In his life and death, my uncle taught me the real meaning of bravery

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For her Loading Docs short Going Home, film-maker Ashley Williams paid tribute to her late uncle Clive by learning to fly.

Some people say I was brave to fly. I tell them my Uncle Clive was the one who had courage.

He was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer at the age of 50. He had no choice about dying. But he made a choice about how and when he wanted to die.

When I was funded by Loading Docs to make a personal documentary about Clive, I knew I had to challenge myself to do something adventurous, something he would do. He always loved to fly, so what better way to honour him than take to the sky myself and paraglide.

This year marks 10 years since he passed. I wanted to make a film that both honoured Clive’s memory for those who knew him, and shared his story with those who didn’t. In a year when New Zealanders are voting on the End of Life Choice Act, I believed the timing was right, and could offer insight to those that need it.

In preparation for the documentary, as well as the flight, I buried myself in my uncle’s legacy – as a photographer, an adventurer, a scientist and a spiritual seeker. I dug out his old photos and read the letters he wrote over his final year, letters that were integral to the making of this documentary. What struck me most was his courage in facing a terminal illness, dealing with his own loss, yet managing and helping others in their grieving too. Now that is brave.

Making this film I learnt a lot more than just whether or not I could fly. I discovered it’s not just about the big, bold moments when we are brave. It’s about things like kindness in the face of adversity, being able to laugh when things don’t go to plan, standing up for what you believe in and being honest with yourself and others.

Clive taught me that life is about the little adventures along the way. So much of life is out of our control – there will always be the possibility the wind direction might change. So for the days you can, you fly! And oh, how I flew. Up there, among the clouds, being a bird. I realised why I had to do this and it changed me forever.

It also helped me understand what it must have been like for Clive, to have been caged in his bed near the end, watching out his window as the wind blew the clouds across the sky. To have known it was a perfect day to fly, or just go for a walk, but not be able to. When you’re that close to dying, surely you must know a thing or two about living. Clive was always the wise one.

Through Clive’s life and his decision about how he died, when he had only days to live, I hope viewers will consider those who no longer have a choice about whether they die or not, who are asking for the right to die with dignity.

I also want to encourage everyone to read the Act before voting. It’s designed for those suffering from a terminal illness that is likely to end their life within six months, for those who have significant and ongoing decline in physical capability, who have unbearable suffering that cannot be eased, and who are able to make an informed decision about assisted dying. This law could bring real support for people who need it in their time of pain and suffering, and in doing so also provide support and care for those left behind.

My hope is that if I ever face terminal illness I can do it with as much courage and grace as my Uncle Clive. I also hope I’ll have a choice that affords me the dignity I deserve.

Complete Article HERE!

How to Die (Without Really Trying)

A conversation with the religious scholar Brook Ziporyn on Taoism, life and what might come after.

By George Yancy

This is the fifth in a series of interviews with religious scholars exploring how the major faith traditions deal with death. Today, my conversation is with Brook Ziporyn, the Mircea Eliade professor of Chinese religion, philosophy and comparative thought at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Professor Ziporyn has distinguished himself as a scholar and translator of some of the most complex philosophical texts and concepts of the Chinese religious traditions. He is also the author of several books, including “The Penumbra Unbound: The Neo-Taoist Philosophy of Guo Xiang” and “Zhuangzi: The Complete Writings,” as well as two works on Tiantai Buddhism . — George Yancy

George Yancy: For many Westerners, Taoism is somewhat familiar. Some may have had a basic exposure to Taoist thought — perhaps encountering translations of the “Tao Te Ching” or Chinese medicine or martial arts or even just popular references to the concept of yin and yang. But for those who haven’t, can you give us some basics? For example, my understanding is that Taoism can be described as both a religious system and a philosophical system. Is that correct?

Brook Ziporyn: “Taoism” (or “Daosim”) is a blanket term for the philosophy of certain classical texts, mainly from Lao-tzu’s “Tao Te Ching” and the “Zhuangzi” (also known in English as “Chuang-tzu”), but also for a number of religious traditions that adopt some of these texts while also producing many other texts, ideas and practices. This can make it difficult to say what the attitude of Taoism is on any given topic.

What they have in common is the conviction that all definite things, everything we may name and identify and everything we may desire and cherish, including our own bodies and our own lives, emerge from and are rooted in something formless and indefinite: Forms emerge from formlessness, the divided from the undivided, the named from the unnamed, concrete things from vaporous energies, even “beings” from what we’d call “nothing.”

Some forms of religious Taoism seek immortal vitality through a reconnection with this source of life, the inexhaustible energy that gave us birth. Many forms of cultivation, visualization and ritual are developed, with deities both inside and outside one’s own body, to reconnect and integrate with the primal energy in its many forms.

The philosophical Taoism of the “Tao Te Ching” seeks to remain connected to this “mother of the world,” the formless Tao (meaning “Way” or “Course”), that is seemingly the opposite of all we value, but is actually the source of all we value, as manure is to flowers, as the emptiness of a womb is to the fullness of life.

In all these forms of Taoism, there is a stress on “return to the source,” and a contrarian tendency to push in the opposite direction of the usual values and processes, focusing on the reversal and union of apparent opposites. In the “Zhuangzi,” even the definiteness of “source” is too fixed to fully accommodate the scope of universal reversal and transformation; we have instead a celebration of openness to the raucous universal process of change, the transformation of all things into each other.

Yancy: In Taoism, there is the concept of “wu-wei” (“doing nothing”). How does this concept relate to what we, as human beings, should strive for, and how is that term related to an ethical life?

Ziporyn: Wei means “doing” or “making,” but also “for a conscious, deliberate purpose.” Wu-wei thus means non-doing, implying effortlessness, non-striving, non-artificiality, non-coercion, but most centrally eschewal of conscious purpose as controller of our actions.

