Setting the tone when you’re seriously ill or dying…

-*** Time for this post? Reading…8 minutes. Viewing…9 minutes. Thinking about what you would do…as you wish.

After writing last week’s blog about being with the dying, it occurred to me that…

As such, we have responsibilities…

The dying person can help friends and family in a variety of ways, yet we don’t typically think about dying from that point of view. I suspect that’s because we tend to approach death passively, as something that happens to us rather than a normal life process that we will ultimately engage in, like it or not. Instead of participating, we come at it from a victim mindset.

Role models for a different way…

One of the best things about the internet is the access we have to people who think and behave differently. It’s a good way to gain a broader perspective and find our place within the possibilities.

Pieter Hintjens…

Pieter Hintjens was a software developer, writer, and father who was diagnosed with terminal cancer at age 53. An article in The Guardian reports on Hintjens’ final website post in which he outlined his “protocol for dying.” He wrote about what not to say, what can lead to happy conversations, and the duties of the dying. He listed the following duties of the dying, elaborating on each:

  • Be happy.
  • Obviously, put your affairs in order.
  • Remove all stress and cost that you can.
  • Be realistic.
  • Assume the brutal worst.
  • Be honest and transparent with others.

He makes a very good point about being honest. When the dying person is honest and transparent with others, it makes things much easier for them. When they can talk about your death with you, it helps them process what’s happening.

Hintjens’ approach was proactive—to be the one initiating the conversation rather than creating a climate in which others had to tiptoe around him, not sure what to say. That is definitely one of the helpful things a dying person can do.

Setting the tone…

In addition to talking about our situation, we can help others know how to respond by the way we communicate. Choice of words and how we put them together sets the tone for all communication, whether written or verbal. Pieter Hintjens’ tone is clearly pragmatic and logical. Although he doesn’t use these exact words, he conveys that: It is what it is. We all have to deal with this situation, so let’s get on with it.

His manner isn’t everyone’s. Some prefer a softer approach, but that doesn’t mean saying nothing or pretending it isn’t happening. Ignoring or denying the situation doesn’t help, it just invites people to default to the cultural norm, which is to see you as a victim. Unless you want to be treated that way, it’s important to communicate intentionally.

The way around landing in victimhood is to set the tone by choosing your words thoughtfully. Below is a good example. Sarah Kerr, who I introduced recently, has posted lots of educational material, including videos, on a wide range of topics related to her work as a death doula. When she discovered she has breast cancer, Sarah talked about it in a video.

Sarah Kerr’s approach…

Her diagnosis is not terminal. But any cancer is a serious condition and people have a culturally induced perception of what it means. Notice how she sets the tone in her communication:

  • She states the facts directly, including a realistic sense of what this diagnosis means and the possibility of a positive prognosis.
  • She expresses confidence in her medical team.
  • When she talks about how she’s feeling, it’s clear that she isn’t recording this in the midst of the early dark days after diagnosis. She’s able to speak with perspective because she has already processed it.
  • She reassures us that she’s doing what she thinks best. In her case, that includes mainstream medical treatment, lifestyle adjustments, and really going into it rather than seeking distraction.
  • She invites support and also provides specific direction as to what that would be.
  • She identifies, in the nicest of ways, what would not be helpful. In this case, that’s advice—no matter how well-meaning it is.

We got a clear sense of Sarah’s viewpoint about dealing with her cancer. In case this interested you, here’s a summary:

  • It’s not a war to be fought.
  • Her body has been disrupted from its normal healthy functioning.
  • The existence of this cancer tells her that something is out of balance.
  • She’s taking this as an indication of a problem to be solved, as a call for healing at a deep level.
  • She is not asking why this is happening to her. Instead her question is: What is this asking of me?

What suits you?

Most of us don’t write on a website or speak on video—and a health crisis is not the time to start. But an email update to your near and dear is a good way to get everyone on the same page—as long as you write clearly so that you aren’t misunderstood.

Your newsletter can provide details about your diagnosis and treatment, thus ensuring that everyone has the same accurate information. When deciding what to divulge, though, keep in mind my mom’s advice: Never put anything in writing that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the newspaper!

