How Losing a Pet Can Make You Stronger

The process of acceptance and letting go builds the resilience necessary to navigate an array of life’s obstacles.

By Kerry Hannon

It’s been three months, and I still fight back tears when I’m reminded of the death of my Labrador retriever, Zena. The haunting image of finding her lying on the kitchen floor flashes back: her jaw clenched, eyes open and body lifeless but warm.

She was nearly 13, but there were no signs she was in distress when I left her 20 minutes earlier. Yet she was gone. I felt as if I let her down in some way. I wasn’t there for her.

When Zena was just a few months old, she curled up on the bed with my 88-year-old father, as I held his hand, and he softly exhaled his last breath. My younger brother, Jack, died unexpectedly three years ago. I clung to Zena for comfort.

My first experience with death was losing my turtles, Charlie and Tina, at 6. I’ve since lost friends, relatives, other dogs, cats, horses. Decades later, Zena’s death has sharply reminded me how aching grief is.

Our pets are a part of the everyday fabric of our lives in a way that few human relationships are. When you lose one that is close to you, something inside shifts.

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And yet the death of a family pet can remind us of how vulnerable, precarious and precious life is. It’s that process of acceptance and letting go that builds the resilience necessary to navigate an array of life’s obstacles. We hone an ability to adapt to the evanescence of our lives with grace and hope.

“We’re changed and transformed by the loss,” said Leigh Chethik, a clinical psychologist in Chicago. “It brings impermanence and death into an updated internal, emotional map. This loss can help us with whatever comes next, whatever future losses may be in store. We come to see that we can create a new understanding and attach to new dreams.” Below are some ways in which the loss of a beloved pet can be a catalyst for personal growth.

Embracing Your Loss

“The idea that grief can often be the price of love is helpful in developing resilience,” according to Jessica Harvey, a psychotherapist in Portland, Ore., who specializes in pet grief. “By focusing on the positive elements of having a pet as the cause of why the hurt is so powerful when they are gone, we can begin to heal.”

Pets occupy a unique role in our lives. “They are usually our ‘roommates,’ part of the household, and they are typically a source of pure warmth and positive experience,” Ms. Harvey said. “How we are able to manage the temporary reduction of joy and warmth from the missing roommate can be a significant practice in resilience.”

That loss, of course, can have a startling depth. “For adults in their upper-20s to mid-30s it’s like losing their innocence as a new adult and being catapulted into reality,” said Dani McVety, a veterinarian and a founder of Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice, a national network of veterinarians dedicated solely to end of life care. “Many times, people in this age range got their dog or cat at the very beginning of their adulthood. This pet has witnessed them go through college, boyfriends or girlfriends, marriage, children, career developments, and so on. This pet has been the one constant in their life through their biggest growth years.”

How we handle the death of a pet “shapes how we deal with love and loss, conjoined emotions,” said Kaleel Sakakeeny, a pet loss and bereavement counselor who is based in Boston.

From Grief, Building Confidence

But how does that growth happen? One study, “Post-Traumatic Growth Following the Loss of a Pet,” conducted by Wendy Packman and others, of the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology at Palo Alto University, found that after losing a beloved pet, many of the participants reported an improved ability to relate to others and feel empathy for their problems, an enhanced sense of personal strength, and a greater appreciation of life.

Lynn Harrington, who lives in The Plains, Va., lost her 15-year-old Norwich terrier, Hap, about a year ago. “For many months, I couldn’t shake the sadness,” Ms. Harrington said. “And during these sad times, I finally remembered a lesson I learned many years ago with the loss of my first dog: Animals that come into our lives are gifts to us and can never be replaced. However, another animal can come to us and help us heal our hearts.”

Shortly after that epiphany, a friend told her about a senior dog that needed a home, and a match was made. “There isn’t a day that I don’t think of Hap through a photo, a memory shared, or even some funny mannerism I see of him in my rescue dog,” Ms. Harrington said. “These moments remind me that I’m grateful for the animals in my life — they teach me about love and that I’m resilient even in times of great challenge or sadness.”

