Dannion and Kathryn Brinkley
Angels of Compassion
By Donna Strong
Best selling author and passionate advocate Dannion Brinkley has been- breaking down boundaries regarding the 'here and the hereafter' for thirty- three years now. Since 1975, his life has been filled with hair-raising- twists and turns, yet Dannion continues to demonstrate the steely strength- of a spiritual warrior.
Having been struck by lightning and stood at the electrifying edge between- life and death more than once, he has succeeded in transforming himself into a conductor of compelling spiritual understanding. Dannion's work is a triumphant legacy that has been a beacon to millions of people around the globe.
In 1997 he founded The Twilight Brigade, a non-profit dedicated to 'compassion in action' through providing empowering care to people, many of them Veterans, in their final months.
With his life partner Kathryn and four of their six children now involved, this is a full on family affair. Having now logged more than 25,000 hours of bedside care to the dying, in 2007 Dannion received some well-deserved recognition; the President's Lifetime Achievement Award for outstanding volunteer service.
With holidays approaching, many of us have a heightened interest in feeling connected to our beloved ones both here and beyond, and an intention to be at home in our hearts.
For this holiday season, we share our discussion with two heroes of the heart, Dannion and Kathryn, who are providing invaluable understanding about how to live with the gifts of eternity in the here and now.
This month, the third book in Dannion's Light Trilogy, The Secrets of the Light: Lessons from Heaven, co-authored with his writer wife Kathryn, is being published by Harper One.
Awareness: I love the term 'compassion in action.' Please explain more about what this means.
Dannion: After going through three near-death experiences - being struck by lightning, open-heart surgery and brain surgery, I know what it's like for most people, what they are most afraid of - death and dying and the pain associated with it, because I have survived it. What I realized was that compassion is what we all ask God to be - a listening, loving presence. After fifteen years of being a hospice volunteer, I decided to create a program that truly empowered, not only the person in transition, but the person who was there with them. What Kat and I really embrace is this - if you are born, you are also destined to die. Caregiving and being aware of the issues of not only creating closure, but creating value in someone's life, was the most important part of what is left out of modern medicine.
The Twilight Brigade or 'compassion in action' empowers people in transition (this is the proper term for those about to pass to the other side) to embrace the value of their lives and empower those whom they love and to be able to make the right decisions at the right time. Kathryn is the President and I am the Founder. I drive the points home because I have faced them, and she is the heart, to create awareness of end-of-life care issues.
Kathryn: The beautiful thing about the training is that even if you don't intend to work as a hospice or nursing home volunteer, the information you glean is invaluable for the rest of your life, because it makes you look at how you are willing to face the inevitable. It's an exquisite, stunningly beautiful training to help us understand the process of death and dying.
Awareness: When my dear mother Vella died several years ago, I had the sense that my job was to midwife her into her next life. How do you see the process of dying?
Kathryn: I love that phrase 'midwife her into her next life,' because that's exactly what we do when we are at the bedside of someone, just as much as if we are midwifing a new baby into this world, we are helping them to be birthed into the next.
Dannion: I think that what drives us Donna, is this - death is a part of life, it is as equal and magnificent as birth.
Kathryn: We have compassion for everyone in transition; everybody chooses their own way to leave this world. As volunteers at the bedside, what we can do best, as Dannion said earlier, is to be a listening loving presence, and to also honor the way in which the way they choose to leave this world.
Dannion: Donna, where this all came from was my own near-death experience. I realized that through this, I knew more about what came next and what it did was to drive me to become a hospice volunteer.
Because it is not what happens in your life that really matters, it is what you do with what happens. I thought the greatest gift I could really give, like you did with your mother in creating serenity during her transition, was to create that opportunity with people.
Kathryn: One more thing about what we consider to be our mission, once we help people to understand the value of their lives, we would like to go beyond that and help create a new consciousness, wherein people no longer look at death as a tragedy or fear the pain that goes along with it. We want people to embrace a consciousness around death, much like that around birth, where we realize it is part of the cycle of life, and we prepare for that with as much joy and celebration as we do the birthing of a new baby.
Dannion: With the emphasis on the word celebration. Because what did you feel after you created a serene environment for your mother?
