01/15/18

Death: The Greatest Teacher

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The Buddha said the greatest of all teachings is impermanence. Its final expression is death. Buddhist teacher Judy Lief explains why our awareness of death is the secret of life. It’s the ultimate twist.

“Laughing in the Face of Stupidity,” painting by Tasha Mannox from the series “Laughing in the Face of Death: To live and die without regrets.”

by

Whether we fight it, deny it, or accept it, we all have a relationship with death. Some people have few encounters with death as they are growing up, and it becomes personal for them only as they age and funerals begin to outnumber weddings. Others grow up in violent surroundings where sudden death is common, or see a family member die of a fatal illness. Many of us have never seen a person die, while people who work in hospitals and hospices see the realities of death and dying every day. But whether death is something distant for us or we are in the thick of it, it haunts and challenges us.

Death is a strong message, a demanding teacher. In response to death’s message, we could shut down and become more hardened. Or we could open up, and become more free and loving. We could try to avoid its message altogether, but that would take a lot of effort, because death is a persistent teacher.

Teacher death met up with us the minute we were born, and is by our side every moment of our life. What death has to teach us is direct and to the point. It is profound but intimate. Death is a full stop. It interrupts the delusions and habits of thought that entrap us in small-mindedness. It is an affront to ego.

Death is a fact. Our challenge is to figure out how to deal with it, because it is never a good plan to struggle against or deny reality. The more we struggle against death, the more resentment we have and the more we suffer. We take a painful situation and through our struggles add a whole new layer of pain to it.

We cannot avoid death, but we can change how we relate to it. We can take death as a teacher and see what we can learn from it.

“Laughing in the Face of Pride,” painting by Tasha Mannox from the series “Laughing in the Face of Death: To live and die without regrets.”

Facts are facts: everyone is going to die sooner or later. No magic trick or spiritual gimmick will make it go away. Distancing ourselves from death or putting off thinking about it does not work.

I have noticed that the more distant we are from death, the more fear arises. Death becomes alien, other, scary, mysterious. People who work regularly with the dying, who are closer to death, seem to have less fear.

We each have our own unique relationship with death, our own particular history and circumstances, but one way or another we all relate to death. The question is: how do we relate with this reality and how does this color our lives? It is possible to come to terms with the fact of death in a way that enriches our lives, but to learn from death we must be willing to take a dispassionate look at our experiences and preconceptions.

Reflecting on our own mortality and the reality of death is practiced in many contemplative traditions. In the Buddhist tradition, the contemplation of death is said to be the “supreme contemplation.” It encompasses reflecting not only on physical mortality, but on impermanence in all its dimensions.

By means of meditation and by developing an ongoing awareness of death, we can change our relationship with death and thereby change our relationship with life. We can see that death is not just something that pops up at the end of life, but is inseparably linked with our life moment to moment, from the beginning to the end.  We can see that death is not just a final teacher. It is available to teach us here and now.

When we contemplate in this way, our many schemes for getting around the reality of death, such as coming up with interpretations to make it more palatable, are exposed one by one and demolished. Death is the great interrupter, unreasonable and nonnegotiable. No amount of cleverness will make it otherwise.

Contemplating death is not an easy practice. It is not merely conceptual. It stirs things up. It evokes emotions of love, sorrow, fear, and longing. It brings up anger, disappointment, regret, and groundlessness. How tender it is to reflect on the many losses we have experienced and will experience in the future. How poignant it is to reflect on life’s fleeting quality.

How we think about death matters. It affects how we live our life and how we relate to one another.

 
In this practice, we deliberately bring our attention back again and again to our relationship with death. We examine what we mean by death and what it brings up for us. We reflect on our experiences and reactions to it.

It is a bit like going for marriage counseling. “When did you two first meet? Tell me a little about your history. Do you spend much time together? What is it about him or her that has offended you? How do you see your relationship moving forward?” You could say that death is your most intimate partner. It is with you all the time, completely interwoven into your daily activities. Since that is the case, wouldn’t it be worthwhile to make a relationship with it?

But our relationship with death is not that simple. In order to understand it, we need to slow down and systematically examine our ideas about it, what it brings up for us, and what it means to us. Death stirs up all kinds of thoughts. And hidden within those clouds of thoughts is a small, unspoken, deep-rooted, yet persistent notion—that we will come through it intact, as though we could come to our own funeral.