So in a way the idea of wu-wei implies a global reconsideration of the very premise of your question — the status and desirability of striving as such, or having any definite conscious ideals guide our lives, any definite conscious ethical guide. Wu-wei is what happens without being made to happen by a definite intention, without a plan, without an ulterior motive — the way one does the things one doesn’t have to try to do, what one is doing without noticing it, without conscious motive. Our heart beats, but we do not “do” the beating of our hearts — it just happens. Taoism says “wu-wei er wu bu-wei” — by non-doing, nothing is left undone.

Theistic traditions might suggest that what is not deliberately made or done by us is done by someone else — God — and done by design, for a purpose. Even post-theistic naturalists might still speak of the functions of things in terms of their “purpose” (“the heart pumps in order to circulate the blood and keep the body alive”). But for Taoists, only what is done by a mind with a prior intention can have a purpose, and nature isn’t like that. It does it all without anyone knowing how or why it’s done, and that’s why it works so well.

Yancy: How does Taoism conceive of the soul?

Ziporyn: Taoism has no concept of “the” soul per se; the person has many souls, or many centers of energy, which must be integrated. All are concretizations of a more primal formless continuum of energy of which they are a part, like lumps in pancake batter. These are neither perfectly discontinuous nor perfectly dissolved into oneness.

Ancient Chinese belief regarded the living person as having two souls, the “hun” and the “po,” which parted ways at death. Later religious Taoists conceived of multitudes of gods, many of whom inhabit our own bodies — multiple mini-souls within us and without us, which the practitioner endeavored to connect with and harmonize into an integral whole.

Yancy: The concept of a soul is typically integral to a conceptualization of death. How does Taoism conceive of death?

Ziporyn: In the “Zhuangzi,” there is a story about death, and a special friendship formed by humans in the face of it. Four fellows declare to each other, “Who can see nothingness as his own head, life as his own spine, and death as his own backside? Who knows the single body formed by life and death, existence and nonexistence? I will be his friend!” We go from formlessness to form — this living human body — then again to formlessness. But all three phases constitute a single entity, ever transforming from one part to another, death to life to death. Our existence when alive is only one part of it, the middle bit; the nothingness or formlessness before and after our lives are part of the same indivisible whole. Attunement to this becomes here a basis for a peculiar intimacy and fellowship among humans while they are alive, since their seemingly definite forms are joined in this continuum of formlessness.

The next story in the “Zhuangzi” gives an even deeper description of this oneness and this intimacy. Three friends declare, “‘Who can be together in their very not being together, doing some­thing for one another by doing nothing for one another? Who can climb up upon the heavens, roaming on the mists, twisting and turning round and round without limit, living their lives in mutual forgetfulness, never coming to an end?’ The three of them looked at each other and burst out laughing, feeling complete concord, and thus did they become friends.”

Here there is no more mention of the “one body” shared by all — even the idea of a fixed oneness is gone. We have only limitless transformation. And the intimacy is now an wu-wei kind of intimacy, with no conscious awareness of a goal or object: They commune with each other by forgetting each other, just as they commune with the one indivisible body of transformation by forgetting all about it, and just transforming onward endlessly. Death itself is transformation, but life is also transformation, and the change from life to death and death to life is transformation too.

Yancy: Most of us fear death. The idea of the possible finality of death is frightening. How do we, according to Taoism, best address that fear?

Ziporyn: In that story about the four fellows, one of them suddenly falls ill and faces imminent death. He muses contentedly that after he dies he will continue to be transformed by whatever creates things, even as his body and mind break apart: His left arm perhaps into a rooster, his right arm perhaps into a crossbow pellet, his buttocks into a pair of wheels, his spirit into a horse. How marvelous that will be, he muses, announcing the dawn as a rooster, hunting down game as a pellet, riding along as a horse and carriage. Another friend then falls ill, and his pal praises the greatness of the process of transformation, wondering what he’ll be made into next — a mouse’s liver? A bug’s arm? The dying man says anywhere it sends him would be all right. He compares it to a great smelter. To be a human being for a while is like being metal that has been forged into a famous sword. To insist on only ever being a human in this great furnace of transformation is to be bad metal — good metal is the kind that can be malleable, broken apart and recombined with other things, shaped into anything.

I think the best summary of this attitude to death and life, and the joy in both, is from the same chapter in “Zhuangzi”:

This human form is just something we have stumbled into, but those who have become humans take delight in it nonetheless. Now the human form during its time undergoes ten thousand transformations, never stopping for an instant — so the joys it brings must be beyond calculation! Hence the sage uses it to roam and play in that from which nothing ever escapes, where all things are maintained. Early death, old age, the beginning, the end — this allows him to see each of them as good.

Every change brings its own form of joy, if, through wu-wei, we can free ourselves of the prejudices of our prior values and goals, and let every situation deliver to us its own new form as a new good. Zhuangzi calls it “hiding the world in the world”— roaming and playing and transforming in that from which nothing ever escapes.

Yancy: So, through wu-wei, on my death bed, I should celebrate as death isn’t an ending, but another beginning, another becoming? I also assume that there is no carry over of memory. In other words, in this life, I am a philosopher, male, etc. As I continue to become — a turtle, a part of Proxima Centauri, a tree branch — will I remember having been a philosopher, male?

Ziporyn: I think your assumption is correct about that: There is no expectation of memory, at least for these more radical Taoists like Zhuangzi. This is certainly connected with the general association of wu-wei with a sort of non-knowing. In fact in the climax of the same chapter as we find the death stories just mentioned, we find the virtue of “forgetting” extolled as the highest stage of Taoist cultivation — “a dropping away of my limbs and torso, a chasing off my sensory acuity, dispersing my physical form and ousting my understanding until I am the same as the Transforming Openness. This is what I call just sitting and forgetting.”

And the final death story there describes a certain Mr. Mengsun as having reached the perfect attitude toward life and death. He understands nothing about why he lives or dies. His existence consists only of waiting for the next unknown transformation. “[H]is physical form may meet with shocks but this causes no loss to his mind; what he experiences are morning wakings to ever new homes rather than the death of any previous realities.”

