Death: Last stage of personal growth or a dead end?
Deeper Mindfulness is working with a new national Initiative to persuade people to start talking about death. It is called The Departure Lounge.
The project invites us to consider something that has been out of fashion for centuries- A Good Death. They say:
Explore The Departure Lounge to discover what a good death has meant for others, and to think about what it might mean for you.
I have all the props they sent me.
On October 24th and October 31st 9.00 - 11.00 a.m. at the Eden Cafe in Witney, join me and The Departure Lounge to talk about death and dying.
As the oldest survivor of my family, and someone who has worked with such issues for forty years in health and social services settings I have something to contribute to such discussions. I have even written a training course for therapist who may come across death and dying in their work.
More details on end of life therapy at www.deepermindfulness.com which launches soon.
I held a very informal meeting, just an old friend and I, at The Eden Cafe in Witney this week.
The issue was when is it right to tell the truth to someone.
When a person is in total denial of their impending death and gives signals that they prefer it to stay that way, should we confront them with reality?
Arnold Mindell once told me, "Not everyone is in the growers club," meaning that only some people are actively involved in their own personal development as human beings.
Maybe only a poet like Hausmann is thinking of death at the age of twenty:
Loveliest of Trees
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my three score years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
Some people like me had a near death experience when very young, and do not have the same fear of death as most. We know that life has in it the possibility of transcendence.
I wrote a responded to his poem in mid-life.
HOMAGE TO HAUSMAN
Of my three score years and ten
I’ve twenty seven left, but then
I’ve spent the whole of forty three
So adding up its plain to see
There isn’t so much left to me.
When I was young the days were slow
And time stood still for all I knew
I wasn’t scared.
But now the days depart at pace
There hardly seems to be a place
For now that I’ve reached forty four
I’ll strive to shut the study door
Push all my daily work outside
So I can tell myself I’ve tried
To contemplate what life remains
To use my brains to take great pains
To question what my life’s about
Before the candle gets snuffed out.
To chose what goals I’m aiming for
So I can have a chance to score.
At eighteen years I said to me
That thirty were enough to be
On this earth for.
The world I thought was too unkind
For children and their tender minds
For parents could not give enough
No one was formed of the right stuff
For doing that.
At thirty two I had a child
A love child.
Fortune on us smiled,
Or so I thought.
The child was what our loving brought.
Between a woman and a man
Deep love the generations span
Life opens up
It fills that cup
Transcends the helpless ego plan
I do not live with them any more
At forty years I closed that door
Another child soon came to me
Another girl on my family tree
A second chance,
A place to settle,
No more to roam.
But is that what my life’s about?
Their lives go on while mine dies out
To see them grow like blossoms bright
While I gaze on with failing sight?
I care for them and love them too,
But is that all I have to do
I often stroll among the graves
The stones that stand,
While others pave
The ground I tread.
Could I be happy to be dead?
What words would have to mark my grave
Provide the rest in peace I crave?
Tomorrow I enter my seventieth year, having lived a year more than my father.
For Christians, The Bible says in Psalm 90:
The days of our years are threescore years and ten;
In which case I am entering the departure lounge right now. Modern medicine tells me I am only 50 in biological years, whatever that means.
Should I be sorting out my affairs, making my will, preparing my family?
My friend's mother has terminal cancer and feels very content at the moment. Her husband is very happy to take care of her needs and never mention the subject.
Is ignorance bliss?
The conventional wisdom among health professionals is that dying people should be told about dying?
Is it so important that people face death and go through the difficult process of adjusting to the fact of death till we accept it and make our peace with our ending?
Culturally, we have been trying to hide away from death, shut it off in a back ward of a hospital and not give it much thought. Recent attempts to open up a dialogue like this one are not going too well so far.
We are schooled on medical science finding an answer to everything.
My friend is scared her mum will suddenly discover her impending death at the last minute and have no time for adjustment. She may die in terror, shockingly exposed to the truth.
I never had a long conversation about death with my mother. She talked about the practicalities, wills and stuff like that, all very matter of fact, very acceptingly.
On a sudden impulse my partner and I went to visit her one day. We chatted as usual, pleased to see my new partner. As we were about to go she said, "I just wanted to see you settled."