Remembrance itself — though photos and memorials — can be healing. “Grief is ongoing,” Ms. Packman said. “Remaining connected to your beloved pet after death can facilitate the bereaved’s ability to cope with loss and the accompanying changes in their lives. Our findings suggest that those who derive comfort from continuing bonds — holding onto possessions and creating memorials for their pet — may be more likely to experience post-traumatic growth.”

Life Lessons for Children …

For children, the loss of a pet can be “a dress rehearsal for losing a human family member,” Dr. Chethik said. “With the death of a pet, kids are often exposed to a new existential crisis or struggle: the idea of impermanence and mortality. Things we love and care for are not around forever. We can and will lose what and who we love. And we can’t go where we may typically go for comfort — to our pet.”

For children, this process can be hard to grasp. The death of a family pet can trigger a sense of grief in children that is deep and lingering and that can possibly lead to subsequent mental health issues, according to a new study by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“The impact can be traumatic,” wrote Katherine Crawford, the lead author of the paper. “We found this experience of pet death is often associated with elevated mental health symptoms in children, and that parents and physicians need to recognize and take those symptoms seriously, not simply brush them off.”

Dr. Chethik added: “A child needs to actively grieve and process the loss,” he said. “The attention, support, honesty, sharing and understanding the child receives during this time of grief will them create an emotional template for the human losses that will inevitably come their way.”

With support from parents and others, the loss of a pet can be a way for children to move forward. “Teaching children how to say goodbye and that the difficult emotions that accompany grief are OK to feel is a powerful lesson,” Ms. Harvey said. “Children learn that this painful experience does start to feel better eventually, and that other difficult situations in the future can as well.”

… And for Adults

I’ve reminded myself these past months not to rush the process. Grief slides from the heart in its own time. I’m still talking to Zena and reflexively looking for her when I wake up in the morning. Yet, I know that soon my husband and I will be ready for a next chapter with a new companion.

This is the second dog we’ve lost during our marriage. We’ve grappled with the sadness each time, but we both know from experience that the love and laughter a pet brings into our lives are worth it.

As Ms. Harrington said, “Just knowing I can move through that kind of pain and get to the other side really does translate into that lesson that even when things in other parts of my life seem dark, I just need to keep moving through it and the unexpected can happen, bringing joy or opportunity.”

Complete Article HERE!

Mary Lincoln wasn’t ‘crazy.’

She was a bereaved mother, new exhibit says.

Mary Lincoln with two of her four sons, Willie and Tad, in 1860.

By Gillian Brockell

Callie Hawkins had been working at President Lincoln’s Cottage museum for 10 years when she became pregnant. She and her husband were thrilled, and she joked with her co-workers about the baby’s “perfect” due date — Feb. 12 — Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.

When the day arrived, Hawkins went into labor right on schedule. But when she and her husband got to the hospital, the medical team couldn’t find the baby’s heartbeat. Their son Coley James Hobbie was stillborn the next day.

Three years later, Hawkins sits on a picnic bench near the cottage where Lincoln and his wife spent more than a quarter of his presidency, pressing with her thumb a pendant around her neck that says “Mama.”

“After my son died, I got really afraid that people would maybe judge me or think about me in the way that history has remembered Mary Lincoln,” she said. Which is to say, she was afraid they would think she was “crazy.” In her lifetime, the former first lady lost her husband to an assassin’s bullet and three of her four children to disease. Her lengthy, public mourning defied conventions of the day and led to criticism and questions about her sanity.

With that in mind, Hawkins, now the interim executive director and director of programming at the cottage, helped to create a unique exhibit called “Reflections on Grief and Child Loss” at President Lincoln’s Cottage. In it, accounts of the Lincolns’ grief are presented alongside the stories of modern-day bereaved parents and their kids, showing their similarities across time

Abraham and Mary Lincoln (she did not go by Mary Todd Lincoln in her lifetime) had four sons; only one survived past age 18. Son Eddy died of an unknown illness at 3 in 1850; Willie died of typhoid at 11 in 1862, while the couple occupied the White House; and Tad died of a lung disease at 18 in 1871.