The more closely you look into all these ideas, the more you see how inadequate the conceptual mind is in the face of death. Nonetheless, how we think about death matters. It affects how we live our life and how we relate to one another.

Contemplative practice challenges us to look deeply into our thoughts and beliefs, our fantasies and presumptions, and our hopes and fears. It challenges us to separate what we have been told from what we ourselves think and experience. We have all kinds of thoughts about what happens when we die and how we and others should relate with death, but through meditation we learn to recognize thoughts as thoughts. We learn not to mistake these thoughts and ideas about death for direct knowledge or experience. We learn not to believe everything we think or everything we have been told.

“Laughing in the Face of Attachment,” painting by Tasha Mannox from the series “Laughing in the Face of Death: To live and die without regrets.”

We are in a dance with death at all levels, and each level influences and is influenced by the others. We are influenced by what we have been told about death and dying, by our personal history, by our cultural biases, and by what we have observed. We are also influenced by inner habits of thought and conditioned responses. Our most subtle views and reactions to impermanence may be quite hidden, but they touch on our view of life altogether, and on our personal identity.

If we want to understand our relationship with death, we need to explore its broader as well as its more subtle dimensions. If we are willing to take an honest look at how we personally deal with this reality, we can develop a deeper understanding of impermanence and even befriend it.

One way to begin is by reflecting on your personal history with death. What have you been told about death? What are some of your earliest experiences of it?

In my case, when I was about five, I was told my babysitter had died, and that was it. For me, she just disappeared, and children did not go to funerals. A bit later, when my aunt died, I was told that she would go to heaven, a very beautiful place. But I didn’t think people really believed that, because all I saw were people upset and crying. When pets died, I was told they “went to sleep.” It didn’t look like sleep to me.

As a child, I observed that dead animals did not breathe or move about like live ones. I saw that they shriveled up and began to smell funny, or were squashed beyond recognition. I saw that dogs hit by cars screamed in pain and that animals looked sick before they died. I saw that people became old and frail. I saw that when you killed a bug, you could not make it come back to life, even if you felt sorry. My friends and I thought it was funny to sing ditties, like “The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out…”  Death was not that real to us; we made it into a joke.

I observed many such things on an outer level, but on an inner level, I did not have a clue as to what death was about or what it all meant. I did not know how to make sense of it, or to link it to other experiences in my life.

Death is the texture out of which we grow our identity, the stage on which we enact our story.

 
In our encounter with mortality, it is this inner dimension, the relationship dimension, that we need to explore. It becomes obvious that to get to a more uncluttered relationship with death, we first need to plow through a surprising number of ideas, presumptions, and speculations, some of which are very deep-rooted. Through this process, we can become aware of the many concepts that are floating around in us, and try to figure out where they come from and what effect they have on us.

When we look into where all this comes from, we encounter a paradox. We usually consider death to be the end, but it begins to seem that death is in fact the beginning. It is the texture out of which we grow our identity, the stage on which we enact our story.

We can begin our exploration right where we are. We have already been born, we are alive, and we have not yet died. Now what? We might connect to our life in terms of a story or a history. For instance, we were born in such and such a time and place, we did this and that, and we have a particular label and identity. But that story is always changing and in process; it is not all that reliable. However, when our story is combined with a physical body, we seem to have something more solid, a complete package. We have something to hang onto and defend. We have something that can be taken away.

But what do we have to hang onto, really? Our story is not that solid. It is always being revised and rewritten. Likewise, our body is not one solid continuous thing. It too is always changing. If you look for the one body that is you, you cannot find it.

The closer you look, the less solid this whole thing seems. When we investigate our actual experience, here and now, moment by moment, we see how fleeting and dynamic it is. As soon as we notice a thought, feeling, or sensation, it has already happened. Poof! It is the same with the act of noticing. Poof! Gone! And the noticer, the one who is noticing, is nowhere to be found. Poof! When we contemplate in this way, we begin to suspect that this life is not all that solid—that we are not all that solid.

This may seem like bad news, but in fact this discovery is of supreme importance. As we begin to see through our mythical solidity, we also begin to notice all sorts of little gaps in our conceptual schemes. We notice little tastes of freedom and ease in which our struggle to be someone dissolves, and we just are. In such moments, at least briefly, we are not being propelled by either hope or fear. We see that continually holding onto life and warding off death as a future threat is not our only option. There is an alternative to our tight-jawed habit of holding on and defending.