Besides providing the facts, a group email can set the tone by sharing how you’re feeling—physically, mentally, and emotionally. Here’s an example of tone-setting that came from a family member who had used email to update all of us after her cancer diagnosis.

I’m feeling fine, other than the normal issues with my back assumed to be caused by longstanding arthritis and a pelvis which likes to get out of line on a regular basis and has been acting up during all the various testing situations. I am still seeing the chiropractor who is cautious and doesn’t work near the area of L1-2. That will hopefully keep me mobile for a long time in spite of the new issue.

I have scratched bungee-jumping and parachuting off my bucket list and I’ve quit jumping off curbs and bottom steps to protect the stability of the diseased bone.

Once the biopsy has healed I will ask if there are any other limitations of activity…one step at a time…

It isn’t great news but things could be so much worse…

What are your thoughts about our responsibility when we’re seriously ill or dying? Do you have experience to share, examples of what worked or didn’t? As always, I invite your comments.

Being with a Person who is Dying

*** Time for this post?  Reading…5 minutes. Viewing…an hour, but not necessarily all at once.

My life has not yet required me to be on hand when someone is dying. And I’m pretty sure that can’t continue. So I’ve been looking for good information about how to be with someone who’s near the end of life.

Visiting someone who’s dying…

I found an excellent article about deathbed visiting which offers very practical tips based onthe author’s challenging experience of managing the death of a family member at home.

As my father-in-law lay in his deathbed, after an illness so brief his friends and colleagues were stunned to hear he had entered his last days, people wanted to say goodbye. So in those last days, we got a crash course on how to visit the dying. … I will love some of those visitors forever. Others I wouldn’t mind never seeing again. But collectively they taught us some valuable lessons.

Her article is recommended reading for everyone. If you don’t have time now, it’s worth bookmarking for when you’re in the situation. Here are some of the main points, explained more fully in the article.

  • Be in touch, but don’t expect a response.
  • Say “We would love to visit,” or “Are you receiving visitors,” not “When can we visit?”
  • Be ready for plans to change at any moment.
  • Bring treats.
  • Don’t bring plants.
  • Handle silence.
  • Don’t be needy.
  • Have something to say.

Something to say!?

What on earth can you possibly say to a person who is dying? Hallie Levine, in the AARP newsletter, suggests showing support by saying things such as:

  • I wish this wasn’t happening to you.
  • This must be hard news for you to share.
  • I’m here for you.
  • I’m thinking of you.

She further advises being as specific and concrete as possible about any potential assistance.

“People often say, ‘if you need anything, call me,’ but that puts the onus on the person dealing with the life-threatening disease,” says Rebecca Axline, a licensed clinical social worker at the Houston Methodist Neurological Institute. “Instead, say, ‘Can I bring a casserole by Thursday?’ or drop off a gift card for a massage or dinner at a local restaurant.”

Things NOT to say…

From a helpful article in AgingCare:

“Avoid clichés or platitudes,” notes psychiatrist and author Marcia Sirota, M.D. “Saying things like, ‘Everything happens for a reason,’ and ‘It’s God’s will,’ can make the person feel like their illness is their fault.”

Saying things like “You’re strong” and “You’ll get through this” is equally problematic. Although it can be tempting to reassure a patient that they’ll be okay, this approach can be hurtful because it does not acknowledge the patient’s feelings and concerns. “Maybe they don’t feel strong right now and need to feel like they can be afraid,” Dr. Sirota adds. “You need to give them the space they need to share their fears and come to terms with them.”

The Marie Currie Hospice in the UK has a good overview article by social worker Glyn Thomas. It has links to in-depth discussion on topics such as:

  • What to do when someone is in denial about their diagnosis
  • How to help with day-to-day caring
  • What it’s like to live with a terminal diagnosis
  • Helping someone come to terms with a terminal diagnosis

Don’t wince when tough things come up…

Here’s one reason we should all come to terms with death—to be able to support those around us. It helps the dying go in peace if they’ve been able to talk about how they feel and what’s on their mind.