Back then, Hawkins said, “society allowed certain types of grief. You could wear black, you could have a mourning band on your stationery, and things like that.” But Mary Lincoln didn’t stick to what was socially acceptable. When Eddy died, she tore out her hair; when Willie died she was so overcome she couldn’t leave her bed for weeks and missed his funeral. She would cry loudly and wore black mourning clothes much longer than was socially acceptable.

The modern bereaved parents in the exhibit, who are anonymous, describe a society that is in some ways even more uncomfortable with expressions of grief than it was 150 years ago.

“I think society expected me to just move on,” says the mother of Jacob, who was murdered when he was 6. “I think it is still a surprise for some people that we still talk about her so freely,” said the mother of Abby, an only child who died at age 17 five years ago. “I think they are confused as to why we are still talking about her, assuming reflecting on her life, and death, only accentuates the pain.”

Hawkins encountered this discomfort when she presented the project to some colleagues. “Isn’t it going to make visitors sad?” they worried.

Yes, it will, Hawkins replied. And that’s a meaningful experience.

Some in Mary Lincoln’s day thought to grieve as deeply as she did was sacrilege. It showed she didn’t trust God’s will, they said. A modern-day mother described the same judgment from her religious community. “I thought my faith was not good enough because I was sad and angry,” she said. Like Mary, she lost three children — Julia, Matt and Charlie — in separate events.

Mary Lincoln also participated in seances with various spiritualists — generally con artists — who promised to communicate with her dead children, and later, her husband. Instead of judging her supposed gullibility, the modern-day bereaved parents’ testimonials give some context to her desire to feel the presence of the dead. They too seek ways to connect: in nature, in prayer, in activism or simply talking aloud to their children before they go to sleep at night.

President Lincoln felt these losses deeply, too, but he expressed it in more socially acceptable ways, like throwing himself into work, locking himself in his office or secretly visiting the crypt that temporarily held his son’s coffin at night. In a sexist society, his grief was viewed as a more heroic “melancholy” than Mary’s, who was dismissed as self-absorbed or insane — a stereotype that persists to this day.

The “Reflections of Grief at President Lincoln’s Cottage” places Abraham and Mary Lincoln’s grief over the deaths of their children alongside modern-day bereaved parents.

The exhibit has been designed in consultation with grief experts like professor Joanne Cacciatore, who has written several books dear to families going through traumatic death. So while much of it is intended to help bereaved parents feel less alone, it’s also meant to demystify this type of grief for people who may be unfamiliar or deeply uncomfortable with it. At the end of the exhibit, visitors can take with them a postcard-sized handout with tips on how to help someone who is grieving. Don’t try to fix it or distract them, it says. Show up.

“Other people are far more uncomfortable with my grief than I am. It’s a welcome part of my life now. I’m going to love Coley forever, so I am going to grieve him forever, and that is okay,” Hawkins said. “And we see that with Mary Lincoln. I mean, she grieved the losses of her children and her husband for the rest of her life. Even when it made other people uncomfortable.”

The exhibit puts a poignant emphasis on place and places of refuge. For the modern-day parents, that can be visiting their child’s grave, tending to a garden, sitting by a river or preserving their child’s bedroom. For the Lincolns, it was the cottage. While they had always planned to decamp to it during humid Washington summers, they didn’t get a chance to do so until shortly after Willie’s death. It was a balm to them, a peaceful place where they could just be. They spent the next two summers there as well.

In describing the cottage to a friend, Mary Lincoln wrote: “When we are in sorrow, quiet is very necessary to us.”

“I always thought that this was a truly special place, but I didn’t feel it in my bones the way that I do now,” Hawkins said. “I remember the exact moment, as I was sitting at the hospital, thinking, ‘Now I get it. Now I know. I know what they needed, and I need that, too.’ ”

Hawkins now sees the cottage as a place that holds broken hearts, both hers and the Lincolns’. Like the rest of the staff, she used to call their bedroom at the cottage the “Emancipation Room,” because it is where Lincoln wrote the historic Emancipation Proclamation. Now, Hawkins also thinks of it as a sacred place where the couple probably shed many tears together.