After each little insight or pause, there is a regrouping, and we find ourselves reconstructing our world. Each time we put it back together, we are also putting together the threat that it cannot be maintained. We do this over and over again. We are repetitively and continuously fueling the pretense of solidity and the fear of death that comes with it.

To undo this harmful habit, we need to see it more clearly. We need to recognize that we ourselves are responsible for perpetuating it, and therefore we have the power to stop.

“Laughing in the Face of Jealousy,” painting by Tasha Mannox from the series “Laughing in the Face of Death: To live and die without regrets.”

In looking at the seeds of our relationship to life  and death at a subtle inner level, we uncover how we set  ourselves up for a struggle with death from the beginning—at the very personal level of identity and self-definition.

The more solidly we construct ourselves, and the more rigidly we identify with this construct, the more we have to defend and the more we have to fear. Looking at death in terms of such subtle underlying patterns may seem inconsequential, but it is not.

When we drop the battlefield approach—that life and death are enemies—we become open to an entirely new way of viewing things. Instead of this vs. that, us vs. them, something much more inspiring can take place. Experiences can arise freshly because they are immediately let go. Because they are dropped as soon as they arise, there is nothing to hold onto and nothing to lose.  There is no battlefield, no winner and loser, no good guy and bad guy.

Simple formless meditation is a very powerful tool for relaxing this pattern of holding and defending. Working with death through our awareness of momentary arisings and dissolvings is a profound practice. It shows us that the life–death boundary is an ongoing and quite ordinary experience, and that this unsettling meeting point colors all that we do. If we can become more grounded at this level, we can become more open to what death has to teach us altogether.

Although death is an ongoing reality, there are times when it hits us particularly hard. It may be when we have a health scare or a near accident. At such times, we really wake up to the presence of death, and its teachings come through loud and clear. The heart pounds, the senses are heightened, and we feel extra alive. There is a stillness, as though time had stopped.

When we become complacent and take things for granted, death steps in.

 
Times like this are so simple and straightforward, so immediate. “This is it,” we think. “It’s actually happening.” In such moments, the heightening of our awareness of death simultaneously heightens our feeling of being alive.

In fact, in the face of death, we feel more fully alive than ever. We are shocked into thinking more seriously about what to do with the time that we have. Usually, though, we don’t maintain that awareness, and the feeling of heightened aliveness fades away. We revert to the default pattern of avoiding death, and, along with that, our dulled down approach to life.

Maintaining an awareness of death makes life more vivid. In the light of death, petty concerns fall away and our usual preoccupations become meaningless. It is as though clouds of dust that have covered over something shiny and vivid have been blown away, and we are left with something raw, immediate, and beautiful. We have insight into what matters and what does not.

Awareness of death—hearing its teaching—cuts through the subtle clinging at the core of our experience. It cuts through our self-clinging and our clinging to others. This may sound harsh, but all that clinging has not really helped us or anyone else. Our clinging to others may have the appearance of real caring, but it is based on fear and an attempt to freeze and control life. It is a way of tuning out death and pulling back from the intensity of life. But if we develop more ease with our own impermanence and struggles with death, we can be more understanding of others and their struggles. We can connect with one another with greater genuineness and warmth.

Death turns out to be the teacher who releases us from fear. It’s the teacher that opens our hearts to a more free-flowing love and appreciation for life and one another. When we get stuck in self-importance and earnestness, death steps in. When we get caught in self-pity, death steps in. When we become complacent and take things for granted, death steps in.

Death spurs us forward with a sense of urgency and puts our preoccupations in perspective. Death lightens our clinging and mocks our pretensions. Death wakes us up. It is our most reliable teacher and most constant companion.

Complete Article HERE!

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01/7/18

A time to die? Why I believe in the right to choose

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It’s the beginning of a new year and the script is that we talk about hope. It was a challenging 2017 but things will be OK. New opportunities, fresh blessings, more love and more joy.

 

So why am I wanting to talk about death? Well, it’s personal and also professional.

A doctor watches over a deceased hospital patient.

