In our culture there is a serious aversion to openly conversing with one another about the topic of death. We are afraid that talking about the subject will offend, depress or make us or someone else uncomfortable. Why is this? The mortality rate is 100% and the death experience is universal to all on our planet. In some cultures death is more openly discussed and accepted. For instance, in India the Hindus view death as a natural cycle of life, people traditionally die at home. In Tibet, death is not something which one should not fear. Buddhists in Tibet believe in preparing for one’s own death. A Buddhist for instance would be encouraged to visit a graveyard as a way of facing his or her own mortality.
Our uncomfortableness can be often noticed in the verbiages we use to describe death. Words like, “passed away”, “lost”, “transitioned”are such words. Saying and hearing the word “death” hurts sometimes as we are reminded of our own deep levels of grieving when we lose a loved one. Sometimes the use of softer words may be necessary to prevent hurt feelings.
As I have been marketing my book Soul Service: A Hospice Guide to the Emotional andSpiritual Care for the Dying (BalboaPress, 2013). www.soulservice.info I have had the opportunity to experience firsthand the resistance to present the topics of hospice, end-of-life care and advanced directives to some audiences. In one e-mail received from a large senior active adult community I was told that “While I think your book/presentation would be very informative, I will have to pass (for the same reasons I declined to have the local funeral home give a presentation). I am sure you can understand.” Fortunately this has not been the case with all presentations and most have been receptive to the topic in general.
This aversion to topics relating to death can be felt in our medical and nursing schools. Here students are trained to save lives and view the death of a patient as a failure instead of the natural outcome to the end-of- life. The coursework on topics such as emotional and spiritual care to the terminal patient are not encouraged and rarely offered even as an elective.If our society would become more open to promoting these discussions in our medical training facilities, it would be a huge step in normalizing what we have come to fear and avoid. Churches, schools and employers could also support more openly addressing topics of how to handle the death of a loved one and grief.
Helpful in lessoning the fear surrounding the topic of dying have been some books that have dealt directly with the interesting possibility of the consciousness surviving the death of the body. I have read many of these fascinating stories that would seem to support the survival of the spirit from those who have returned following a near death experience.Anita Moorjani wrote an excellent book called Dying to be Me ( Hay House, 2012) in which she addresses how her Hong Kong cultures fear of cancer helped feed into her own fear of illness and death. After she developed cancer and then returned from the near death experience on the other side, she was cured of all cancer in her body. Anita felt the peace and love of the universe and is now lecturing around the world with her message of hope, which amounts to, do not live in fear and be who you really were meant to be while here on Earth.
In a recent article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, it reveals how Mark LaRocca-Pitts, a chaplain for Crossroads Hospice, put together a monthly gathering called Death Café. Here in between coffee and cake people talk openly about mortality-related subjects.The object of these meetings is to help people come to terms with their fears surrounding death so that they might live their lives more fully. There is a lot of laughter involved in these deep discussions of euthanasia, life after death and how not to be a burden to your family. One participant spoke of her whole family becoming involved in writing her obituary and how much fun it turned out to be. This group was based on the concepts of founder John Underwood of England. To start an official Death Café and use its logo, you must adhere to four principles: It must be a nonprofit. There should be no intent of leading the participants to any particular conclusion, product or action. The Death Café should be held in a confidential space free of any discrimination. There must be refreshments served.
Sometimes we must stare into the face of our human existence and call it what it is, a time-limited physical and spiritual experience, one that physically terminates with the ceasing of bodily functions ,but where consciousness may continue. The more we can normalize our Earthly existence and come to eradicate the fear of death,the more likely we can live a joy filled life and hopefully create a peaceful exit for ourselves and loved ones.