Death Awareness Brings Me to Life

This summer, I’m giving up. I’m giving myself up, that is. Offering myself up. To acknowledging death. To embracing life. I Give Up. 

JenJumpBlog

Photo Credit: 2013 Self-timed photo, Jennifer Mathews ©

When I was training with laughter yoga founder and guru, Dr. Madan Kataria, he told a story of being interviewed about how the idea of laughing for no reason came to him. He shrugged his shoulders, then matter-of-factly pointed at the sky.

“It came from Up,” he said, his Indian accent and eyes emphasizing the last word.

I could feel what he meant. It’s where most inspiration and creativity comes from . . . somewhere beyond our daily routine. Somewhere vast and bigger than we are. It’s also the place from which I prefer to live. To live from Up.

Living and Dying with Passion

Over five years ago in 2009, I wrote my first blog post ever. The website I created at the time was called Optimystic Institute and my initial article was about the unexpected death of my dear friend Guen. Today, June 4th, had been her birthday.

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Photo: Guen Gifford Archives

Back then, my focus wasn’t death and dying. It was inner joy and optimism.

Actually, my focus still IS inner joy and optimism. But my entry point to these topics is now death and grief, rather than the other way around.

I had imagined that my response to our temporary lives had been shaped primarily by my life-partner Kate’s death in December 2011.

Then I reread this article.

My experience of Guen paved the way for my exploration of embracing death as part of life. My experience of Guen prompted many questions I continue to ask and countless conversations I continue to have about how someone’s death can inspire my own life.

These are the roots of “Seeing Death in a Different Light” . . .

What We Owe Those Who Are Dying

When I watched the video trailer for the new book Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul by Stephen Jenkinson (aka Griefwalker), I admit I felt a bit uncomfortable.

Die Wise Video Screen Shot

Photo credit: © Stephen Jenkinson “Die Wise” video trailer

I wasn’t uncomfortable with the topic itself or his bold idea that “it’s a moral obligation to die well.” I was actually quite moved by his courageous and controversial words. In fact, his ideas catalyzed my article Is Wisdom the Essence of Dying Well?

I felt uncomfortable because Thou Must Die Well seemed like a huge demand on someone who is dying.

I wanted to take the focus off of the person who is dying and put the attention onto those of us who care about them. I wanted to say “Wait! What about our obligation as loved ones? How can we ask or expect someone to ‘die well’ or ‘die wise’ if we don’t join them fully?”

But how can we join others in dying well?

Is Becoming Wise the Essence of “Dying Well?”

As the conscious dying movement continues to grow, so do questions about “dying well.” Does the notion of dying well imply that death is yet another thing to accomplish or strive to do perfectly?

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Photo credit: © Stephen Jenkinson “Die Wise” video trailer

Often dying well implies how someone actually dies – peacefully, painfully, aware, medicated, with regrets, ease or struggle.

But Stephen Jenkinson (aka Griefwalker), a well-known Canadian palliative care counselor, takes it a step – perhaps a giant leap – further with his new book Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul.

Upping the ante on an already touchy subject, his states outright that the dying have a moral obligation to die well. “Dying well is a right and a responsibility of everyone,” he writes. “It is a moral, political, and spiritual obligation each person owes their ancestors and their heirs.”

Don’t the dying have enough to deal with already?

But I admit, I’m fascinated with this idea that we humans have an obligation to die well, and more so, to die wise.

Just watching the short video trailer of the book brought many memories and questions to the surface. Both my life-partner Kate and my mom had a similar cancer, and died within a similar number of months after their diagnoses – Kate in twelve weeks, my mom in sixteen.

Yet how they brought their life’s wisdom forward was markedly different. Did either of them die well? Die wise?

The Common Ministry of a Rabbi, Buddhist and Christian Hospice Chaplain

What do a Rabbi, a Buddhist chaplain and former Evangelical Christian have to say about ministering to people who are nearing death? How does each tradition support someone in this state of being?

adult helping senior in hospital

Photo credit: istockphoto.com/kuzma

These were among the questions posed as part of a recent Choosing Options, Honoring Options (COHO) event in Southern Oregon. The spring series is called “Facing Mortality: The Elephant in the Room.”

I attended a discussion about different spiritual traditions’ views on end-of-life issues. The five people on the panel work with palliative care and Hospice patients.

The presentation – which also included a Catholic priest and Presbyterian chaplain – did get into some specifics about God, impermanence, faith, and natural death versus assisted suicide. But those weren’t the pieces that I carried with me.

What I took away was much more simple. It was something all panelists agreed on. Their main common practice wasn’t based on comparative religion and finding overlaps from different spiritual traditions. Their common practice was based on a simple human act: Listening . . .