By Rosie Harper

It’s personal because I have just booked flights back to Switzerland to go to the funeral of my much loved uncle Albin. He died two days before Christmas, aged 82, gently and peacefully with his family around him. About six years ago his younger brother Otto also died peacefully with his family around him. The difference was that Albin died of old age and dementia, Otto died of a nasty aggressive brain tumour. Albin died ‘naturally’. Otto, being Swiss, was able to request and receive the help he needed to die in a dignified and pain-free peaceful way. This merciful intervention in no way changed the fact of his death, and even now the sorrow is hard to bear, but it did cut short the last bitter agonies of the manner of his dying.

It is professional because in the parish where I work there are a lot of funerals. Mostly the bereaved tell me of the immense kindness of all around; family and friends, doctors and nurses. They tell of the shock of sudden unexpected death and also the oblique conversations about the use of morphine. They also sometimes tell me of bad deaths. Deaths where there is no way of giving the dying person their final wish: ‘Please, dear God, please help me to die.’

Don’t tell me that the time of someone’s death is purely God’s business. That at the moment when all a human soul wants is for it to end, God stands at the end of the bed and says: ‘No my child, it is my will that you suffer just a few more days.’

That is pure fatalism and superstition. Even people who would use language such as ‘God has a plan for your life’ don’t actually mean that everything that happens to them from birth to death is controlled. Of course not. We rejoice in our free will, even in the knowledge that we risk misusing it. That’s part of the deal. Our conception is a risk. We may be born to loving parents, or our mother might have been kidnapped and raped. The will of God? Throughout our lives we make choices and many of them are life and death choices. To smoke or drink or over-eat. To enjoy extreme sports, to ride a motorbike. For all those things we choose and we also take responsibility.

When our lives are nearing the end there are now many societies where that degree of both choice and responsibility remains. That is not the case in the UK.

Just when you might think we need our freedom the most, the medical profession, by law, takes it away from us. Just when you might think that God would most honour the freedom he has given us, the Christian community takes it away from us.

I’m with Hans Küng. If the time comes, and it is necessary for me, I would find it a fulfilment of my life of faith to be able to say to God: ‘Loving Father, I thank you for the most wonderful gift of life. The burden of it is now too much for me to bear and so with every ounce of love and gratitude I can muster I give it back to you.’

Complete Article HERE!

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12/29/17

End-of-life activists ponder how to die in a death-averse culture

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Why, you may ask, take on this unpleasant, frightening subject? Why stare into the sun?

— Irvin D. Yalom, Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death

THE SACRED ART OF DYING: Third Messenger co-founders Said Osio, left, and Greg Lathrop promote community events such as the popular Death Cafe, a community forum that invites participants to engage in conversation about death and dying.

“Are you willing to pretend something for a minute?” asks Greg Lathrop, a local end-of-life activist. “So, let’s pretend this. March 27 will be your last day here. In this game, we know that you’re going to die March 27th. Now, how’s your life? See, it’s a simple perspective shift. Perspective is just a choice. You shift the perspective just that much, and it opens a door. We’re getting somewhere. Now it’s like, ‘I hate my job,’ or ‘I’m in debt up to my eyeballs.’ What would it look like, in these last three months, to live the best three months of your life? It gives us an opportunity. It’s more than a bucket list. What’s your life’s purpose — why are you even here?”

Lathrop, a registered nurse, holds a certification as a Sacred Passage doula — caring for people who are in the process of dying — and is co-founder of Asheville’s Third Messenger, a community of Asheville death-issues activists who have created a forum for conversations about death at the so-called Death Cafe. Lathrop is also part of a growing  national community that works in “the death trade” — people dedicated, he notes, to broaching the conversation of death and dying within a culture that prefers to speak about virtually any other subject.

Lathrop first began that conversation on the heels of his own significant loss. Synchronistically, the death of Lathrop’s wife and the passing of Third Messenger co-founder Said Osio’s daughter propelled the two men to join forces in end-of-life activism. To Asheville locals and tourists alike, Third Messenger’s work may be most visible in what has become a landmark Biltmore Avenue structure.

Ministered to for years by Earl Lee “Happy” Gray (before his passing in October 2016), the “Before I Die” wall poses passers-by one simple question: What have you left undone? Not surprisingly, responses range from the mundane to the profound, reflecting our culture’s divisive relationship with the end of life. Yet the wall serves as a catalyst, the beginning of what Third Messenger views as a critical and much-needed conversation. “We cultivate the sacred art of being with dying — we use art to engage the conversation,” says Lathrop.

