We spend so much time planning for all sorts of activities in our lives – while we project our lives into the future by planning, hoping, and expecting average daily outcomes, there is one thing that always seems to be left as an afterthought. Death is the one thing that happens to each one of us and no amount of planning can stop it. Focusing on our own death and end-of-life caring only seems to come up when we are actively facing our own mortality or the mortality of our loved ones.
Whether in the guise of a family member or our own reflection, recognizing death and accepting it as a part of life doesn’t make it a necessary evil – it makes it a sacred act. No matter how much money we spend on products to make us look or feel younger, there’s no amount of money in the world that can stop death from coming.
The one thing we do have control over is how we handle it. It’s an extraordinary journey to go from this life to the next and no one knows what it’s like to face death except those who go through it. Just like there’s no right way to grieve, there’s no right way to face death. Instead of regarding it as something to fear, we should turn it around and regard death as something just as sacred as birth.
Dr. Megory Anderson, Founder and Executive Director of the Sacred Dying Foundation in San Francisco, has worked extensively in death and dying. In her organization, she works to bring together spirituality with the physical act of dying by creating ritual and through presence.
She created a guide to help establish a sense of sacred during a dying person’s vigil, which include:
- De-cluttering the bedside area.
- Keeping the focus of conversation on the dying person within their space.
- Not making the emotions all about you. While emotions and feelings of grief are valid, step out of the room when you feel uncomfortable.
- If there’s a family pet, consider letting it be a part of the sacred space and to be with the dying person – especially when they begin to actively die.
- After the loved one has died, there shouldn’t be a rush to call the funeral home. Take some time to be silent and just be in the sacred moment of the passing. Many find this to be a profoundly meaningful and healing time.
A complete list can be found at http://www.sacreddying.org.
Frank Ostaseski, Cofounder of the Zen Hospice Project, Founder of the Metta Institute, a Buddhist teacher, an international lecturer, and a leading voice in contemplative end-of-life care and author of The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully, writes that “dying is at its heart a sacred act; it is itself a time, a space, and process of surrender and transformation. The sacred is not separate or different from all things, but rather hidden in all things. Dying is an opportunity to uncover what is hidden.”
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