At the center of the exhibit springs a smooth white trunk evoking a weeping willow tree. On each dangling paper leaf, visitors are encouraged to write the name of a lost child, or someone else they love who has died. When the exhibit concludes in two years, each name will be transferred onto a sheet of seed paper and planted — all that love and grief sustaining something new and alive.

Complete Article HERE!

How to Bring More Meaning to Dying

Palliative care specialist BJ Miller and Shoshana Berger explain how to bring more meaning and less suffering to the end of life.

By BJ Miller, Shoshana Berger

Most of us don’t like to talk about our own death. And when we refer to other people’s deaths, we often say things like “Her health is failing” or “He failed treatment.” These common sentiments make it sound like death is an option or that we can prevent it somehow—if only we ate more kale or walked 10,000 steps a day.

But guess what? Death isn’t optional.

Death is as much a part of our life as birth. And, just like a birth, it goes better when we are prepared for it. Not that we can control all outcomes or make it pain-free—but there is a lot we can do to help make it easier and more meaningful.

In our new book, A Beginner’s Guide to the End, we talk about all of the ways people can prepare themselves and their family members for the inevitable. Some of our book focuses on basic practicalities—like how to talk to doctors if you have a chronic illness, how to make treatment decisions, what documents to have in place for your end-of-life care, and how to create wills and trusts. We try to provide a comprehensive list of resources and detailed advice about how to manage this part of dying.

But, while many people think to prepare for the practical aspects of dying, too often they give short shrift to the emotional side of dying—meaning, what to do so that your death has more meaning and is less emotionally trying for yourself and those left behind.

There are many ways that you can improve the experience of dying if you plan for it and communicate your wishes to your loved ones. Here are some of the ideas we recommend in our book.

Don’t leave a mess

Many people don’t realize that the stuff they’ve been saving may not be of much value to those they leave behind. Therefore, it’s important to take time while you are still alive to clean out those closets and attics. Doing a big purge serves a dual purpose: It will make you feel lighter and also lighten the load on loved ones when you’re not around to help sort through your belongings.

It’s important to ask yourself why you’re keeping so much stuff. It is because you still use it and it brings you pleasure? Or does keeping it push away thoughts of dying? Or are you overwhelmed by the task of going through it all?

It can be cathartic to set aside time to go through your possessions, reflecting on what they mean to you, then letting them go. In some cases, you may want to save family heirlooms that have special value and make a plan to talk to your heirs about keeping them after you die. But it will have more meaning for them if you explain why you’d like them to have the item and what it means to you.

Clean out your emotional attic

Cleaning out your emotional attic is important, too. This may include sharing old secrets that you have kept from loved ones that are likely to be discovered after your death. Especially in this age of popular DNA testing, it’s important not to leave important things unsaid, though it requires sensitivity in the delivery.

If your secrets are just too damaging to reveal, consider enlisting someone to “scrub down” your life after you die. This can be a close friend who goes through your medicine cabinet, electronic files, and nightstand to rid them of old medications, personal diaries, sex toys, and other unmentionables. If you are happier knowing that these parts of your personal life won’t be exposed after you’re gone, we are not here to shame you! Just take care to make it a choice.

Mend important relationships

When people die, they don’t regret not having worked harder; they regret not having worked on their relationships. It’s important to mend old wounds before it’s too late. Even if you meet resistance from loved ones, keep pushing for more conversations, making sure you say what you want to say to them now.

In Ira Byock’s book, The Four Things That Matter Most, the pioneering palliative care physician talks about what most people long to hear that can help mend even long-fractured relationships:

Please forgive me.
I forgive you.
Thank you.
I love you.