Awareness: At the moment of her transition I was quite numb, but through the whole process I knew that it was a significant part of my life purpose. As she had helped to birth me into the world, this was my time to show her my love by being her midwife back to spirit. I knew it was one of the biggest events of my life to step into with as much love and courage as I could bring, to be with her until her last breath.
Dannion: And as with you, you knew that this was part of your manifest destiny to be with your mother, death is not something we are meant to deal with in fear. It is not that.
What I teach people in our program is one of the most important questions we ever ask anybody is 'What's your favorite song and why?' Because you can take them from a bed of pain or regret or doubt or fear, to their happiest moment - their first kiss, their first- dance. When they tell you of such a timeframe, they begin to go back and relive the joy, and you create a conversation with that person who celebrates their life instead of the fear of the end of it.
Awareness: I think this is one of the most important things we can do now, to help people face this transition we call death. Certainly with about 78 million Baby Boomers beginning to move into retirement age, even as a generation with a youthful focus, it is now an issue for consideration, as you say, as part of the cycle of life.
Dannion: Yes, lose the fear!
Or at least face it. As a family, we are dedicated to empowering people at the end of life. Life is a celebration when you're born. There is even a greater celebration in a mission accomplished, a life that was worth living.
Kathryn: This is where Compassion in Action comes into place, because the caregiver, whether a volunteer or a family member, if they are really doing their job, they will help that person in transition to find the true value and worth of the life they are leaving behind and in that role, we are Compassion in Action, because we are a reflection of God on that day...
Dannion: ... as a listening, loving presence. But also this, the primary caregiver, who is usually the wife or the husband, is also dying a little bit at a time with the person they love going through a transition.
The power of Compassion in Action is that there is someone who appreciates, admires and respects the primary caregiver, who is also trained in the twilight of one's life, and Brigade volunteers celebrate that transition - not only a life, but that someone is going home.
Awareness: Dannion, having gone through your experiences of near death, and Kathryn it sounds like you've had your own as well, it seems that you both really know death as a spiritual catalyst.
Dannion: There is a bible phrase about God saying... "Where two or more are gathered in my name, so shall I be among you." There's a place to test that, with you and the person in transition, because you have gathered in the name of spirituality, of divinity, trusting that there is life after death..
I've been at the bedside of thousands of people and thirteen times I've seen phenomena. I've seen beings come to celebrate the transition of people from this world to the next. I've seen people lift out of their bodies, and I've seen rooms filled with light.
The most significant one was my own mother, in 1984. Dying a horrible death of Lupus and Raynaud's, she was holding on, because my father had only spent two nights away from her in the length of their marriage and she could not stand the thought of leaving him.
There reached a point where she said, "Go get Danny." She said, "I need you to take care of your father and I need you to not let them hurt me any more." And I said, "Okay mom." She looked away from me over my left shoulder and said, "Marion has come." I turned and looked over my left shoulder and saw a silvery silhouette. And my mother said, "I know now it is time to go." Then she took her last breath and left this world.
When my mother was sixteen years old, her sister Marian was fourteen. They were going to a basketball game and when you're sixteen, you don't want a younger sister hanging out with you, so she told her to go away. As Marian got up to leave, the bus hit a bump and she hit the emergency exit and fell out. The bus ran over her and she passed from this world.
If God wanted my mother to know compassion, then who greater than Marian to come? My mom had spent an entire life feeling guilty about the accident. When she said "Marian is here, that's who she was seeing and I could see her silhouette.
It proved to me that there was definitely a life after this one, and it was a true conversion point for me, from a person who was trying to deal with and understand the near death experience, to an advocate, supporter and driver of palliative and hospice care and empowerment of those who are helping people going from this world to the next.
Awareness: I understand, it sure would have been galvanizing for me! A few questions about your book coming out this month. Reading it was a coming home experience, it had a such a ring of truth. Around the world there is an overarching interest in people finding their true purpose. Can you give us some suggestions for what people can do to find their true purpose, with all the meaning and joy that comes when people are in touch with it?
