By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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On life, death and meaning

When Annamaria Hemingway's mother died, the experience changed her life so dramatically she wrote a book about the inevitability of death and how it can inspire and transform lives.

"When my mother became terminally ill a few years ago, I was devastated," said Hemingway of Ojai.

"Even though I had worked in hospice and knew the time surrounding death was in fact the most beautiful, peaceful environment this knowledge didn't seem to help much as I faced my mother's death," she said. "The truth was that I was terrified of losing her and not having that loving connection in my life."

To her enlightenment, Hemingway's final days with her mother proved to be a profound journey of discovery and growth.

With that, she wrote "Practicing Conscious Living and Dying: Stories of the Eternal Continuum of Consciousness," released by O Books at the end of January.

A book-signing is scheduled from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday at Local Hero Bookstore, 208 E. Ojai Ave.

"I was inspired to write this book after deciding to be fully conscious with my mother in her dying process," Hemingway said. "My thought was to help prepare others to deal with the death of loved ones more consciously in their own lives."

The book contains modern-day parables that portray how deconstructing the taboo surrounding physical death can liberate individuals to live life more fully and become actively engaged in the practice of conscious living and dying.

The goal is to give hope and strength to those in the dying process or those grieving for a loved one, and help raise awareness and expand knowledge of the true nature of consciousness and how this knowledge can give life deeper meaning.

"These observations of closeness to someone who is dying and personal accounts of near-death experiences, as well as after-death communication, illustrate how coming to terms with the inevitability of death can actually be a life-affirming experience," Hemingway said. "It emphasizes the two miracles of life — birth and death — and a possible continuum of consciousness following physical death."

Yolaine Stout, president of the International Association for Near-Death Studies, said Hemingway's book is a "must read" for anyone interested in near-death experiences and the continuity of consciousness.

"It weaves an exceptionally beautiful fabric of historic, religious, modern-day and philosophical views of near-death and related phenomena," Stout said. Plus, it's "interwoven with inspiring true stories that underscore the positive and dramatic effect that death can have on a person's life."

Three parts

The book is divided into three sections, with the first tracing the history of near-death experiences, and real life accounts from those who have personally gone through them. These stories include that of Reuben Beckham, who became a spiritual counselor to the dying after undergoing his own near-death experience.

The second section includes real-life stories of those who have come to terms with dying — or accompanied a person in their dying process — and, as a result, were motivated to do the extraordinary.

For instance, the story of a woman named Sally Goodrich, who lost her son, Peter, in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, tells how she went on to build a school in war-ravaged Afghanistan.

Joanne Cacciatore, who experienced the death of her daughter, Cheyenne, later founded the MISS Foundation, which provides resources and support for grieving parents.

The third section gathers evidence of a possible continuum of consciousness after physical death and includes stories of those who have experienced death-bed visions, after-death communication and other related phenomena that can help elaborate on what may happen to consciousness after death.

Seeking meaning

"The book is extremely important now as disconnection from the natural world and a loss of sense of purpose and meaning to life leaves many people feeling fragmented and alienated and unable to face either their own or others' mortality," Hemingway said.

Death, it has been said, is the supreme teacher, and Hemingway's book exemplifies the adage, said Kenneth Ring, Ph.D., author of many books on the near-death experience, including "Lessons from the Light."

Readers "will meet about 20 people whose lives were profoundly touched — and immeasurably enriched — by an encounter with death, either through a near-death experience or the death of a loved one," Ring said. "The stories you will find here are not just consolatory; they are inspiring and instructive, and some will cause you to weep or marvel."

For Hemingway, losing her mother was a sacred journey "in which I gained the sense that beyond the suffering and grief, there was something else going on that transcended our limited and linear view of life and death."

It was an extraordinary experience with times of great sadness, she said, but also moments of great clarity and beauty.

"The process changed my life forever," Hemingway said. "I believe that my mother's death gave birth to this book that is dedicated to her memory and carries a message that lives on beyond her physical death."

Mother's death becomes a journey of discovery, growth

An uplifting collection of spiritually illuminating texts and powerfully
thought-provoking real life stories, showing death as an integral part of life. These touching observations of closeness to someone who is in the dying process, and personal accounts of near-death experiences and after-death communication, illustrate how coming to terms with the inevitability of death is actually a life-affirming experience. These emotionally evocative and inspirational experiences address timeless questions and help expand our limited awareness of the nature of consciousness. They show how each of the individuals concerned has come to understand that death teaches us that the preciousness of life must be lived with a sense of purpose and meaning, as a celebration of our existence.
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