Talking about Death and Dying
Most of us wish to avoid talking about death and dying. Usually it is circumstance in the form of illness, an accident or a close encounter with death that forces us to face up to the reality of death. Until then, facing our mortality is not high on our agenda and we give little or no thought to the the realisation that one day we too will die. This is intriguing for two immediate reasons. First, as a Buddhist might argue, dying is one of the very few certainties in life that we can rely upon happening. Second, when people do face up to their death they almost invariably feel much better for doing so. Talking about death and dying is always worth doing!
What do we mean by facing our mortality? On one level, it is very simple and a question of considering some of the practical issues around death and dying like making a will, drawing up Powers of Attorney or taking out an Advanced Decision (insert internal link). Alternatively it could be writing notes on the kind of funeral we want and choosing readings, poems and music for our funeral service so that family and friends know our wishes when the time comes (insert internal link).
On another level, it’s taking on board the key fact that our time on this planet is not unlimited and we can make choices as to how we live and spend that finite amount of time. For some, most typically when death is already on the horizon, it might be a bucket list of all the things things we want to do before we die.
For others, it is paying attention to our health, particularly diet and exercise, and decluttering our lives of the extraneous things that no longer matter or detract from our happiness. This may well be linked to finding creative outlets that fulfill us, devoting more energy to friendships and family and taking each day as it comes – acknowledging how precious the gift of life is once we know we could be about to lose it.
Buddhist teachers say that death and life are two sides of the same coin and that to live well greatly increases the chances of dying well. From my own experience where people have lived fulfilled and fulfilling lives, they and their families find it much easier to come to terms with their death. Also when people are scared or full of regret, disappointment, resentment or anger, this does get in the way of the dying process almost like an indigestion of the soul which takes up all our attention at a point when ideally we are finding peace within ourselves.
Personally I am not a fan of organised religion and theological discussions of heaven and hell. I prefer to follow a less clearly defined spiritual path where everyone can find their own truth and sense of direction. But I do believe death and dying are worth talking and thinking about and, in the doing of this, we can learn valuable insights about ourselves and how we would like to live our lives.