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Imagine you're at a funeral, gazing at an open casket surrounded by overly scented flowers and wreaths with one-word labels. A low, strong strand of music whispers through the air. You hear the soft sobs, the pull of tissues from their cardboard box, the too-light steps of the people in mourning. It all seems to happen around you, without you, as you search yourself for the last words you'll offer to the deceased before they are whisked underground, forever out of sight and occasionally out of mind. You find the will to pull yourself up, walk to the casket, and speak. Out of your mouth spills every word you always wanted to, but never could, say out loud.
It begins with guided imagery.
Often done in a group setting, "Here Lies" begins with strong guided imagery. The lead will often describe the scene in detail, using broad and well-known images that are familiar to anyone who has ever attended a funeral. To add to the intensity and to ground the group to the purpose, the lead will often ask a volunteer to lie in the middle of the room and cover with a sheet, giving the group a tangible sight and creating a thick, somber air. The group is asked to approach the shrouded figure one by one and are given one sentence that forces them to search their soul for every open wound that is yearning to be healed.
The group attendees are then told who they are speaking to. The lead will add characters. Some are meant to bring up feelings of warmth, love, and acceptance. Others are like razors, they are people who bring pain, discomfort and anger. The lead asks "What would you say to them?" or "What are your last words?" Some offer words freely, saying "Thank you", "I love you", and "Rest in peace." Other characters cause people to search, sometimes bringing tears, or causing words to fail completely.
Here lies—your grandmother.
Here lies—your first love.
Here lies—your brother.
Depending on those in attendance, some characters are more situational specific with a purpose of exposing hatchets that desperately need to be buried.
Here lies—your heroin dealer.
Here lies—your abuser.
Here lies—your father.
Leaving the "Emotional Safe Zone"
There's no secret that the theory of confronting demons of the past and present while pretending to be in front of an open casket is uncomfortable. The group itself pushes emotional boundaries and at first glance, can seem questionable.
However, healing isn't always comfortable.
Closing old wounds, healing fresh cuts, and confronting the sensitive parts of one's soul isn't going to be a smooth, easy process. There's no other way to heal from past abuse, wrongs, and mistakes than to look at them, reflect on them, and put them to rest.
The purpose of the coined term "Here Lies" is to bring those past misfortunes to the surface, begin to heal from the emotional wounds, and to then move on from them with a renewed spirit and strong sense of accomplishment.
In the words of Theodore Roosevelt—"Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well."
The ideal was created with the thought that people who have led difficult lives are able to heal without having to bury their pain under layers marked with "too sensitive to talk about".
That being said, the group and the idea behind it is not foolproof. It's not a magic formula used to restore every person who carries unnecessary emotional baggage. The idea works, but it may not work for everyone. This isn't a party game and isn't meant to serve as a fun get-together topic. This is meant for a group of people who are willing to listen to each other, speak on sensitive subjects, and heal.
As with any sensitive material, handle with care.
This piece was written with the permission of Paul Sanders, the original creator of the idea. Paul is a licensed public health worker from Louisville, Kentucky and is currently writing a book about his life and thought-provoking ideas in hopes to bring healing to people from all walks of life.