no longer exist as we know them to exist. And that further, throughout these periods of difficulty, its not uncommon for your soon-to-be Osiris to completely forget who you are. And yet, you still have to take care of them and deal with whatever shows up.
Hail to you, Mourner of Osiris, Companion of the Bull of Nedit who makes the mummy-wrappings to breathe, who veils the limpness, to whom Osiris has turned his back, helper of the embalmer Anubis when treating the body of the Inert One.
When using this metaphor, I would say that I am Aset, my grandfather would be Osiris, and hospice would be Anup. By far, I would encourage anyone who is coming into the final cusps of death to reach out to hospice or palliative care, because they were very helpful in getting me anything that I needed throughout the process.
I will be frank and mention that two thirds of my family believes that hospice somehow made my grandfather die sooner, but I honestly think it couldn’t be further from the truth. They gave us access to so many resources we would not have had otherwise. It was great to have an RN that I could ask questions to, because when you start to really get deep into caregiving, you end up taking on a lot of responsibilities that you’re not trained for.
Have you ever been taught how to properly fold and place a draw sheet on a bed? I certainly wasn’t, at least not until hospice sent me someone to teach me. Even though I was the one dealing with everything on a daily basis, at the end of the day, I felt like I was more of an assistant, relying on people who knew more about this than I did, to help guide me through the proper care of someone who was dying.
See that I have come to you so that I might see your beauty, So that I might serve you and restore your body.
I have come to you so that I might greet you daily as your son, For I am your son, the Protector of his Father
When my grandfather was still relatively “with it,” I let him associate with whoever he wanted, however he wanted. Most everyone that he had contact with had been informed that he had dementia, and that his behaviours could change or be out of character periodically, they technically were prepared for any oddities that he displayed (I say technically, because they were still mostly in denial up until the bitter end.) However, when my grandfather entered into dying, he was no longer able to make those decisions. Instead, those decisions fell to me.
One of the last days that my grandfather was still able to semi-function, I asked him about whether he wanted certain family members around. I mostly wanted to do this so that I could get a good idea of whether any of these people was vital to his ability to have a peaceful death, since some people do request time with specific folks before they go. However, grandpa wasn’t particularly interested in some folks, and when I discovered that, I knew that I would need to consider what role, if any, they played in his dying process.
Relations with my family have been strained throughout the entire caregiving process that has occurred over the past year and a half, so I’m sure you can imagine how mixed it got when it came to light that I didn’t involve certain people in the final 48 hours of life. For me, this was about protecting my “Osiris.” It was about making sure that none of his last conscious moments was filled with stress or drama. As I tried to explain to my relatives, my job was to facilitate his peaceful passing, not their ego.
Just as Osiris, when my grandfather entered the final stage of his life, he had virtually no ability to defend himself or make choices for himself. He had wholly become the Inert One. It is vital to be careful in who you select to oversee those final moments of your life.
Hail to you, Lady of offerings at whom Osiris rejoices when he sees her, whose great wall is an owner of possessions; who brings air, who gives offerings, who presides over the throne in the secret places of the Netherworld; who clears the vision of the Bull of Djedu, who split open his mouth and split open his eyes when the Inert One asked; who gathered together his arms and legs, who laid Osiris down in [ … ,] who gave abundance to the Lord of the Flood on the desert plateau; who gave offerings. Open a path for the Inert One to the abode of embalming, the pillared bark.
One of the benefits of utilizing hospice was that our “path” to the “abode of embalming” didn’t involve an ambulance. Instead, they will send someone out to collect the body and take it to the morgue. You are asked to give any specific instructions or items to be left with the body during the processing of the body, and then its more or less out of your hands.
It’s a surreal feeling going from doing nearly constant work for someone, only to have the entire space vacant and empty. Figuring out what to do with your time, how to refocus your life, is a little bit daunting. The process leaves not only the Osiris changed, but the Lady of Offerings is changed as well.
O my father Osiris, here am I; I have come to you, for I have smitten Seth for you, I have slain his confederacy, I have smitten them who smote you, I have cut down them who cut you down. I am one who overcomes with strength, the heir of everything; I myself have guarded my body, I have felled my foes, and I have created it, this new state(?) in which I am.