It is precisely this lack of familiarity with death that engenders the paralyzing fear of the unknown and creates what author and end-of-life activist Stephen Jenkinson, who spoke at Asheville’s Masonic Temple Nov. 6, refers to as a “death-phobic culture.”

Dr. Aditi Seth-Brown, hospice and palliative care physician at CarePartners, agrees: “Many years ago, there were so many intergenerational families and communities, so death was something that young children were around and saw — life happened around death.” As a result of an unfortunate marriage of families living farther apart and a highly individualistic culture, Sethi-Brown now frequently encounters many individuals who have virtually no experience with the process she views as an inextricable part of life.

“People come to us, and oftentimes this is their very first experience with death, and there’s so much fear of the unknown,” says Sethi-Brown, who is also is a local musician, whose work includes playing for people transitioning and at Third Messenger events. “Sometimes, family members come to us and say, ‘We don’t want our loved one to know that they’re dying.’ We don’t practice it. There are some traditions around the world that actually have practices around death, meditations around death — just like if you’re birthing, you go to birth classes, read birth books, but [there’s] nothing to prepare you for death.”

CALLING FORTH THE BEYOND: Hospice and palliative care physician and musician Dr. Aditi Sethi-Brown often provides musical accompaniment for those transitioning.

Shining light upon the shadows

“I was 9. That’s the start of it, in my memory.” says Asheville resident Julie Loveless. Beginning in early childhood, Loveless found herself plagued by an inexplicable and inescapable fear of death. One night in particular, Loveless says, “We were at my grandmother’s house. My parents were there, my grandmother, my aunt, and it was time for me to go to bed. I was terrified, because I knew I wasn’t going to wake up the next morning. So I was coming up with all of these tactics to stay up. I had a fever, I had diarrhea, my stomach hurt, I was throwing up, I fell down the stairs — anything I could do to stay up and be the center of attention.” It was as though she needed to be seen in her terror, Loveless says, validated in her very existence. “I needed somebody to know I was alive.”

Loveless’ childhood fear of death is far from uncommon. Recent studies show that children as young as 5 express substantial “death anxiety.” The results of one such study indicated that a mature relationship to dying (understanding death as an inevitable biological event) correlated with a decreased fear of death.

Is it any surprise, when many children are now inoculated from the natural rhythms of life, that they fear, rather than revere, that great unknown? The reality is that “we don’t even have a language for dying,” says Lathrop.

Trish Rux, hospice and palliative care nurse and Sacred Passage doula, agrees. In contrast to her upbringing, she says, the majority of individuals she meets have rarely contemplated death. “I was raised without a death phobia,” Rux says. “I remember my father bringing me to a friend’s funeral when I was pretty young and my not really understanding about the casket, and his explaining it to me. He was just a very practical person. Just knowing that death is a part of life — it was an accepted thing.”

In stark contrast, Rux now regularly witnesses individuals who, in their final days, have scarcely given a thought to the inevitability of their own mortality. “Curiously, I’ve had people that in are in their late 80s, and they’ve not thought about their death. It’s incredible to me — they haven’t thought about what they want, who they want to see. It’s sad for me, and it’s pretty common.”

MINDFUL LIVING: “All of our time is running out,” says Julie Loveless. “It does make things less scary when you’re faced with what’s considered the scariest thing a human can be faced with.”

Dancing with death

Loveless was 30 when she first received a diagnosis of breast cancer and 37 when it returned with a vengeance. After having been in remission from the cancer for seven years, a persistent lymphedema sent her back to the oncologist for a standard biopsy. “I’ve never seen it happen that fast,” Loveless says. “He walked in, did the core needle biopsy and left. I got my clothes back on and am sitting down, and he immediately walked back in and said, ‘It looks like disease.’ The way he was talking about it, he made it clear it had metastasized. I don’t think he said the word, ever — it was just understood.”

Yet Loveless is no longer afraid to fall asleep. Now faced with the stark reality of her worst childhood fears, she finds herself liberated rather than imprisoned. “When I go back to the last time I remember having that really potent fear of death that was crippling, like pulling over to the side of the road and having to breathe into a paper bag, to now — it’s night and day. Before, when something would go wrong and I’d look into the mirror and see a new mark on my skin, I’d think ‘Oh, that might be skin cancer.’ Or, ‘I have a headache — I might have an aneurysm.’ To have those thoughts in my head all the time, to think that way and then to be like ‘Oh my God, I might have cancer — oh wait, I do have cancer.’ I have the worst thing you can have. Nothing else is scary.”