This could include loose ends such as making a will if there isn’t one, giving away belongings, etc. And fears about the unknowns ahead. If you can be comfortable listening, you’ll be of great service. And if you’re willing to facilitate completing undone tasks or locating resource people to allay the fears, that’s a bonus.

Most of us find this a challenge because we’ve grown up without role models for being with people as they approach death. Becki Hawkins, in the video below, is a terrific role model. A hospice nurse and chaplain, Becki has been at the bedside of terminally ill patients for more than 30 years. She is the author of Transitions: A Nurse’s Education About Life And Death.

This is a long video but easily viewed one story at a time.

This is what I’ve found so far to help me be with someone who’s dying. Do you have any insights to share?

Quantity of life … or quality?

*** Time for this post?  Reading…2 minutes. Viewing…19 minutes. Taking it in…as you wish.

BJ Miller, a hospice doctor, says, “At the end of our lives, what do we most wish for? For many, it’s simply comfort, respect, and love.”

Yet the statistics show that most of us in our over-medicalized Western culture do not die that way. And it’s easy to see why.

Doctors are trained to keep us alive, There are a lot of treatments they can offer before giving in and saying the dreaded sentence, “There’s nothing more we can do.”

Now, let’s be clear. The blame doesn’t lie solely on the shoulders of doctors. We, the people who are offered these treatments, may not yet have come to terms with the fact that we will surely die sooner or later. In this mindset, we aim for quantity of life and lose sight of the quality of life we may really be aching for.

When we are uneasy about our inevitable death, we grasp at any possibility that’s offered to us. Yet, as Stephen Jenkinson says, the “more-time” bargain we make to avoid the end of life has consequences we never imagined.

Quality of life as we near the end…

To some degree, quality of life is subjective. But there are certain common threads. And that takes me back to  BJ Miller’s thought that at the end of our lives what we most wish for is comfort, respect, and love.

If you’ve ever experienced hospitalization, you’ll know that comfort, respect, and love are not their focus. Hospitals are geared toward making us better, whatever it takes—chest compression, powerful drugs, surgery, chemotherapy, and everything in between. But life-saving care is not what’s needed by a person at the end of life.

We need other places and other philosophies to guide end-of-life care.

BJ Miller is a palliative care physician who has dedicated his career to understanding how to provide a dignified, graceful end of life for his patients. This moving TED Talk asks us to consider—and perhaps reconsider—how we think about death, and how we honour life.

Your thoughts?

What is a Death Doula?

***  Time for this post? Reading…5 minutes. Viewing…8 + 57 + 13 minutes. Exploring the highlighted resources…ongoing.

A doula is a non-medical person who provides support and nurturing to a person in life transition. Birth doulas provide information and nurturing care before and during birth, and death doulas do the same in the days and months leading up to death.

Death doulas generally have a holistic view that encompasses the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of end-of-life experiences, working with the family as well as the individual.

Other terms used to describe this work include end-of-life doula, end-of-life coach, end-of-life guide, death midwife, soul midwife, transition guide, death coach, and doula to the dying. Practitioners may have completed a certification course for death doulas, and usually bring a rich background of other training and skills that help them guide people through the end-of-life experience.

Who is a death doula?

A lawyer, a psychologist, a nurse—all are death doulas. In the videos that follow, you’ll hear each of them describe how she approaches her work with the dying.

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Alua Arthur is a lawyer and one of her specialties is advance planning documents. But her services encompass much more, as you will see. You can find out what she does at Going With Grace.

In her video, Alua refers to “memento mori.” I had to look that up. Here’s what I learned from Merriam Webster: 

Memento mori literally means “Remember you must die.” The early Puritan settlers were particularly aware of death and fearful of what it might mean, so a Puritan tombstone will often display a memento mori intended for the living. These death’s-heads or skulls may strike us as ghoulish, but they helped keep the living on the straight and narrow for fear of eternal punishment. In earlier centuries, an educated European might place an actual skull on his desk to keep the idea of death always present in his mind.