Why these four phrases? True apologies and forgiveness, while helpful to consider at any stage of life, can go a long way toward making someone’s death more peaceful. Gratitude and love are what most people tend to need at the end of life. Closure is a human construct, rather than an act of nature, and a very useful one at that. This framework offers a recipe.

When we asked Dr. Byock if he would add anything to this list, 14 years after publishing that book, he said, “It’s useful for a parent to say to their child, ‘I’m so proud to be your mother, I’m proud to be your father.’” He’s met many men in their 60s who still yearn to hear that from a father who’s long gone.

Leave a mark

Legacy can be a loaded word. But most dying people want to know they mattered in some way, and they want to leave a mark. While for some this will mean using assets to fund a scholarship or a trust for their kids, others will have fewer material—but no less valuable—things to leave behind.

In a survey of baby boomers, only 10 percent thought it “very important” to inherit financial assets from parents, while 77 percent said that receiving and providing “values and life lessons” is very important. This means that money is not the only thing of value you can leave behind, and you may want to start thinking about what you want to pass down.

Here are some ideas that we’ve found helpful to those who wonder what to leave.

1. Leave your story. Telling the story of your life and leaving a record of experiences, people, and ideas that mattered to you gives those who love you a feeling of continuity from one generation to the next.

While you may assume that no one will care, imagine this: What would it be like to have the story of your great-great-grandmother in your hands? Wouldn’t that be amazing?

If you’re still daunted by this idea, you may want to enlist the services of StoryCorps or StoryWorth—two organizations committed to helping people get their stories down. Or you could create a family tree, perhaps using or the National Archives. Fun for you, important for those you leave behind, and research suggests doing so may help improve your and your caregiver’s well-being at the end of life.

2. Leave a letter. Writing a letter can be a good way to put into words things that may be difficult to say in person. You might want to express how much you love someone, how proud you are of them, what they mean to you, your hopes for their future. If you need help, you can look to services like Last[ing] Letters.

3. Leave an ethical will. An ethical will is a way of transferring immaterial things to your loved ones: your life lessons and values. It’s not a replacement for a regular will, but a complement to it, and research suggests it reduces your suffering by taking care of “unfinished business” and bringing a deeper sense of purpose to the life you still have.

An ethical will can explain why you made certain choices in your legal will—e.g., why you left your car to your youngest daughter instead of all of your children—or tell a story about where you came from and what you value. Barry Baines, a hospice medical director who wrote a book called Ethical Wills, found that 77 percent of his patients felt their emotional well-being improve and 85 percent felt their physical well-being improve after completing an ethical will.

Of course, there are many other ways people can make the experience of saying goodbye less fraught. Few folks will get to every last detail before the end comes; as ever, do the best with what you have, while you can, and forgive yourself and others the rest. By taking care of emotional needs and focusing on what you hope to leave behind, you can bring more meaning to the experience and ease the burden on loved ones in the process. In other words, bring the same dignity and care to death that you bring to life.

Complete Article HERE!

On the ‘art’ of dying

— ‘If you want to die well, then first – live well’

Over the past 15 long months, the pernicious effects of a contagious microscopic pathogen have taught us a lot about the state of relationships in our world, in our families and communities.

By Sean O’Connor

If used as a kind of illuminating lens, to paraphrase the Ugandan priest Gideon Byamugisha when discussing what HIV and Aids can teach us, Covid-19 shows us where our relationships are weak and where they are strong, it shows us where they are corrupt or broken and where they need mending.

Power relationships and patterns of privilege have become especially visible. In this sense, Covid-19 has shone a light on the unequal ways that many of us live in relation to each other. It has also highlighted the “unnatural” ways that many people have died, behind closed doors, away from home and without their loved ones who are unable to say goodbye, complicating their bereavement. Our experience with Covid-19 has shone a light on the end of life, for many a light that has been obscured for a long time, through a combination of mainstream death denial and a prevailing feeling, perhaps, that to die means that you have somehow failed to stay alive – that death itself is antithetical to life.