Freed from the fear of dying, Loveless now finds herself preoccupied with living. “I wake up in the morning and [think], ‘This may be my last day — how am I going to spend it?’ [Or], this might be my last minute — do I want to spend it brushing my teeth and sitting on the toilet and looking at Facebook? Or, do I want to go make a really yummy smoothie, or do I want to go outside and look at the leaves? So, if you’re thinking that way all the time, you have no idea that it’s even happening until the end of the day and you realize — ‘I didn’t waste my day today.’”

Lathrop questions whether we cheat ourselves of the chance for a more meaningful life if we spend our days running from the inevitability of death. His answer: “Death is my guru. It becomes a real teacher for how to live.” And Sethi-Brown agrees: “The reality is you don’t know when your time is. Don’t be afraid of having the conversation. The fear of the conversation, the discomfort around it — go there, explore that — and you’ll see, it will change your life.”

Complete Article HERE!

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12/24/17

What Jewish law says about suicide and assisted dying

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Jewish law recognises patient choice as decisive in some situations where assisted dying may be an option.

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In November, Victoria became the first Australian state to legalise voluntary assisted dying. From mid-2019, competent, terminally ill adults who are stricken with an incurable and progressive physical or mental disease and unable to gain relief from their suffering will be able to access a substance that will let them end their lives.

The law reflects the contemporary secular approach to biomedical law and ethics, in which individual autonomy trumps the principle of the value of human life.

In line with this approach, competent terminally ill adults who find themselves trapped by disease from which they feel that their only deliverance is death may choose to end their lives in accordance with the law.

By contrast, Jewish law (halakhah) is obligation-based, and the preservation of human life is a cardinal commandment. Both suicide and self-endangerment are forbidden (Genesis 9:5; Deuteronomy 4:15). Maimonides explains that our bodies are Divine property and any deliberate attempt to destroy them is prohibited.

A similar view is attributed to Socrates in the Phaedo. He states that, in general, suicide is forbidden since it infringes on the property rights of the gods.

‘Soft autonomy’ and assisted dying

Jewish law recognises patient choice as decisive in some situations. This is not so much a value as a solution to a particularly difficult case involving a clash between two competing values.

Famed Jewish law scholar and rabbi Moshe Feinstein used this type of “soft autonomy” in a case in which a patient wanted to risk an assured but low-quality short-term lifespan for the possibility of gaining long-term life expectancy.

In permitting the patient to choose the highly risky operation, Rabbi Feinstein held that if rational people in general would be prepared to choose the operation, it would constitute a legitimate option – and ownership of the body would be transferred to the patient.

In another decision, he ruled that a competent, terminally ill adult ought not to be pressured into accepting artificial nutrition, even though failure to do so would precipitate his death. Here, Rabbi Feinstein took the terminal patient’s wishes into account. He laid down the principle of non-traumatisation of the terminally ill.

‘Soft autonomy’ and suicide

This soft autonomy model is also applicable to suicide.

In general, suicide is forbidden under Jewish law. Sanctions include non-observance of mourning rites and separate burial. However, there are situations in which a person may choose to take their own life because of a conflict between legitimate halakhic values.

The biblical account of King Saul’s suicide is interpreted to mean that one may take their own life to prevent the desecration of the Divine name by having a king of Israel fall into enemy hands.

Another view is that suicide may be committed to avoid physical or mental suffering. With regard to the permissibility of suicide during the Holocaust, Rabbi Ephraim Oschry permitted suicide to avoid the agony of witnessing the destruction of one’s family and community – but added that the decision should not be publicised.

The lesson to be learned from this is that any relaxation of the prohibition on suicide in cases of extreme suffering should be accompanied by a public education program. This program would be designed to both strengthen the value of life and deepen society’s understanding of its fundamentally sacred nature.

Complete Article HERE!

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11/27/17

How Often Do Cancer Survivors Think About Death and Dying?

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by Rick Redner

Think back to the day you received your diagnosis of cancer. How soon did thoughts about death or dying come to your mind? For me, thoughts about death occurred within seconds after I received the news I had prostate cancer.

What’s surprising to me is how often I think about death seven years later, even though my last PSA test came back undetectable.

