Imagine dying well
Imagine, if you will, a 50-year-old woman watching her 26-year-old daughter waste away as she succumbs to a brutal form of cancer. From the moment they receive the diagnosis to her last breath, 100 days pass. From the first second this woman sinks into panic mode, her body abuzz as if she is plugged into an electrical socket. Is it due to the grueling effort required to do all within her power to nurse her daughter from almost certain death to a place of healing? Or maybe the emotional journey of being by the side of her firstborn as she slips deeper into the clutches of the disease? By day 100 this woman feels like she is no longer in her body, detached.
I do not have to imagine this woman. For she is me.
My daughter lived those 100 days with grace and beauty, extending love to all who were fortunate enough to witness her struggle. Me, not so much.
As I fought to dig myself out of the deep hole I found myself in, weighed down by the pain, grief, and depression that ensued, I began to ask myself a few questions:
How could I have been more prepared for such a difficult situation?
Could I have been more prepared?
If so, how does one prepare for what seems like such a monumental task?
Is there anyone out there who could have helped me? Who understands how to help?
Is it possible that we can view death and dying differently? Less frantically? I mean, we all die; is it possible to approach this certainty with more beauty and wonder?
At first these questions haunted me. Over time they began to challenge me. I answered them in two ways, the only ways I knew how. First, I buckled down and began an arduous journey of research, reading dozens of books and scouring the internet. Secondly, I entered into deep contemplation and soul searching. This journey led me from near-death experience books to authors who had come out of extremely difficult situations and on into joyful living. I even read books by those who had lost children and sought out others who had lost loved ones. I needed to know how they had survived.
I found myself revisiting again and again the thought that the dying journey is one that we will all make. Why is our culture so averse to discussing this fact? Why are we so against educating ourselves about death and dying? EVERYONE does it; why don’t we talk about it?
How can we make dying a subject that not only does not scare people, but that interests us? That makes us want to prepare? Why not immerse ourselves into the wonder and mystery that encapsulates our final act on earth? Why not reflect on the ultimate experience that almost all of us will go through with those we love? Our parents, friends, and yes, sometimes even our children? Why not explore how we can do everything in our power to ease the fear and anxiety that usually accompany the dying event, and replace them with as much beauty, wonder, love, and tenderness as possible?
I closing, I know how this sounds to many people, that death is just too difficult to address. But I know from experience that without having some semblance of understanding or coping skills, the emotions that ensue are fraught with fear and anguish. If it’s possible to reduce this fear, and possibly even find ways to celebrate our loved one’s final days, is it not worth it to discuss? I believe that it is.