Just as Covid has revealed some of the uglier sides of human nature, with predictable fear and distrust and a swirl of conspiracy and corruption, so too in many places has it highlighted our resilience and compassion, and our status as social animals who need each other not just for survival but for our mental and spiritual wellbeing.

I feel that it has taught us to value those we love for death can take them at any time, just as it always could, just as it has taken so many. (Multiply the number of global dead by five or six to get an index of active grief visited upon the world right now. That is a true index of suffering, I believe, and not the bald statistics of lives lost.)

For many millions grieving, their grief has been attenuated, disrupted, titrated into what is permissible and what is not under lockdown regulations. For millions and millions of people, this experience of loss has caused us to look at death more closely and invited us to consider how we ourselves might wish to die one day. For the privileged, Covid-19 may have slowed things down, and for those who can afford to ask the question, invited people to ask what they want from life, beyond the task of mere survival.

The lens provided by Covid-19 has also brought into focus this nascent idea of having “a good death”, whatever that means. It is this idea, which is both absolutely necessary and deeply flawed, I believe, that holds the possibility of heralding a healthy interrogation of mortality and what it means to cherish life, and what it means to fear death, too.

But it also romanticises death and encourages us to feel that we can expire on our terms, which is mostly not the case. It’s not about the elegant fluttering of a white handkerchief and aptly chosen final words. Just like birth, which can also be beautiful, I happily concede, I suspect that death is usually a bit of a messy struggle, and like birth, more associated with bodily fluids and end of pain.

Still, “what is a good death, and how could you increase your chances of having one?” was a popular discussion point at the Death Cafes I gained so much from attending. I liked to say my father had one – quick, and in a place he loved, after saying he was ready to go and had enjoyed a wonderful life. He was 67. Some people pulled in their breath when they heard that. Certainly, I’ve heard of painful deaths, drawn-out deaths, and others – sad deaths, horrible deaths, and deaths that are extremely difficult for the living, or the dying, to accept.

How are we to die? Do we have any choice in the matter? This question is animating legislators and activists locally and abroad, as they revisit laws to compass or deny the quite reasonable, in my opinion, perspectives of the “right to die with dignity” movement. At present, it seems that many governments around the world, ours included, simply do not trust their subjects to make the informed choices that are in their best interests. For now, however, I will skirt this rather vexed issue and instead indulge in a quick survey of available resources on this idea of a “good death”, and for this, invite you back quite some way.

Ars moriendi (The Art of Dying) was originally published in Latin as two related texts, a longer and a shorter, in around 1415 and 1450, and gave advice on how to “die well” according to Medieval Christian precepts. It appeared in more than 100 editions in most Western European languages. It’s an early example of “death lit”, traceable back from the present, a genre that seems to be having a bit of a moment right now with personal accounts of loss and reflections on mortality high on the bestseller lists – Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal being the most obvious (and excellent) example.

Originally written by an unknown Dominican friar in the aftermath of the Black Death (which halved Europe’s population), and within the profound social, religious and political upheaval of the Middle Ages, the Ars moriendi might be seen as evidence of a shift in the way people experienced and understood death. No doubt this genre is set to explode, given our collective experience of grief in these times.

The Ars moriendi were recently updated, signalling another shift. The Catholic Church has done so to “assist terminally ill people and their loved ones deal with death”, according to this article in The Guardian. The Art of Dying Well website includes animations with a voiceover by Vanessa Redgrave, who is said to have had a stiff brush with mortality and a wish to die after health complications. A slew of other books and articles entitled The Art of Dying clog the digital ether.

Is dying really an art then?

I guess it depends on what you think art is. Perhaps the simplest definition involves the idea of “skill” in grasping the world, and that whatever art is, it’s quintessentially human. As a reflection of human experience then it is subject to notions of value, as good or bad, worthwhile or not. So, can dying be an art? Can it be skillful, if it is so utterly happenstance and beyond our control, and also so banal – so normal – that every single one of us does it?

Implicit in these and other more conventional understandings of death, however, as well as this idea of a “good death” and dying as an “art”, is the veiled assumption that death is some sort of final performance. In one sense only is this true. But death is not just an occurrence, I think.