I decided to ask the community of men on my Prostate Cancer Pre & Post Surgery Facebook page how often they thought about death and dying.

Here’s a sample of answers I received:

  • Just passing thoughts.
  • I’m five years out and I think about it almost daily.
  • I don’t think about it any more often than before I was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
  • Most days.
  • Every day.
  • I think of death too often.

The first thing I noticed was the variety of answers I received. I expected everyone to say they thought about it multiple times every day.

The answers I received suggest there’s a wide variation in how often cancer survivors think about death and dying.

The frequency of thoughts about death and dying is less important than the conversation we engage in with ourselves each time we think about dying.

My initial thoughts about death were terrifying. I imagined spending months in agonizing pain that no amount of medication would successfully manage.

I imagined my life savings would be wiped out by high deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses. I was convinced I wouldn’t live long enough to walk my daughter down the aisle, become a grandparent, retire in good health or travel with my wife.

I have a long list of friends, family and acquaintances who died within the year of receiving their diagnosis. Therefore, the possibility of surviving cancer never entered my mind.

I expected to go down hill rapidly and die within the first year after I received my diagnosis.

Every time I engaged in self-talk about dying, it ended the same way. I’d feel distressed, fearful, pessimistic about the future and overwhelmed with grief and sadness.

I wanted to protect my wife, so I kept these conversations to myself. I believe she wanted to protect me from her fears, so we coped with our individual fears together, but alone. In doing so, we deprived ourselves of the comfort and support we had to offer each other.

There are healthy, life-affirming ways to think about your own death, but where can you find them?

The Bible helped me overcome my fear and pessimism. These three verses were life changing:

  • Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12).

A diagnosis of prostate cancer taught me to number my days. Since then, every part of my life changed.

Before my cancer diagnosis, if you said to me, “You’re going to write two award-winning books, write articles and cut your work schedule down to three days a week.” I wouldn’t have believed you. Yet, that’s exactly what happened.

  • O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? (1 Corinthians 15:55)

This verse is a powerful reminder to me that death isn’t the last chapter of my life.

  • We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8)

This verse reminds me of where and with whom I’m going to spend eternity.

I’m no longer distressed when I think about death and dying. I’m reminded to use my remaining time wisely. My relationships, my priorities, my values and how I use my time, skills and talents were all transformed.

Your thoughts, feelings, past experiences, attitudes, religious beliefs and your personal history coping with loss will all impact the way you speak, comfort or cause distress as you think about your mortality.

Complete Article HERE!

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11/25/17

The Wisdom of End-of-Life Care

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Buddhist teacher Frank Ostaseski has been one of the leading voices in contemplative end-of-life care since the 1980s.

By Lion’s Roar Staff

In this video, Ostaseski talks with Lion’s Roar’s Lindsay Kyte about the lessons he’s learned at the bedsides of thousands of dying people, his new book The Five Invitations, and the future of end-of-life care.

Complete Article HERE!

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10/18/17

Religious rituals surround death

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Headstones at Catholic Cemetery No. 1 in Victoria.

By Jennifer Lee Preyss

Inside Memory Gardens, a well-groomed cemetery off Cuero Highway, marked graves and floral arrangements pay tribute to the lives of thousands of Victorians who have died.

Near the rear of the grounds, 50 plots have been reserved for members of the Victoria Islamic Center.

Even though many Islamic communities throughout the United States bury members in Islamic-only cemeteries, Victoria Islamic Center Imam Osama Hassan said the 50 plots in Memory Gardens fit the needs of the community.

“It has worked out perfect for us. It’s the right size for our needs for the future,” he said, mentioning the small size of its congregation.

Like many other religious sects in South Texas, including Christianity and Judaism, Islam has its own unique rituals for burying the dead.

Often, Islamic communities purchase their own cemeteries, especially if they are part of large communities of Muslims or live in larger cities. But death is an important part of life and how a Muslim is honored in death is especially important for believers.

“The Prophet Mohammed tells us to talk about death because it’s a part of life. But many people are afraid to. Some people feel if they talk about it, it’s like bad luck, like someone they know may die,” he said. mentioning the cultural aspect of international Muslims from various countries around the world who are reluctant to discuss or plan for death. “We should be talking more about it.”

Islamic members are not the only community in Victoria with special requirements for death.