The freshness of the new transformation into ever new forms, and the ability to wholeheartedly embrace the new values that go with them, seems to require an ability to let go of the old completely. I think most of us will agree that such thorough forgetting is a pretty tall order! It seems that it may, ironically enough, require a lifetime of practice.

Yancy: Given the overwhelming political and existential global importance of race at this moment, do you have any reflections on your role as a white scholar of Taoism? In other words, are there racial or cultural issues that are salient for you as a non-Asian scholar of Eastern religious thought?

Brook Ziporyn: A very complex question, probably requiring a whole other interview! But my feeling is that, when dealing with ancient texts written in dead languages, the issue is more linguistic and cultural than racial. This goes for ancient Greek, Hebrew, Sanskrit and Latin texts as well as for ancient Chinese texts, all of which bear a complex historical relation to particular living communities and their languages, but all of which are also susceptible to fiercely contested interpretations both inside and outside those communities.

I think it’s a good thing for both Asian and non-Asian scholars to struggle to attain literacy in the textual inheritances of both the Asian and the non-Asian ancient worlds, which is “another country” to all of us, and to advance as many alternate coherent interpretations of them as possible. These interpretations will in all cases be very much conditioned by our particular current cultural situations, and these differences will certainly be reflected in the results — which is a good thing, I think, as long as we remain aware of it.

Writing about Taoism in English, one is speaking from and to an English-reading world. Doing so in modern Chinese, one is speaking from and to a modern-Chinese-reading world. Working crosswise in either language, as when a culturally native Anglophone like myself writes about Taoism in modern Chinese, or when a native Mandarin speaker writes in English about Taoism, or for that matter in either English or Chinese about ancient Greek philosophy or the Hebrew Bible, the situation will again differ, and the resulting discussion will reflect this as well.

In terms of the dangers of Orientalism, though, what I think must be especially guarded against is making any claim that whatever anyone may conclude about any particular ancient Chinese text can give any special insight into the politics, culture, or behavior of modern Chinese persons, communities or polities. The historical relations between modern and ancient cultural forms are simply too complex to think that the former can give one any right to claim any knowledge about the latter.

Complete Article HERE!

At 31, I have just weeks to live. Here’s what I want to pass on

Now that there’s no longer any way to treat my cancer, I’ve been reflecting on what I want others to know about life and death

‘I have come to see growing old as a privilege. Nobody should lament getting one year older, another grey hair or a wrinkle. Be pleased that you’ve made it.’

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At the beginning of April I wrote a piece for the Guardian. If you haven’t read it, the headline pretty much sums it up: “Terminal cancer means I won’t see the other side of lockdown”. Given the pandemic and the announcement of shielding for vulnerable people, I thought I wouldn’t be able to live out my last few months in the way I’d imagined. It seemed like I would be stuck alone, with no light at the end of the tunnel, and without the comfort of friends or family.

Five months on, I’m still here, but much has changed. Thankfully, the experience wasn’t as bleak as you might think. During the first few weeks of lockdown I found I was floating nicely through the time by staying occupied and upbeat. In many ways, you can’t beat the liberation of being able to wake up when you feel like it, having few plans set in stone and being able to do whatever you want with the time you have.

Over the past couple of months, though, my energy levels have dropped, and I have started doing less. I look drastically different. I have lost a lot of weight. A 20-minute coughing fit is now part of my morning routine while my chest tries to settle itself. It’s nothing that some steroids, morphine, an iced drink to settle my throat and time spent dry-heaving in front of a bucket won’t eventually sort out, but it can get really distressing – like an intrinsic panic response.

At points I was really struggling. The loneliness of Covid was making me miserable, and I needed company. But my sister came to the rescue at just the right moment. She moved back into our shared flat at the end of June. It made a huge difference, and I don’t know where I would be without her. After months of isolation, having a family member close by changed everything.

At the same time, out of the blue, I was told I was finally suitable for a drug trial that had been dangled in front of me for more than a year. The oncologists made it very clear that this would not be a “magic bullet”, and the goal would be to extend life by a few months. The aim of the treatment would be to stop the cancer stealing all the nutrients and energy my body needs.

But I was not in the same good shape I had been in at the beginning of other treatments; I was extremely short of breath, unable to exercise and felt lethargic. And after pinning my hopes on the idea of a drug trial for so long, it took just over a week for it to batter me. My days involved moving from my room to the sofa, feeling like I had flu and struggling with mental fog. Almost immediately I realised I just couldn’t do it. Life for me is about living, not just clocking up the years. And this drug made living almost impossible.

I realised I had to finally accept the inevitable: that there was no treatment. I thought this mindset would leave me feeling completely liberated. I was wrong. With nothing left to fight, it really was just a question of waiting. The battle became emotional and mental. It has forced me to reflect.

The first three decades of my life were pretty standard. Well, actually they were awesome, and everything was going pretty perfectly with regards to work, health, relationships and friends. I had plans for the future, too: learn some Spanish, see more of central America, and get a bit more out of it with some volunteering too.

Elliot with his sister at Lulworth Cove, Dorset.

I imagined settling down in my 30s or 40s with kids, a mortgage and so on. Or maybe I wouldn’t. Maybe my friends’ children would call me Uncle Elliot as their parents gathered in the kitchen looking slightly concerned about their single 45-year-old friend about to set off travelling around Mongolia. Either way, growing older with my mates and living my life to the full was always my ambition.

Of course, the second part of this storyline won’t be written now. It’s a shame I don’t get to see what happens. But everybody dies, and there will always be places and experiences missing from anyone’s life – the world has too much beauty and adventure for one person to see. I will miss marriage or children, blossoming careers and lives moving on. But I’m not alone in my life being cut short, and I think my time has been pretty good.

