We know we are going to die, yet most us act like it is something that will pass by us and our loved ones. And when the death visits us we are unprepared for it. The shock is terrible, the grief is insurmountable and we get stuck in that time frame of eternal sorrow. Nevertheless, acknowledging death is crucial to living a meaningful life.
The Hindu religion has Yama, the god of death. He is also known as the god of justice. There is an interesting story of Nachiketa a young boy and Yama and how he learned the truth about our existence: that after death it is the Soul that remains; the Soul is immortal.
Fear Of Death
How I wish there is more openness about talking about dying and actual death. It is important to prepare ourselves and our family for this eventuality.
As a kid, I knew my mother was sick but that she was dying was divulged in such an insensitive manner. My father just revealed the devastating news that my mother was going to die and that we would have to cook and take care of ourselves. Like my father had no responsibility. I immediately began bed-wetting.
Recently, I came across a wonderful site Death Cafe. Their concept is simple to drink tea, eat cake and discuss death. The aim is to increase awareness of death and to help people make the most of their (finite) lives. According to the facilitator, Dr. Jackie Yaeger, palliative care physician “People are hungry to talk about their experience with friends and family dying and their own fears about dying, It’s healthy to talk about it. We can approach dying in a way to give it the reverence it deserves.”
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross a Swiss-American psychiatrist, and the author of the groundbreaking book On Death and Dying, was one of the first medical doctors to address the process of dying. She noticed how terminal patients were basically ignored in hospitals – as though dying was something to be ashamed of.
She began visiting patients, sitting with them as they talked, listening to their needs and their stories, finding that there is so much they wanted to talk about – not just their health but the bigger issues about life. It was through these discussions she posited her theory of the five stages of grief. A progression of emotional states experienced by both terminally ill patients after diagnosis and by loved-ones after a death. The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
How much knowledge and wisdom we miss when we don’t talk openly about dying. Not discussing death and dying leaves so much unsaid and unexpressed. Questions unanswered, secrets forever hidden, feelings suppressed. I know my mother was not very expressive with words. Even though I don’t remember her saying she loved me, I had no doubt that she loved me dearly.
Looking back now, my grief about my mother’s death was also the fact that she never openly discussed important issues. I wish she did talk to me about her not going to be there. How we missed the opportunity to talk about the really meaningful things, the questions and doubts. Now, I can only guess what was in her heart.
Knowing The Real Truth
How I wish I had a chance to really talk with my mother. If only she had shared her life story – talked about her dreams, her work, her friends. What about my birth about the sister who was stillborn. How were her growing up years, her home life? What were her feelings when she was first given the diagnosis of cancer when both her breasts were removed and when her uterus was removed. And then, finally, being told that she was going to die.
I know that she did not talk about dying in order to protect us. That 11years was too young. Nonetheless, she did speak to the adults around her. I remember my favorite Aunt Alice who was more open about things telling me that she asked my father “What about my children?” And my father answered that we were his kids too. I know she told her sister and her mother and friend to keep an eye. But alas, promises to the dying are not held sacred. If only she had known this, maybe, just maybe she would have tried to live.
Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross on Oprah Winfrey Show
Death Is Forever
However, I have tried not to repeat this mistake with my son, Always telling him how much I love him, not just expect him to know by my actions. We talk about dying and what he should do in case anything were to happen to me. The lines of communication are always open between us. No question is taboo. You don’t know when death will come knocking, you can only be prepared.
One of Kubler’s touching quotes: The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not “get over” the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.
Without a doubt, the death of a loved one changes our lives forever. My mother’s death was traumatic but the after effects were devastating. Healing has been slow. Being a mother has gradually eased the pain of losing my mother. Every interaction with my son slowly heals the loss of her absence – the realization that she continues to live through my actions. She is my child’s mother too.
The Tibetan Book Of Living And Dying by Soygal Rinpoche