“In the end, the marginal status our culture assigns to the end of life, with all its fear, anxiety, isolation and anger is inevitably what each of us will inherit in our dying days if we don’t help change this unfortunate paradigm.”
For many healing and helping professionals, death is the enemy. That doesn’t come as much of a surprise really. Everything in our training, as well as everything in our culture, underscores that mindset. But this principle can actually be counterproductive more often than we realize. I am of the mind that if we encounter our mortality in an upfront way, we will be able to demonstrate genuine compassion to our patients and clients as they face theirs.
Here are some things we might want to consider if encountering mortality is our goal:
- Death isn’t only a universal biological fact of life, it’s also a necessary part of being human. Everything that we value about life and living — its novelties, challenges, opportunities for development — would be impossible without death as the defining boundary of our lives.
- While it may be easier to accept death in the abstract, it’s often more difficult to accept the specifics of our own death. Why must I die like this, with this disfigurement, this pain? Why must I die so young? Why must I die before completing my life’s work or before providing adequately for the ones I love?
- Living a good death begins the moment we accept our mortality as part of who we are. We’ve had to integrate other aspects of ourselves into our daily lives – our gender, racial background, and cultural heritage, to name a few. Why not our mortality? Putting death in its proper perspective will help us appreciate life in a new way. Facing our mortality allows us to achieve a greater sense of balance and purpose in our life as well.
- Dying can be a time of extraordinary alertness, concentration, and emotional intensity. It’s possible to use the natural intensity and emotion of this final season of life to make it the culminating stage of our personal growth. Imagine if we could help our sick, elder, and dying clients and patients tap into this intensity. Imagine if we had this kind of confidence about our own mortality.
We healing and helping professionals can actually help pioneer new standards of a good death that our patients and clients can emulate. We are in a unique position to help the rest of society desensitize death and dying. And most importantly, we would be able to support our patients and clients, as well as those they love, as they prepare for death. We could even join them as they begin their anticipatory grieving process.
If we face our mortality head-on we will understand how difficult it is for our sick, elder, and dying patients and clients. We will be more sensitive to their striving to regain lost dignity by actively involving themselves in the practical preparations for their own death. If we can project ourselves to the end of our lives we will better understand our patients and clients as they try to negotiate pain management, choose the appropriate care for the final stages of their dying, put their affairs in order, prepare rituals of transition, as well as learn how to say goodbye and impart blessings.
Facing our mortality may even allow us to help our patients and clients learn to heed the promptings of their mind and body, allowing you to move from a struggle against dying to one of acceptance and acquiescence.
In the end, the marginal status our culture assigns to the end of life, with all its fear, anxiety, isolation and anger is inevitably what each of us will inherit in our dying days if we don’t help change this unfortunate paradigm.