At this point I should say a word to my friends. Being this ill complicates all relationships. The rut I found myself in a few weeks back hasn’t lifted. I’ve definitely been “feeling the victim” a lot more than usual. My acceptance that my time and energy is now limited comes with the knowledge that I won’t be able to catch you all properly to give our relationships the time and appreciation they deserve. I get so many messages from you all, which often exceed the energy I have to reply. Where I am able to see people, I’d just say keeping me company and being positive is helpful. I want fun, laughter, happiness, joy. I think it’s very possible to have this kind of death – there is likely to be a shadow of sadness hanging over proceedings, but for the most part I want everyone relaxed and to be able to feel the love.

Because I know that that moment isn’t too far away. I haven’t asked for a specific prognosis, as I don’t believe there’s much to gain from doing so, but I think it’s a matter of weeks. Medicine has luckily turned this into quite a gentle process. That really does take a lot of the fear away. And I’m hoping impending death now grants me the licence to sound prematurely wise and overly grandiose. Because I’ve had time to think about the things that are really important to me, and I want to share what I’ve discovered.

First, the importance of gratitude. During my worst moments – the shock of cancer diagnosis, the mental lows and debilitating symptoms of chemotherapy – it was difficult to picture any future moments of joy, closeness or love. Even so, at those times I found comfort in remembering what I have: an amazing family, the friends I’ve made and times I’ve shared with them, the privilege of the life I’ve had.

Second, a life, if lived well, is long enough. This can mean different things to different people. It might mean travel. I’ve had the good fortune to be able do this, and can confirm that the world is a wonderful place full of moments of awe and amazement – soak up as much as you can. It may mean staying active, as much as possible – the human body is a wonderful thing. You only appreciate this when it starts to fail you. So when you find yourself slipping into autopilot, catch yourself, and take simple pleasure in movement, if you can. Look after your body because it’s the only one you have, and it’s bloody brilliant. Knowing that my life was going to be cut short has also changed my perspective on ageing. Most people assume they will live into old age. I have come to see growing old as a privilege. Nobody should lament getting one year older, another grey hair or a wrinkle. Instead, be pleased that you’ve made it. If you feel like you haven’t made the most of your last year, try to use your next one better.

Third, it’s important to let yourself be vulnerable and connect to others. We live in a society that prizes capability and independence, two things that cancer often slowly strips away from you. This was naturally a very difficult pill to swallow for a healthy, able late-twentysomething male, but having to allow myself to be vulnerable and accept help has given me the best two years of my life, which was pretty inconceivable at the time of diagnosis. Vulnerability has shown me what phenomenal people my sister and parents are – words can’t do justice to how much they have done for me. The same applies to my friends – what better way is there to spend two years than being surrounded regularly and closely by these people?

Fourth, do something for others. Against the backdrop of Covid-19, Black Lives Matter and the desperate attempts of migrants to cross the Channel, my thoughts really turned to those who have not had my privilege – whether that’s by virtue of socioeconomics, ethnicity or the country I was born in. I always try to remind myself of this.
Fifth, protect the planet – I can’t leave this off because it’s so important. I’ll be gone soon, but humanity will still be faced with the huge challenge of reducing carbon emissions and saving habitats from destruction. In my time here, I’ve been lucky enough to see some natural wonders and understand how precious they are. Hopefully future generations will be able to say the same. But it will take a massive collective effort.

If you asked me what I’d want to leave behind, it would be a new awareness of these things among my friends – and anyone who’ll listen, really. I was astonished by the number of people that responded to my article in April. I now find myself in a position where people are asking me how they can help or what they can do that would make me happy. Apart from the obvious – looking after each other once I’ve gone – I’m going to push for people to give, be that money or time. I’ve already had so many people ask which causes I recommend, and there are loads, but I’d say any that align with the values I’ve sketched out above would have my blessing. Among friends and family there is talk of setting up a small charity in my memory.

Despite some very low times, it’s worth repeating that the period since being diagnosed has been made not just bearable but actually fantastic. I’ve had new experiences that haven’t seemed tainted by cancer – and those experiences were, as always, much better shared. In a situation that is pretty new for most of my loved ones and friends (I am yet to meet anyone I grew up with who has had to deal with cancer or a similar chronic illness at my age), it has been amazing watching them all rise to the challenge. I’m not sure if it’s just that I know a high proportion of amazing people (possible) or if most human beings have this capacity for connecting and recognising what’s truly important (very likely).

After the gut-punch of cancer diagnosis, I’ve really struggled to define a purpose for my own life. I found in time this came naturally. Life is for enjoyment. Make of it what you can.

Complete Article HERE!

I want my hair to be fully gray.

The lives of Black folks should end with dignity

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As a Black man, these past few months I have thought a lot about dying. More than usual.

When I was young, I imagined a death where I learn that I have an incurable disease and then begin my final, glorious lap around.

The end comes in the company of family and friends and a final touch of a loving hand before my last breath. The end, in some way, resembles the very beginning of life — swaddled, surrounded by love, care and attention to every breath. There is something sacred about that first breath, the last and all in between.

When I was in college, I read about death and dying, which Emerson described as being “kind” and Socrates described as “like a dreamless sleep.” I learned that death is sacred and is a counterpart to birth. Buddhists prepare for death, because it can happen at any time — breathing is the most cherished gift of nature.

I loved my college courses. I have taught my share as well. Every time I would return home from college and enter Grace Temple Baptist Church in California with my mother, I was in the presence of people who knew things. They knew, to quote James Baldwin, rivers “ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.” They knew about death and dignity, especially those who grew to be old.

I have lived long enough to know there is no promise that the end of my life will be the one I hope for — a time that involves a rocking chair and a grandchild on my knee; stories about the 50-pound trout that I caught in Lake Washington; the basketball game where I sang the national anthem and went on to score 75 points, including the winning basket; endless magic tricks.

I want to fall asleep at the dinner table but not before saying embarrassing things. I want to be seen as having wisdom worth sharing. I want my hair to be fully gray. I want to be called distinguished every now and again and crazy most often. I don’t need much praise and will settle for forgiveness for the times I’ve come up short. I want to tell stories about the 70s. I want to pass down my Marvin Gaye and Supremes vinyl. I want to tell the kids, “Lemme show you how the ‘Soul Train’ dancers busted a move in the day.”

