I had a conversation with Stacey – a fellow psychotherapist, formerly she was a social anthropologist – not so long ago. During it, I recall her saying that if she knew she only had a short time to live, she’d want to put all her energy into that, not give any to dying. She was happy for our exchange to be featured here….
I then asked her: When would you, then, be ready and willing to prepare for dying? Given that it is inevitable, and that (as you yourself said) everyone has fears around dying, isn’t it only intelligent to identify and work with the issues one does have, while one is still able to? Then when one’s death comes it does not need to be fraught with anguish but can be an event that one passes through with grace, and even gratitude! That’s the premise on which I base all my work. Just as we consciously prepare for birth when we are pregnant – having ante-natal classes in order to understand what our bodymind will be going through in the months of pregnancy, to know what activity is good, what would not be advisable, right diet, etc, and also about breathing and panting when we are actually in labor, and how to be with the pain – why would we not, in a similar fashion, prepare for the other major transition in life? – that of dying. After all, at birth we all are already pregnant with our own death.
Stacey: Your question is a very difficult one and requires some pondering. I see death as part of the life continuum not as discreet, up until the point at which I lose consciousness, my heart stops beating etc. in which case death is a fait accompli. I wonder if, in general, we do not do better to prepare people for all aspects of living and that includes the time of living which precedes death. Certainly existential themes come to mind. It is my understanding that Buddhists prepare themselves for the moment of their death their whole life long.
Sadly our culture doesn’t seem to have a similar practice. As to prenatal classes it occurs to me that nothing really prepares us for giving life and all that it entails but perhaps we can reduce our anxiety about the eminent event by attending specific classes.
Given that our culture does not seem to help most people prepare for their death, and given that most people still have many outstanding issues that need care and attention before their death, I still think this is important work and I think many people would benefit immensely from your assistance.
Personally I would like to see the preparation for my own death as interwoven with my life, but I understand that many people would not view it this way. It also occurs to me that many people are most sensitized to death when they are young children, at mid-life and again in old age. Death is a life-cycle issue as much as any other.
Maneesha: Yes, ideally, education about dying should be part of our education, as should the fundamentals about the blob we choose to call ‘living.’ As you rightly observe, death is not a discrete event but is intrinsic to and interwoven throughout life, as is evident in every exhalation we make.
I’d be interested to hear input from others about this topic – i.e. Should we address the subject of death, the fact that we are all going to face it? If yes, when is the optimal time to do so and in what form?