Certainly, the idea of a “good death” has gained in mainstream popularity and become widely aspired to. It was a feature article in a recent issue of Fair Lady magazine. This I understand as a natural backlash to a prevailing culture of death denial, of avoiding death at any costs, which is shifting, as people everywhere tire of the false and dehumanising promises of the consumer capitalism and recoil at the same time from the scientific tendency for overmedicalisation (is that a Scrabble word?) at the end of life. Still, in our own peri-Western culture, suffused as it is with a plurality of local African and other belief structures, death remains very much a taboo and what my friend Peter Fox calls “an unwelcome visitor”.

In a useful little online essay, “The Dangerous Myth of a Good Death”, blogger and nurse Kathleen Clohessy quotes from Frank Ostaseski’s lovely treatise, The Five Invitations: What Death Can Teach us about Living Fully. He says: “We treasure the romantic hope that when people pass away, everything will be tied up neatly. All problems will have been resolved, and they will be utterly at peace. But this happens rarely. Very few people walk toward the immense challenge of dying and find peace and beauty there… who are we to say how another should die?”

I think this is the risk inherent in ideas of a “good death” – that it’s up to the dying person to do it well, or not, imposing some kind of value judgement on it. Think of all those people you’ve met, bleating “but oh, I’m not creative at all!” now being informed that their dying was meant to be done with artful skill, done well. Wasn’t school hard enough, relationships, and all the rest? Now we must excel at death too?

Clohessy writes: “Placing expectations on the dying is an easy mistake to make. But when we do so, we limit our ability to open our hearts to what is happening and be truly present with the person who is making the journey in the here and now… When we impose our beliefs about what death ‘should’ look like on someone who is dying, we deny them unconditional love and acceptance they need and deserve.”

So, calling death an art may well make things more difficult. This is not to say one should not prepare for death – by all and every means, prepare for the inevitable by talking about it and doing what you can to make it easier for you and your loved ones. Complete your advanced-care directive and fill in your organ donor card, update your will and try to find peace. Speculate about your death with the people you love no matter how hard that might be and let them know how you wish to be disposed of and how to be remembered.

Perhaps it’s simply about doing death better. The “death positive” movement, with the redoubtable Caitlin Doughty, possibly the world’s most popular mortician as its high priestess, is a growing community that has some really useful things to say about this in a manifesto of sorts on its website. The Order of The Good Death, which she co-founded, has a mission to “make death a part of your life”.

Implicit in these and other more conventional understandings of death, however, as well as this idea of a “good death” and dying as an “art”, is the veiled assumption that death is some sort of final performance. In one sense only is this true. But death is not just an occurrence, I think.

Instead of seeing it as “the end”, my discovery, which is hardly unique, is that consciousness of it provides the means to live a full life. Without wishing to intrude on the province of the suffering, I understand that I am already dying, and that every day death is with me. It is in every cell of skin that falls from me, in each expiring blood cell that perishes within. I’m slowly dying, inside and out. Death surrounds me and I am in it and with it, as much as I am alive and in life too. It is in the grief of my friends, in my own grief, too. In my own dying I find my vitality. Death sharpens my appreciation of life.

So it’s a lifelong process, this dying shtick, kicked off at the moment of birth. Carl Jung reminds us that “life is a short pause between two great mysteries. Beware of those who offer answers.” Perhaps it’s a voracious scientific urge towards a complete system of knowledge that wants to dominate this unknown province, this final mystery – in fact, to cheat it, to perhaps even bypass it entirely – the next big tech “disruption”.

Gimme a break! I do well to remember that death is a mystery and something that mystifies. It’s also easy to theorise and extrapolate upon. Until it happens to oneself.

Consideration of death immediately brings life into focus. But a good death? An artful expiration? If you really must have one, then, to paraphrase Dr Kathryn Mannix, a palliative care doctor and author, if you want to die well, then first – live well.

That’s about as much as one can do, I think.

Complete Article HERE!