In downtown Victoria, off Vine Street, a Jewish cemetery dating back to the mid-1800s indicates some of the city’s earliest residents were Jewish, including the first Jew to settle in Victoria, Abraham Levi, who established one of the city’s earliest grocery stores on Main Street.

Catholic and early Protestant cemeteries also remain pervasive throughout the region, established in the early 1800s as settlers moved in and established churches and parishes.

The Rev. Max Landman, of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Hallettsville, said Catholic funerals are distinct, in part because of their reverence for the dead.

“The main thing, with respect to a Catholic funeral, is we’re there to pray for the soul of the dead person. A lot of times, it can be seen as a celebration of the person’s life – and there’s nothing wrong with celebrating the person’s life – but the point of the funeral from the Catholic’s perspective is to commend that soul to God,” Landman said. “We firmly believe that our prayers for that person, especially the Sacrifice of the Mass are helpful in obtaining mercy and speeding that person’s soul into paradise.”

As Halloween approaches, a time of year that gives a not-so-subtle nod to death, cemeteries and afterlife, the season offers a unique opportunity to examine the customs of area religions as they honor the members of their congregations in the religious context they acknowledge.

Here are a few of the many death traditions of Catholics, Muslim and Jewish believers around the world.

In most religions, tombstones and grave markers are permitted and visited by the living.

Islam
When a Muslim dies, the body should be buried as soon as possible. Three to four hours is preferable, up to one day, but no longer than 48 hours. The bodies are not embalmed, and careful consideration is given to treatment of the body because Muslims believe the person can still hear and feel pain.

Autopsies and cremations are not acceptable for this reason; however, organ donation may be permitted in some circumstances because it is seen as a charitable event.

Instead, Muslims are washed with soap and water and wrapped in a white cloth. Men prepare male deceased, while women prepare female deceased.

It is preferable that Muslims not be placed in a casket at all, allowing the dead to return immediately to the dirt.

Overseas, Muslims are buried directly in the ground. In the U.S., caskets are required, so Muslims typically place the coffin upside down to encapsulate the body once it is placed in the ground. Bodies must lie on their side and point toward Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

The typical mourning period is three days, and believers are encouraged to return to normal life. This varies depending on each person, with some wearing black for many years in remembrance of a loved one.

Catholics
Priests are called both right before and after death to pray the appropriate rites over the body.

Vigils are usually held on the evening before Mass, and there is often a praying of the rosary. This is typically the place where eulogies and tributes are delivered.

Caskets can be covered with white linens, or palls, and blessed with holy water as a reminder of baptism.

Bodies are allowed to be embalmed, however organ donation and cremation remain areas of disagreement among Catholics. It is preferred if cremation is being performed that the body not be cremated until after the funeral Mass, so the deceased can be present in the church for the service.

At burial, the Rite of Committal is given at the blessed burial site. The Lord’s Prayer is typically said upon closing.

Judaism
When a Jew dies, the “Dayan HaEmet” prayer is recited, which acknowledges God as the true judge.

Jewish tradition prefers the body be laid to rest as soon as possible, as soon as one day, so funeral planning often begins immediately.

It is also preferable the body not be unattended and is often given a “shomer” or guardian.

If funerals cannot be held right away, exceptions can be made. Sometimes, the body is refrigerated while waiting on the funeral.

Bodies are typically washed and dressed. Men wash men and women wash women. The washing is called the “taharah.” The submerging of the body in water for the ritual bath is the “mikvah.”

The body is fully dried and dressed in a simple white cloth called a “tachrichim.” Men are typically buried in a “kippah” or skull cap, and also a “tallit” or prayer shawl.

Jews tend to avoid holding funerals on holy days or Saturdays.

Organ donation is generally accepted and seen as a good deed. Autopsies and embalming are generally not accepted unless required by law.

Cremation may be accepted depending on the degree of orthodoxy of the Jewish family. Orthodox Jews do not permit cremation, while conservative and reformed Jews may allow it.

Jews are placed in a simple pine casket without any metal, and sometimes holes are drilled in the bottom of the box to accelerate decomposition. There is generally no wake or visitation in the Jewish faith. Funerals are held in the synagogue, at the grave or funeral home, and include a eulogy, reading of the psalms, and the memorial prayer, “El Maleh Rachamim.”

It is customary for the tombstone or grave marker to be put up one year after the death. A stone is usually placed on the grave within the first 30 days to indicate someone has visited.

Complete Article HERE!

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