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Sarah Kerr has a PhD in psychology and additional training that has led her to focusing on non-religious ritual and ceremony. Her purpose is to help people naviagte death, loss, and transformation.You can find out more about the scope of her work at Soul Passages.

Sarah’s website is highly educational. She says, “We’ve forgotten how to meet death well, and we need to develop a wider literacy in the culture.” To that end, she posts short videos that I highly recommend. You can find them here and here. And you’ll probably want to download her Free Holistic Death Resource Kit.

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Suzanne O’Brien is a registered nurse with extensive experience in palliative care. She’s the founder of a training program who those who wish to be certified to work as end-of-life doulas. You can find out more at Doulagivers.

You don’t have to want to become a death doula to benefit from Suzanne’s work. I highly recommend the 90-minute free webinar she offers regularly. You can register by  scrolling down the home page on her website. Anyone who might one day be dealing with a dying family member will benefit from the detailed practical information she covers in this webinar, including what to expect as the body shuts down and how to help when the person is in the last stages of dying.

I’m not sure if I would hire a death doula when the time comes. But right now, I’m glad to know they are an option. And you?

Footwear too cool to dispose of.

***  Time for this post? Reading…7 minutes. Thinking about why you keep what you do…optional.

I know people who feel they must purge their living and storage spaces before they die. Their intention is to make it easier for their family to wrap up their affairs. What a shame!

True, it might help the family dispatch the estate efficiently. But what will they miss out on?

My take on that…

I think there’s something to be gained when others go through what we leave behind. They may learn things about us that they didn’t know, remember long-forgotten events, and gain perspective on who we were.

The way I see it, this is part of our legacy—and we are shortchanging our survivors if we leave a stripped-down version of our life.

To be clear, I’m not advocating for leaving an unholy mess. Like Margareta Magnusson, I think I should take responsibility for what I keep. And part of what I want to keep is those things that illustrate my history. For example…

Footwear too cool to dispose of…

When my kids clean out my place, they’ll find a couple boxes of shoes that have never been on my feet. They’re from my days as a wardrobe designer for community theatre productions.

Shoes were a challenge on a low budget, especially for period shows. I did a lot fo sourcing in thrift stores. When I saw something unique, that I’d be unlikely to find again when it was needed, I made the purchase on speculation. Most of them cost $1, or half that on a sale day.

What my family will find in the boxes…

For those who love shoes like I do, here’s a closeup look…

These women’s shoes remind me of what grownups wore when I was a child.The black rain boots and oxfords were used in two shows. Probably no one noticed but me, because they were subtle additions to the costumes. But to me, they were like icing on a cake—the finishing touch that makes it special.

The two shoes in the next photo make my heart sing, and I was very happy to find they were useful more than once.

The red sling-backs are my absolute favourite. I think it’s because the six-year-old that still lives in me thought they were soooooo elegant when she saw them in magazine pictures. Of course, no one she knew ever wore anything that stylish!

Anyway, I keep these out of the box, on display so she can enjoy them daily. (If I had room, I’d keep all the shoes on display. But I don’t, so that’s why my kids will find the boxes. Now that I think of it, I’m going to put a copy of this post in the box, so they’ll know why I kept such things.)

The men’s shoes also have stories. Like the red shoes, brown leather slippers were never worn by people I knew, automatically making them intriguingly exotic in my mind.

The felt boots behind them, just like those my Grandpa wore, were perfect in “Of Mice and Men.”

I created the spectator shoes for “Guys and Dolls” by painting light shoe dye on the main part of basic black brogues. A small touch, but soul-satisfying!

These two pairs of oxfords are custom-made shoes that would never fit anyone but the intended wearer.  The pair on the left is the narrowest pair of men’s shoes I have ever seen! It’s hard to convey in a photo. The shoe is size 11, and only 3 inches (7.6 cm) wide. That’s 25% narrower than the average width for a size 11 shoe.

