News of death and dying from the States was dominated this month by the debate in the UK’s House of Lords over physician assisted suicide. Online news outlets across the country made headlines of South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s announcement of support for the measure. The announcement was made extra-poignant due to the fact that Tutu was apparently motivated to speak out because of his time spent with Nelson Mandela during his final days. Forbes.com noted that Mandela “was reported to have been kept on life-support amid a family dispute over his care and forced to sit with politicians for a photo-op before his death last year.”
Beloved radio host and National Public Radio mainstay, Diane Rehm weighed-in on the issue as well. On a recent show, she hosted assisted suicide advocate, Barbara Coombs Lee. During the segment, Rehm spoke about the trauma of watching her husband of 52 years die willingly of starvation because the state of Maryland lacks compassionate end-of-life choice laws. Read the article on Forbes.
From New England comes an open-hearted project that connects people’s life stories to the fact that we all die. As the headline to this article says, “The Wake Up to Dying Project Brings Death Out of the Closet.”
The project’s four minute video (below) contains several very poignant snippets from the original 35 minute audio narrative. As you’ll see from the video, the managers of the project envision a custom built-trailer and tent that can travel from town to town bringing its message of hope for living a meaning-full life.
Watching the video introduced me to an artist with whom I was unfamiliar. Her name is Candy Chang and she has a very moving TED Talk about her art installation, “Before I Die I Want To…” One of her “Before I Die” chalk boards is included in the “Wake Up to Dying” tour van.
From spirituality author MaryAnn McKibben Dana comes this Facebook meme about death and dying in the age of social media. The author seeds the conversation with the following: “Giving and receiving condolences [through social media], shutting down a Facebook profile of someone who has died, or letting the profile continue and what that’s like.” You can share your thoughts with Dana and her community here.
The evergreen topic of youth and the attraction of death was raised this month in an exchange on Twitter between Singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey and the daughter of Kurt Cobain. What stands out for me in this debate is Cobain’s concern for Del Rey’s apparent nihilism. Read it here.
Finally, I was challenged this month by Osho’s response to the question, Why me? He said, “Live each emotion that you feel it is you.”
My response: so often, we feel the pull to numb out when negative emotions arise. Learning to stay with them is the heart of contemplation. Learning to acknowledge suffering without turning away is the heart of mysticism.
By John Tintera, New York City, July 2014