When I would return home to visit my mother in California, there were fewer and fewer Black men in her church. One year, the men’s choir had become a trio. I know the life expectancy data for Black men, many who have suffered quietly. I know the price of things, which is why I lie awake at night out of the “reach of warm milk.” I know that I’ll be fine but not okay. My father held his grandson, my son, once, for a moment. He never met his granddaughter. I pass on my father’s fishing and military stories as best I can.

I think about death more now because I want to live well. I do not want my life to be something I beg for. I do not want to plead for my last breath under an officer’s knee. I do not want to run from a bullet. I do not want my final moments to be recorded by a stranger with a cell phone, a video that goes viral. I do not want my nurse to be in a biohazard suit. I want my last breath, my brother’s last breath, my son’s last breath, my daughter’s last breath to be cherished — just as I cherished their first breaths. On my last night, I want to feel like a child again, safe and beloved.

My friend, B.J. Miller, a palliative care physician, has made it his mission to help people live well in the face of death. He knows life, death and suffering. He says, “At the end of our lives, what do we most wish for? Comfort, respect, and love.”

I have no desire to give a “last lecture” when my time comes. I’ve had many opportunities to say what I need to say. I want the last word to go to the elders; I want there to be more elders. I want the last word to go to the young Black man in middle school and the young Black woman in high school now, those who will become elders.

I want to hear the cries and laughter of the baby newly born in the neighborhood that has the most cracks in the sidewalks and a few broken windows — a community that is truly colorful and vibrant, a community that cherishes that baby. I want that child to live to be elderly. I want my current and former students to have their say.

I want us all to rest in peace. I want it never to be said that our birthright pre-determines the length and quality of our lives. The lives of Black folks should end with dignity, their final breath sacred and childlike.

If there is such a thing as a good death, and let us imagine that there is, we take our last breaths, not have them taken.

Complete Article HERE!

5 Ways To Make Your Dog’s Last Days Their Best Days – DogTime

By Maggie Clancy

Grieving over the loss of a pet is traumatic. But sometimes, it can be even harder when we know that our dogs don’t have much time left. Anticipatory grief is real, and it’s a completely normal emotion to feel.

Dogs are very intuitive, and your grief may be contagious to your ailing pet. Perhaps instead of spending your remaining time with your canine companion in a state of grieving and sadness, you can make the rest of your dog’s life as comfortable and wonderful as possible.

Here are some tips on how to make your dog’s last days the best that they possibly can be.

Create A Bucket List

Dog parent Riina Cooke made the decision to make a bucket list for her terminally ill Boxer, and it helped her with the grieving process tremendously. From a cheeseburger to a pedicure, she filled her dog’s remaining time with fun and happiness.

What makes your dog ecstatic? Is it taking luxurious car rides? Hanging out with some of their favorite friends?

Create a list of what your dog loves to do best, and cross off as many as you can as long as your dog’s health and safety permits.

There’s nothing better than seeing your pup at their happiest, and there’s no better way to remember them than in that state, as well.

Go All Out With The Food

If your dog’s vet agrees that certain people foods are okay for your dog to ingest, give your pup the tastiest, most decadent food possible.

When my childhood dog, a nine-year-old Cocker Spaniel, was suffering from a myriad of ailments, we gave her steamed rice and steak every night for dinner. Some nights, her dinner was fancier than what the humans of the household were eating.

Ask your vet which foods are appropriate, and start making Fido gourmet meals.

Indulge In All Forms Of Pampering

Go buck wild with any and all forms of pampering, especially anything that will relax and soothe your dog.

Have a dog masseuse come to your house. Go to a dog bakery and get them the most outrageous dog cake you can find.

You can even go a little less traditional route and do things like take your dog to a pet communicator or psychic to hear what they’re really feeling. You may not be a believer, but it will probably be a fun experience and a fond memory.

Get Educated On Pain Management

This may not be the most fun part of the list, but it’s crucial. If your dog is suffering, it may not always be apparent that he or she is in pain. Educate yourself on the signs of pain in dogs.

If your dog hits a point of extreme pain or a point where you cannot take care of your pup yourself, it may be time to consider dog hospice care. Much like human hospice care, dog hospice care is from the comfort of your own home.

You can work with your vet on things like administering medications and deciding if and when it’s the right time for euthanasia.

Allow Your Friends And Family To Help You

In order for you to be in the right state of mind for when your dog is nearing the end of their life, you should have a solid support group. Talk to friends who know your dog well, family, and a veterinarian you can trust.

Many animal hospitals also offer support groups. By having this ring of support for yourself, you will be able to effectively and lovingly support your pooch through this painful time.

Letting go of a dog is never easy, but you can make it as positive of an experience as possible for both you and your dog.

If you’ve gone through the grieving process of a dog passing away, what did you do to make your dog’s last days their best? Do any fond memories bring you comfort? Let us know in the comments below!

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Pa’s Smile

Jaimal Yogis’s dad explained his final wishes: “I’ve gotten so much from Buddhism for good living, I’m not going to pass up their tips for good dying.”

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The first and only time I bought dry ice, the grocery store clerk asked if I was going camping. “No,” I muttered, then managed to stop myself from saying it was for a body. The ice really was to lay my father’s corpse on.

An air force colonel who was skeptical of organized religion, my father, who we call Pa, wasn’t sure the Tibetan Buddhist tradition of leaving the dead undisturbed for three days was necessary. But, as he said after being diagnosed with late stage lung cancer, “I’ve gotten so much from Buddhism for good living, I’m not going to pass up their tips for good dying.”

As if summarizing Socrates in his famous pre-execution speech, Pa often said he had no idea where he was going. ‘If the lights go out, it’ll be a good rest,’ he’d say. ‘And if there’s more, it’ll be a great adventure.’