The pair on the right is HUGE, which is why I set them on a ruler. To the toe cap, minus the protruding sole, it is 13 1/2 inches (34.3 cm) long. North American shoe size charts go up to size 17, which is 13″ (33 cm) long. At 1/2 inch (1.3 cm) longer than that, this pair of shoes is size 18.

Other things they’ll find in my storage room…

  • Archive of my work ~ Printed materials I produced over the years, including books, pamphlets, food photos, and project proposals. They saw bits and pieces of these things as they were growing up, but this gives them a big picture of the body of my work.
  • Memorabilia of my kids ~  Artwork, cards they gave me, notes sent when they were away, and miscellaneous bits. I think that discovering these will connect them with their younger selves and reinforce how special they are to me.
  • Empty boxes, because you never know when you’ll need them. And besides, they’ll be useful when they pack up my things to move them on.
  • Milk jugs filled with water, which could be essential in an emergency. A bit of a nuisance for them to dispose of, but water can easily be poured out and the empty jugs can go into my recycling.
  • Some junk, but not too much.

What are you storing?

Things with stories? Things you think your family might want? Stuff-and-junk? What will your family learn about you as they go through it? What will they learn about themselves? Please share…

What does normal dying look like?

*** Time for this post? Reading…2 minutes. Viewing…4 minutes. Revisiting the video…as often as you need to.

I’ve never seen someone die. I probably will in the next while. I don’t know what to expect. So I’ve been looking into it and have found some reassuring information.

Dying is not as bad...

Kathryn Mannix is a medical doctor, who has worked as a palliative care consultant in hospices, hospitals, and in patients’ own homes. From this experience, she has written With the End in Mind. Here’s an excerpt from her description of it:

Dying is a bodily process. Just like pregnancy and birth, it has recognisable stages of progression. We can recognise the progress of life-limiting illness; we can predict, less reliably early on yet with increasing accuracy as death comes closer. It’s usually possible to gather the right people in time, and help them to prepare, because for most of us, dying affects not only the dying person but also their dear ones. Whether or not we are related to the people we hold most dear, dying is a ‘family affair.’…

My life in palliative care has shown me that the process of dying is made less frightening and more peaceful, the better prepared we are. Knowing what to expect, and knowing what our dear ones will see as we die, helps people to plan, to speak to each other openly and honestly, and to relax. It also helps people to enjoy each day as it arises, instead of fearing a sudden and unexpected onset of dying, because usually, death approaches us gradually.

I usually write a conclusion, but I think she’s said it all. I hope you found this helpful.

When is enough enough?

***Time for this post?  Reading… 8 minutes.  Viewing…12 minutes. Exploring what is deeply satisfying to you…as long as it takes.

It’s not easy to know when to call it quits, to speak up and change course when we’ve had enough.  This bold action requires us to think deeply about what’s important, and to take a stand for it…even when those around us have a different opinion about what we should do.

We are not enculturated to live—or die—on our own terms.

How much is enough?

… “enough” is not a number—it’s what is deeply satisfying.

The above quote is from Conscious Spending, Conscious Life, my book about using our resources intentionally. It helps us all navigate the consumer culture without being consumed by it.

As I learn more about the way we die in the West, I keep seeing parallels between consumption of consumer goods and our engagement with healthcare services. In both cases, we can end up being used by the system rather than served by it.

One of the primary skills for making our way through the consumer culture is the ability to discern when enough is enough. Conscious awareness is what saves us from being used by the system.

We must become clear about what we consider fundamentally important for a good life. In most cases, this is found in our values—not in things or pills.

Medicalization…

Healthcare is highly driven by consumerist values.These days, many treatments are possible and we can be swept along a long road of suffering just because there’s something more to try.

Medical professionals are trained to save lives, which is exactly what’s needed for dealing with emergencies. But different thinking is required when the medical issue is a chronic condition, terminal illness, or the frailty of old age. Our doctors may encourage us to try everything they have access to in hopes that something “will work” even when rescue from our conditions is not possible.

Pharmaceutical and equipment manufacturers have a vested interest in keeping  us looking for the next new thing. We, as consumers of healthcare, can get caught in the thrall of doing anything and everything to buy more time—without thinking about the price we might pay in unintended consequences.

