No matter how each of us hopes to live forever, we will, each in our turn, pass from this mortal coil. We will all die. This is the basis for the class I am facilitating for Community Ed for the second time, Dying to Talk! We gather together to discuss fears, experiences, hopes, plans and questions. We share our ideas on the many aspects that we face at the end of life. We discuss how to be prepared… financially, physically, emotionally and spiritually. We are not experts. We are humans. We will each have multiple shots at walking through this process of death; once for ourselves (or rarely, two or more times) and, quite often, many times with those we know and love.
Nevertheless, we often are not prepared for death. I don’t know that I am, as much time as I have taken to contemplate and discuss the subject. I would count myself better prepared than some but there is still so much that intrigues me, so much more I want to discover, understand and share with those around me. And, I believe, like having a child, until you’ve done it, it’s difficult to comprehend. So death, facing it, becomes something that we can only prepare for by degrees and with experiences.
Someone once said (I couldn’t find a notable source), “Death is the new pornography.” Actually, many have said this, I’m sure, as I’ve said it often. Death is the scary thing we no longer talk about. We used to be intimately involved with it. People died at home, their lives were celebrated and remembered at home-based funerals and often, burials were done by immediate family, many times in the back yard or down the road in the local churchyard.
But over the last century or more, we’ve outsourced death. We leave our loved ones to the hands of others. We trust that process of caring for the dead (and often also caring for the elderly in the years prior to death) to people outside our family, to those we pay to fulfill these services. We have separated ourselves from this process. But there is a growing movement to reclaim these responsibilities, to be more intimate with the process of death. We’re beginning to talk more, to dispel with the mystery and to be open with each other about this final process of life. And some of us are even taking on the preparations of the body for funeral and burial.
NPR did a great TED Radio Hour on this subject recently and there is much to digest here: http://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/464423367/rethinking-death?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20160131
I really like the second talk by Amanda Bennett where she discusses the recurring cancer in her husband. She reminds us that, in hope for a cure, we may get too focused on the next step… and miss the last step in the journey. Our hope may mean we forget about saying goodbye, thinking goodbye will never come.
These goodbyes are lovely when we get to say them. To honor the love we have, to share our thanks and forgiveness for all that has passed in this lifetime, to be present in this most important of transitions. Accepting that death is a part of each of our lives can help us face it with more care and thoughtfulness, and less fear.
My husband Dan and I have been talking about death quite a lot of late, likely due to the class. When I’m facilitating Dying to Talk!, I tend to focus more time than normal thinking and talking about death. A few weeks back, I said to Dan, “If I die, be sure to let Tom (our son) know that I really loved every minute of it.” He agreed, saying, “It’s been a good ride.” We talked in more detail about just how happy we are and, if this is all we get, then so be it. It may seem strange but this conversation made me feel better as I realized, we’ve really been lucky to have as much time as we have, and so many lovely experiences as we have, to date. Of course I hope for many more years of happiness (and all the other stuff life brings) but it was good to bask in the knowledge that we’ve made a good life and enjoyed it together thus far.
Just this weekend, we spoke again. Dan is pretty sure, based on family history, what will come for him someday. And I asked what he wanted to do, if this phenomenon arose. While I knew most of his answers already from past conversations, it was good to reiterate as things can change with time. We talked about game plans in a general way and I feel comforted having this knowledge, facing the prospects of possible futures with some level of pragmatism. I do comprehend that, if the situation does arise, things could change and it may be harder to practice only pragmatism as the reality of the situation brings emotion into play. But I also have hope that we will be able to face whatever comes our way together and without excessive panic or drama.
I know my son is facing the possibility of my death as a reality. He recently texted me, “I would hug the shit out of you right now if I could 😉 ” along with a post from Kevin Smith on his own mother’s hospital stay involving some risky surgery. I think in realizing we can lose someone, they become more valuable. When we take each other for granted, there is less connection, respect and passion. But we cherish more that which we remember we may someday lose.
We spent some time with friends this weekend watching Griefwalker, a documentary about the work of Stephen Jenkinson. It’s a tough film and leaves many questions but gives much food for thought. From his website: “Stephen is a teacher, author, storyteller, spiritual activist, farmer and founder of the Orphan Wisdom School, a teaching house and learning house for the skills of deep living and making human culture. It is rooted in knowing history, being claimed by ancestry, working for a time yet to come.” (http://orphanwisdom.com/) The basic idea of the movie is that we all need to find our path to comprehending death as it will help us live life more fully. And we must accept that death is a part of life, in fact, it is the part that makes it beautiful and valuable.
I do believe that the fact that we won’t live forever does make every minute special. Not knowing when or how we will pass from this life behooves us to make the absolute most we can of every minute. Enjoying each day, each moment of every day, is a goal that makes for having a happy life.