These three days are not unique to Tibetan, or more accurately, Vajrayana Buddhism. Irish wakes often last two or three days while a soul departs, and Jewish Midrashic texts say a soul hovers over the body for three days (or seven) until the body is buried. The idea behind the three days in Vajrayana Buddhism is that as the breath and heart stop, our gross level of consciousness dissolves but more subtle levels of consciousness remain in the body for up to about seventy-two hours. During that time the subtlest stream of consciousness is said to leave, a transition known to go more smoothly if the body can chill—in Pa’s case literally since under California law dead bodies have to be kept on ice.

“Otherwise they tend to smell like dead bodies,” our hospice nurse informed us.

“Right,” I nodded. “And where do we get the ice?”

“Grocery store.”

“Of course.”

As if summarizing Socrates in his famous pre-execution speech, Pa often said he had no idea where he was going. “If the lights go out, it’ll be a good rest,” he’d say. “And if there’s more, it’ll be a great adventure.” Still, he’d reasoned his way toward the three-day death plan. In addition to reading up on how Vajrayana Buddhists use strict tests to prove they’ve found reincarnations of former teachers, he’d read the work of doctors like Sam Parnia of NYU Langone Health. Dr. Parnia has meticulously catalogued data on people who’ve died clinically, sometimes for hours, before being resuscitated. These briefly dead folks often report vivid dreams after waking, sometimes ones in which they correctly recount what doctors had been saying—“Going to the game later?”—when the patients had no heartbeat. “That’s enough evidence for me,” Pa said. “Don’t poke or prod me for a few days.”

As the actual death part of the three-day death plan approached, we—his family—wondered if having Pa’s cold body steaming on carbon dioxide in the bedroom might intensify our grief. And might it be a little creepy? It turned out to be just the opposite.

Death leaves you in a dreamy shock. You don’t know if you should wail or drive all night to Mexico or finally get to writing your own will. When Pa stopped breathing on a warm summer evening, dressing him in his aloha shirt and favorite Christmas socks, then adorning his room with flowers, was just the beautiful busy work our reeling minds needed. Reading Jane Hirshfield’s “It Was Like This: You Were Happy,” a special request from Pa, while he was actually there in the room felt more heart opening than reading it again while scattering his ashes. And as we sat with Pa each of the three mornings while reading him The Tibetan Book of The Dead—a text meant to help us navigate the space between lives—it felt as if we were on a kind of spiritual tour bus with him, visiting the realms where awakened beings are born from lotuses and truths are whispered on the breeze.

Perhaps most surprising was how much the three-day death plan helped before death. As Pa was starting to show signs of getting close to the end, my sister Ciel and I asked if he would like to hear a Medicine Buddha ceremony that is often done for the sick and dying. “You don’t have to bother with that,” Pa said, continuing his usual stubborn quest to keep us from doting. But we argued that the ceremony would be a good warm-up for when he was down for the count and we were reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead, which Tibetans actually call The Great Liberation for Hearing in the Bardo. Since this made it sound like the reading was for us, Pa agreed.

We sat around his bed, switching back and forth between botching the Tibetan chanting and reading the English translation. The ceremony took about an hour, and we thought ­­Pa had slept through it. But at the end, he sat up with tears in his eyes. “I am so honored you did that for me,” he said. “And now I’m going to get up and see the sky one more time.”

“We’ll get the wheelchair,” Pa’s wife, Margaret, said reasonably.

“No,” he said, “I’m going to walk.”

Pa had already fallen behind the toilet in such a precarious position we’d needed the fire department to come dislodge him, and he’d been bedridden for days now. But charged up by the chanting, Pa managed to lumber slowly to the back porch, rasping with every breath.

We opened the door. Pa turned his face up bracingly to the blue. He looked so pale, I half expected him to croak right there. Instead, he then looked down at a few small stairs he would have to navigate in order to be fully outside. “Take me back,” he whispered. “I want an easy death. Not to fall off the damn steps.”

We laughed. Finding humor in the face of hardship was one of Pa’s great gifts. But we hadn’t heard zingers with gusto like this for a few weeks. And I think, in addition to the power of the ceremony itself, knowing that his family would be there for three full days—botching more Tibetan chants around him—was a great comfort, a lightening.

Philosophical aspects of the plan were helpful too. In hospice Pa occasionally felt unsure of where—even who—he was. One day he called himself King Henry and my aunt the queen. “You wouldn’t believe what’s happening,” he told me. “It’s like I’m disappearing.” This was scary, but Buddhist wisdom for conscious dying gave Pa a place to put his fears.

According to Vajrayana Buddhists, our gross consciousness is where we construct our version of reality through our senses. This construction is like a video game in our heads in which we are the most important character, the one whose suffering matters most, the one who should win all the gold coins because, as our senses (falsely) tell us, we exist separately from the rest of reality. The more we let go of this illusory separation from others, the more room there is to experience our true blissful and compassionate nature. Vajrayana Buddhist teachers say this true nature is most easily accessible at death because, as opposed to meditative glimpses beyond the veil, in death the gross levels of consciousness drop away automatically. So, when Pa was scared or disoriented, we could remind him that losing a mere idea of himself was not just natural, it was part of spiritual awakening.

In his last hours, Pa’s brow was furrowed and his body appeared tense. He looked like he was trying desperately to remember something. Ciel, Margaret, and I were taking turns sitting with him, and fittingly it was just when Margaret was singing him Nat King Cole’s, “When I Fall in Love,” a song they’d danced to on West Cliff Drive above the sea, that Pa finally let go. As he did, his brow smoothed completely, making him look instantly younger. A distinct half-smile appeared on his lips. A Buddha smile. And whether it was Pa’s newfound bliss, rigor mortis, or some combination of both, that smile remained perfectly serene for all three days.

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On reckoning with the fact of one’s death

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A friend is sending me documents needed to make me the executor of his will. He does not expect to die from this pandemic but he has enough weaknesses in his body to be fairly sure he would not survive the virus if it gets to him. He is not as old as I am but he is not young either. He is clear-sighted enough to know what he must do now: stay at home. He is also clear-sighted enough to admit into his thinking the common fact of death.