Rarely are dying people invited to think about what’s important to them and helped to determine which available options will let them live out their lives in alignment with what they really value.

Here’s an exception…

Dr. Atul Gawande is a surgeon, public health researcher, and author of the #1 NY Times bestseller, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. Here’s a description from notes about his book:

Modern medicine has transformed the dangers of birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But when it comes to the inescapable realities of aging and death, what medicine can do often runs counter to what it should do.

Through eye-opening research and gripping stories of his own patients and family, Gawande reveals the suffering produced by medicine’s neglect of the wishes people might have beyond mere survival.

To find out what those wishes are, we need to ask. We haven’t been asking, but we can learn. Riveting, honest, and humane, this remarkable book, which has already changed the national conversation on aging and death, shows how the ultimate goal is not a good death but a good life—all the way to the very end.

This is not a helpful question…

  • What do you want at the end of your life?

Helpful questions…

The following are better options because they get at a person’s priorities. Medical professionals should be asking them, but we can ask them of ourselves , and adult children can pose these qustions to their parents.

Ask these questions repeatedly over time, because priorities change as a person’s condition changes.

  • Well…what’s your understanding of your condition?
  • So….what are your fears and worries for the future?
  • What are the goals you have if your health should worsen?
  • What trade-offs are you willing to make—and not willing to make?

Let them have the damn cookies…

  • Suffering = No one asking you what matters to you, but telling you how they’re going to treat you.
  • When doctors don’t ask what matters to people, what they are doing to them is out of alignment with their priorities.
  • Medicalized nursing homes do not serve us well. Instead, they should create the freedom for people to make bad choices, talking to them about those choices when necessary.

For a fuller version of Atul Gawande’s approach, watch this lunch-hour presentation at Google. I found it well worth the time.

A good life…all the way to the very end.

Isn’t this what we all want? The tricky part is nurturing the mindset—individually and collectively—that will create a climate for our end of life to be humane instead of medicalized.

This brings up issues of quality of life that we should all be thinking about. Knowing what a good quality of life looks like to you will help you decide when you want to get off the treatment train.

It’s not a question of either fighting or giving up. The way through is for you to decide what is worth fighting for…and it may not be a longer life. It may be a life that best suits you in the time you have left. And only you can know what that will be.

Reset as things change…

Your condition will change and so will treatment options. As new treatments are presented, take a moment—or a day—to reset. Remember what you value most and consider how each option will align with it…or won’t align.

Give yourself permission…

I hope this perspective has given you things to think about, and permission to take a stand for what is right for you. We all deserve that.

Your thoughts?

Alternate Death Traditions

***  Time for this post? Reading …1 minute. Viewing …19 minutes. 

Enculturation is the process by which individuals learn their group’s culture—through experience, observation, and instruction. It is how traditions evolve.

We all become enculturated, that is, steeped in the way things are done in the society in which we live. It’s what we know, what we get used to, what we think is normal.

How WE do death isn’t the only way…

Caitlin Doughty is a licensed mortician and death acceptance advocate. She is founder of the nonprofit The Order of the Good Death, author of three books, and operates Undertaking LA, an alternative funeral home.

And here’s what they do in South Carolina when someone “has passed”…

Enough said!

Die Wise

*** Time for this post?  Reading… 5 minutes. Viewing…you’ll be surprised how quickly the time passes.

When I wrote my first blog about dying, reader Barb Morin posted this comment…

A master of this subject [thinking about dying] —a self-described dealer in the “death trade” for over 20 years is Canada’s own Stephen Jenkinson. He has written a number of books – the last one called Come of Age and an earlier one entitled Die Wise.

He has a website called orphanwisdom.com and he is currently on tour through North America doing a presentation called “Nights of Grief and Mystery” with a musician named Greg Hoskins.