Kathryn: You're right, I don't think people are ever happier than when they are doing what they were born to do. Like we write about in the book, we believe everyone was born with a talent and a task. Usually the task or the purpose is to use the talent that God has given. So, if you love to sing you must use your voice to thrill and inspire people and uplift for the betterment of all concerned.
Dannion: A quote from Richard Bach/span>,, otherwise known as Jonathan Livingston Seagull, "You teach best what you most need to learn." The talent and the task is about really looking at who you are.
We believe that what we came here to do and who we are is the same thing. We also believe that you chose to come and you're chosen to come. You're chosen to come because the divine architect believes there is no one greater than you to achieve a certain mission by your just being you - bringing more divinity into this world.
Second, you chose to come, because we believe you are a great, powerful and mighty spiritual being who has dignity, direction and purpose. What that means is, there's nothing you can't get into that you can't figure a way to get out of.
It's all about love. Then it's what you believe about love. And then it's about the choices you make based on the value of your love. How do you execute it? Through willful, conscious intent of prayer, it sets everything that you are - as a spiritual being with choice, as a human being with a mind and a heart, and as a physical being, within the paradigm of the divine universal perspective, into executing it.
The steps of the Four Fold Path - using prayer, belief, choice and love, create a way that the paradigm changes so your divine mission manifests itself before your very eyes
Awareness: One of the things that really called me is your comments about our "spiritual responsibility to employ the Panoramic Life Review." What can we do to pay more attention to the eternal, rather than simply living as though what you see is all there is?
Dannion: It gets down to two simple things; first, God believes there is no one greater than you. At the very moment you put that possibility into your life, you have changed, because the divine flow will come. And second, you chose to come, so that you could engage yourself as a spiritual being in a mental and physical form. We all go through things, but we created it.
I always tell people, you want to know how your life got all screwed up? It's easy - you did it. And if you accept that responsibility, the universe begins to serve, create, protect and guide you.
Really, no one is going to come and save you. The Panoramic Life Review teaches you this. You will see your life pass before you in a 360-degree panorama. You will know and see how brilliant you really are. You also know and see how much you have limited your perspective about your spiritual identity in order to grow.
You will look at yourself from a second-person point of view, as if you were your very best friend. "Hi Dan, that was really smart. Whoa Dan, what a fool you have to be." Then you literally become every person you ever encountered, and you will feel the direct results of your interactions between you and everyone you have ever met.
If God could not come today, and God sent you, in the life you just reviewed, what difference did the divine part of you make? So the whole course of life is just about your divinity. How you express it, how you embrace it, how you empower it and how you show it. And that's the end of the story, Donna.
The book is about 58 years on the earth and 33 years of living and dealing with death. Our near-death experiences drove us to embrace and empower people, and not to fear what we knew was not true anyway.
Kathryn: The most wonderful part of being alive is never forgetting the miracle and never taking anything for granted. You know, love is the miracle, life is the vehicle and...
Dannion: Gratitude is the power! As the holiday season comes, many among us look at the holidays as a depressing time. The joy we celebrate is balanced only in serving someone who really looks at the holiday as a moment of despair. We go and help Veterans and serve meals on wheels. The love of family and celebration is the greatest gift in the holiday season you could ever give, and we humbly ask those who are aware and read this, to do the same.
Awareness: One of my favorite quotes from you is, "It is only love that you will bequeath the world in your passing."
Kathryn: Yes, love is the only thing that is real and the only thing you can truly leave behind is the love you have given and the love you have shared. For us, in our lives, it is the most important part of every day. We can choose to live in love, or we can choose to live in drama, and anger and reaction.
But because of what Dannion and I have been through in our lifetimes and our near-death experiences, we realize that we are so much more than physical beings, we are spiritual beings and as such, we are love. That's all we are and that's all we have to give, and that's all we can ever leave behind.
Dannion: Love is a word signifying divinity. So if God couldn't come today, and God sent you, in the life you've just reviewed, what difference did God make? How much love do you give to this world, how much of your own love do you appreciate? That's the eternal connection. We celebrate when spirit touches a person and the exaltation of divine love it releases.
For more on information on Dannion and Kathryn's work, visit: www.dannion.com or www.thetwilightbrigade.com
Donna Strong is a writer and creative catalyst. For information, visit: www.donnastrong.com/em
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