And common fact it is — about 160,000 Australians die in the course of each year —though every death is a particular death and no single death can be quite like another. From a certain distance, it looks as if we must all enter this darkness or this blinding light by the same gate when we die, and from that point of view our common destination is undeniable.

But from another point of view, the one taken in Kafka’s famous parable, Before the Law, each of us stands at a particular gate made for us, a gate no other person can go through. Making a similar point, “Death is a black camel that kneels at every person’s gate”, goes a Turkish proverb.

I am a little shocked by my friend’s matter-of-fact approach to the idea of his death; and I am comforted by his attitude as well. At least he is not leaving matters to bureaucrats or stolid workers who might think his death is much the same as all other deaths.

As a friend, I have always valued him for the no-nonsense realism he brings to bear on our lives, and for the creativity with which he has approached every experience of his life. I tell him I will be happy to sign the documents and, if needed, to act as his executor. He says it will be simple. He has everything in labelled boxes and files.

When I talk to another friend who is a doctor at a Melbourne hospital, she speaks of the bruise on her nose from wearing a tight mask all day every day, of the sweating inside her protective plastic garments, of washing and disinfecting her hands after taking off each item of protective clothing at the end of a shift.

She says she thinks it is only a matter of time before she will be infected with the virus. She is young and her chances of survival are high, she says. I am shocked all over again by the way she thinks — or must think if she is to continue to do this work.

This fearful companion

Another day and there are nearly 2,000 people from aged care homes sick with the virus, and a record number of deaths reported for two days running. Grieving families are interviewed on television and on the radio.

I am living at home now with my death a definite shadow in my mind. I am 70, which makes me vulnerable. Many of us, I know, are in our homes with this fearful companion so full of its own patience and fierce focus.

One mercy is that I don’t have to be worrying about my parents, who both died three years ago after reaching their nineties. Their deaths followed the familiar pattern: a series of falls, an illness that brings pneumonia with it, a descent into morphine assisted sleep, then days of dragging in those last breaths as though they are being counted down.

But their deaths were particular too. My father was exhausted, I believe, and my mother was not ready to go. She fought through to those last breaths with all the fight she had in her.

In 1944 Carl Jung suffered a heart attack after breaking his foot, and was in a coma for three weeks. In a brief memoir of this experience, he describes floating out into near space where he could look down on the planet, then entering a light-filled rock that seemed to be a temple with a room inside where he was sure he would meet all the people who had been important to him, and where he would finally understand what kind of life he had lived.

At the entrance to this room, his doctor called him back to earth where there seemed to be a continuing need for his presence. He had to forego the experience of death, he wrote. He was 69 and he would live for another 17 years. For those who were caring for him, he might have looked like any patient in a coma and near death, but for him this was a particular moment of reckoning and even joyous anticipation.

Watching my parents die was its own shock after witnessing the deterioration in their bodies and minds as they aged, the reduction of their lives to a hospital bed, closed eyes, machines attached, the days-long struggle to breathe. It was almost unbearable to be near this and almost impossible to keep away as the time left became shorter.

Now in the time of this virus a painful new imposition bears down upon the families of the dying for they cannot even stand by the bed of a dying parent or grandparent or partner. The sadness of this immeasurable.

In an essay about death, called On Practice, Michel Montaigne mentioned that “practice is no help in the greatest task we have to perform: dying.”

In this matter we are all apprentices. But is there some way of breaking ourselves in for death, or must we always work and work to keep both death and the thought of death at bay?

When my sister died of cancer at 49, I remember her patting our young daughter’s hand the day before she died, saying to her, “Don’t cry, I’ll be all right. I promise you I will be all right.”

At the time I thought she was in denial, or that perhaps she thought that she needed to protect us from the heavy presence of death.

But now I think she might have been looking past us and even past herself: we do die and it is all right — and every living thing that moves only moves under the condition of its coming death. She might have been seeing this well enough to embrace its truth. I don’t know.

‘A second, a minute, longer’

Today the sun was out, a low winter sun sparkling through the twisted branches of our back yard ornamental pear trees, and I could not resist going out into the sunshine to weed around the carrots and beetroot, and take up the last of the autumn leaves from under the parsley bushes. I felt lucky to have these few minutes with the warmth of the sun on the back of my neck.

I have been reading Svetlana Alexievich’s Chernobyl Prayer, and somewhere near the end she records the words of a physicist dying of cancer from the Chernobyl fallout. He said,

I thought I only had days, a very few days, left to live, and I desperately wanted not to die. I was suddenly seeing every leaf, bright colours, a bright sky, the vivid grey of tarmac, the cracks in it with ants clambering about in them. ‘No,’ I thought to myself, ‘I need to walk round them.’ I pitied them. I did not want them to die. The aroma of the forest made me feel dizzy. I perceived smell more vividly than colour. Light birch trees, ponderous firs. Was I never to see this anymore? I wanted to live a second, a minute longer!

This reaction is deeply understandable, and each of us shares this feeling, even if only faintly, every morning that we find we have the world in our world again — for perhaps a whole day. Each time I read that paragraph I misread “I desperately wanted not to die” as “I desperately wanted to die”.

This urge to stay at home is almost matched by the urge to be out in the world rubbing shoulders with crowds. The desire to save my own life is mixed somehow with a desire to have it over with. My misreading troubles me, but it keeps happening.

A woman I know who is 30 years old answers, when I ask her how she feels about the growing numbers of aged victims to this pandemic, that there need to be more public “death-positive” campaigns in order to make death a more natural part of life in our culture — to make of it something we need not fear so much or become so angry over.

Though she speaks as if death belongs to other kinds of being than her, she makes some good sense because this is the other side of our attitude to death. Sometimes I lie in bed and count the likely number of days I might have left to me, and it always seems both a lot and not enough. And then I forget what the number was because after all, how can there even be a world without me in it?