We recently attended this in Calgary—me and 5 family and friends who were not really looking forward to an uninterrupted 2.5 hours where entry was not allowed after the doors closed, with no intermission . About all I can say is that no one moved for the fastest 2.5 hours in my life and none was “unmoved’” by the content. My husband, who has a reputation for being able to sleep through ANYTHING shortly after it begins and wakes up as the clapping starts, was awake for the entire thing! He even said, “that was really good”!

I’d certainly encourage you to look at him as a resource. He has an NFB film about him and his work called Griefwalker which you can find on YouTube. He also teaches on occasion at Hollyhock Retreat Center on Cortes Island and teaches at his farm in Ontario.

As it happened, Stephen Jenkinson had not yet crossed my path—and I could hardly ignore such a compelling recommendation. Having listened to him on video, today I’m sharing an excellent interview that gives you a sense of what he’s about.

Notable aspects…

This is such a rich conversation, it’s impossible to summarize. Here are some things that leapt out at me…

  • The palliative care system is technologically driven and it shapes our credo of end-of-life care, which is—If you can, you should. It’s a philosophy that has no upside.
  • The “more-time” bargain we make to avoid the end of life has consequences we never imagined.

  • We have messed with the idea of “your time to die.” And so, we don’t die when we are dying…
  • Pneumonia used to be called “the old man’s friend.” Now it is treatable—and treated in the elderly—so we can’t even die from pneumonia anymore.
  • Our description of a “good death” is dictated by the attributes of the death phobia of the culture…
  • We should be asking, not what can we do about dying but what does dying ask of us?
  • Your obligation as your body’s trustee is to learn its ways, including its limits and, later, its dying too…
  • The Balinese tend to their dead in a morning ritual. The evidence of it is everywhere. I encountered this young woman on an early morning walk in Bali, holding a tray of beautifully prepared food that she was about to put out.

What caught your attention?

Stephen Jenkinson does not give us the same-old same-old. What caught your attention? Did you find things to think about?

A little change in social attitude…

*** Time for this post?  Reading…3 minutes. Listening…10 minutes. Considering…at your leisure.

The death phobia that pervades our consumer culture does not serve us well…

We get to indulge in death phobia because commercial interests are right there, ready to step in and do the difficult things for us. In this way, we avoid a lot of discomfort.

But we pay a price for our comfort…and it’s not just in money. We become death illiterate, with no language for what death asks of us and no emotional capacity to recognize that death is asking something of us.

The cultural story…

Research has shown how important our attitude is, both individually and collectively. When enough of us hold a similar point of view, it becomes the cultural story. I like the term meta-narrative—the big over-arching story—because it conveys how pervasive the cultural story about anything can be.

When it comes to death, here are some of the attitudes Westerners are steeped in.

  • Dying is something that happens to us; it isn’t something we do.
  • When you’re dying, you’re not behaving right—You’re supposed to live.
  • We are victims of death.
  • We should battle against death as long as possible.
  • Good things should never end.
  • Dying is akin to failing.

[tweetshare tweet=””[tweetshare tweet=”Attitude is the most important decision you’ll make today.  ~Paul Dughi #death #dying” username=”LauranaRayne”]

Not all cultures tell the same story about death…

Eastern philosophy, for example, has different perspectives that have gradually come into our field of view. The most notable catalyst for this awareness was when The Beatles went to India in 1968 for a training course at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Although the most famous, The Beatles were not the first Westerners to become intrigued with the Eastern view. Alan Watts, who died in 1973, was a British-born philosopher, writer, and speaker. He’s best known as an early interpreter and popularizer of Eastern philosophy for a Western audience.

Watts moved to the United States in 1938 and began Zen training in New York, then earned a master’s degree in theology,  and was an Episcopal priest before joining the faculty of the American Academy of Asian Studies.

I find it interesting to listen to him, with his unique blend of East/West understanding. It always intrigues me to see how things that seem opposite—like East and West— can be wrapped up together to make a bigger, more coherent and dynamic whole.

Here are some of Alan Watts’ thoughts about death and dying…

“…just the end of you as a system of memory.”

Now isn’t that an intriguing thought! For more of his philosophy that helps us think in another way, here’s a compelling video about accepting death.