If you want your life to stay exactly the same, don’t fall in love. If you want to be unaffected by the loss of anything or the death of anyone, don’t fall in love.
Or if you want to put off what makes you come alive or to sidestep your purpose, don’t fall in love.
Making sure you don’t fall passionately in love is simple: Guard your heart against all that Death stirs up inside of you.
Act as if you will live forever in this physical body, and so will everyone you know. Get on with business as usual when someone you love is dying. Don’t let the temporary nature of anything impact your daily routine, the decisions you make, or your future plans.
But if you are willing to live differently – to have certainty without having answers, to follow unexpected twists and turns, to be deeply moved and satisfied, to grow and give and receive and surrender – then here’s what I suggest for you:
Call upon death to be like Cupid, shooting an arrow of passion into the heart of what matters to you. Invite death to be the matchmaker between you and what brings you joy.
Then accept the real Kiss of Death: Allow death to escort you on the mysterious adventure of falling in love with life.
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.
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” . . .
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.
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?
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?
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?
I tend to be a chatty person. And I’ve been known to ramble on now and again (and again and again). When my life-parter Kate had cancer and I was her primary caregiver, I became extra aware of these tendencies. I didn’t want to deplete her energy by talking too much or being too animated.
Photo credit: istockphoto.com/g-stockstudio
So I started talking much less when Kate and I spent time alone together. I also talked in a more relaxed tone, even when I was overwhelmed or in a hurry. She never asked me to be more aware in these ways. But I knew it was supportive. And I could tell she was grateful.
At the same time, I watched Kate be as engaged as ever with friends. She was someone who made you feel like you were the only one who mattered, that she was genuinely interested in you and your life. And she was! Even as her body’s symptoms worsened with her cancer, she would inquire about others’ lives and encourage them to share.
But after her visits, she would often say it had been a bit too much for her. She wanted the deep connection, but her energy would also feel drained. Kate preferred, of course, to interact in the same ways she did when her body was totally healthy. I imagine it helped her feel “normal” and not focused on her physical decline.
Ironically, Kate was the one encouraging friends to talk. Yet she didn’t enjoy feeling wiped out later. What are some ways to shift this predicament?