Some years ago our dear neighbour Anna said she had decided it was time for her to die. There was nothing else she wanted. We had watched her nurse her husband through dementia for a decade, we had many afternoon teas with her as she fussed over our children and showed us the latest thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle she was completing. She talked about the books she was reading. And then one day she was ready to go.

Not long after that I visited her, more or less unconscious in a hospital bed. My amazement at her decision to go. But now, as I inch closer to old age, I imagine I might be able to understand how her decision was as much a matter of the mind as the body.

An American news service has reported that across 24 hours one person every minute died in the United States from Covid-19. I am not sure how to understand this kind of counting. It conjures images of queues of bodies, of frantic funeral directors and grieving families. It speeds up the mind and produces in me a feeling of panic.

Every minute across each day of the year about seven babies are born in the USA. A lot happens in a minute across a whole nation. Numbers tell a certain kind of story, the heart tells another, but sometimes the numbers are aimed at the heart.

If not death-positive, then perhaps we could be death-realistic. Svetlana Alexievich talked to children in cancer wards. A dying child named Oxana spoke of what she desired: “When I die, don’t bury me in a graveyard. I’m afraid of cemeteries. There are only dead people there, and crows. Bury me in open countryside.”

It is possible to know we are afraid, and know at the same time that this fear is a fear up to the brink of death, and beyond that we can go with our imaginations into an open countryside.

I am afraid, as we all are. When my daughter asks what she should do with my ashes after I am gone, the fiction we play at is that I will care what happens to “my” ashes, that it will make a difference to me, and that “I” will still be somewhere when she makes that decision.

I can never compose a clear set of instructions for her, though I know that putting those ashes somewhere in nature, perhaps out on water or under a tree, would fit with an idea I have of how the journey is best completed.

Intense light

With a state of disaster formally declared and a curfew at night for all the citizens of our city, the word, “disaster”, might seem to mark an endpoint. But it has become the sign for a new beginning and a new campaign.

With these new plans in place, drastic though they are, the possibility opens for believing, perhaps naively, that there will be a time when death does not dominate our thinking, that the virus will be a memory of a time we negotiated, a dark passage of intense narrowness before coming out of it into an open countryside. Perhaps as faltering human beings we must live this way: repeatedly imagining in hope of further scenes of rebirth.

When we know as fully as it can be known that we are each on a sure way to our own particular death, perhaps then we are already in that open countryside. My partner Andrea and I walked in the sunshine today to a park where we met, briefly, with our son, who stood well away from us, all of us in masks.

We talked about everything that is small, inconsequential, funny and ordinary in our lives. Two of us will have birthdays under this extended lockdown. We did not mention death, but everything we said was bathed in its intense light.

Our duties

I receive emails offering support and good wishes from friends interstate and around the world for the six weeks of lockdown. There is a shift in attitude and mood away from blame and towards support. We have a difficult time ahead of us. The street falls still and silent at night. I have a list of books to read, old papers to go through and throw out, but before that I find I wake up ill.

When I ring a doctor friend for advice he tells me he is COVID-19 positive himself, contracted in one of Melbourne’s aged care homes, and is in quarantine at home for two weeks. So far, into day six, he is feeling not too bad. In anticipation of this he says he has been keeping fit, eating well, and taking zinc tablets. My friend advises me to go to an emergency ward at a nearby hospital, and I do, though with much nervousness.

I am the only person in the emergency waiting area when I arrive, and am soon inside with a nurse in a cubicle, having urine and blood tests. Everyone is in plastic, masked, and across the aisle from me there are three police officers guarding a prisoner with shackles at his ankles and one arm pinned by a padlock to a wide leather belt. All three police are masked and one wears bright orange ocean swimming goggles as well.

In the emergency centre, I feel that I am both in the midst of an unfolding crisis and present at a theatre-in-the-round performance. A woman in a wheelchair asks loudly what everyone’s name is and what their job is. When one man says he is the director of the emergency centre she laughs loud and long, as though she has somehow caught the biggest fish in the river and doesn’t believe it.

Someone asks her if she wants some lunch, and she announces that she is starving and could they make up a bacon and fried egg sandwich for her followed by a crunchy peanut butter sandwich.

I am released from the emergency ward with blood and urine samples left for analysis, but without being tested for COVID-19 because I showed no specific symptoms.

My time in the hospital is a reminder to me of how far I am from the world now. A workplace, I realise afresh, can be dizzyingly busy, chaotic, packed with humanity and with unpredictable moments of basic care for fellow humans, of suffering, and those bizarre sights worthy of a circus or an opera. I have become so used to moving between two or three rooms at home and going outside only to go into the garden, that I am in a panic here in the hospital over doorknobs, sheets, chairs or curtains that I’m touching — and at the same time I feel that this closeness to others is what being alive is really about.

Returning home I have to keep reminding myself that it is in this quiet, almost passive way of living that I am doing something needed. It might be that this social isolation, one from another, is a plague response from the middle ages, but without it, we are told, modern hospitals, ventilators and ICUs will be overwhelmed. There is an intimate, human response needed to this virus. It forces an honesty upon us.

If this social isolation is now one of life’s duties, it goes along beside all the other duties, and among them is the fact that dying is one of our duties. This is an old thought, and perhaps a pagan thought.

Seneca the Younger wrote of this duty in the first century of the Christian era. Would it be too heartless to say that in the presence of so much death and illness we might now be capable of being driven into a new and eerie awareness of what it is like to be alive?

I can envy the vivid, raw consciousness of the man Alexievich quoted, the man who “desperately wanted not to die”, while feeling something desperately hopeless for him too. Perhaps a part of this being alive to dying is being able to hold and carry more than one feeling at once, and especially the contradictory feelings.

This morning Andrea called me to come and look at our second yellow poppy bursting out from her planter box in the back yard. It stands slender on its hairy stalk, its papery petals a shocking splash of colour against its perfect background, a winter sky.

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