Yesterday I had the privilege of spending some time with a friend who was dying. I realize this sounds corny, but it was, for me, a profound experience.
Teetering on the brink of death is a sacred time for the dying person, no matter who they are, and for those who share it, it can be a sacred time too. It is an overwhelming concept that very soon, this human being will cease to exist. It is like distilling a whole life into a pinpoint of consciousness, and then releasing it.
My friend, who died this morning, was in her late 70s and she wasn’t well. She was in pain and her husband had died within the last year. She made a decision to stop eating and she just lay down in her bed and waited.
When I held her hand, I felt her deep despair and sorrow. She was weak, but her desire to die was strong. I was sorry she was leaving this way instead of on the pink cloud described in much of the literature, where people come to terms with death and are ready and accepting, and sort of float out into the tunnel of light with smiles on their faces.
None of the deaths I’ve witnessed have gone that way. They have all been sorrowful, or painful, or in one case, screaming angry.
We’re so tuned to extend our lives – lose weight, exercise, think positive, do yoga – that until you’re directly confronted with it, it’s hard to wrap your head around the fact and finality of physical death. To see a gentle death, to be involved in it, can give spiritual perspective to our view of things. An entire life extinguished.
People who are dying know that although we who remain are sorry and mournful of their passing, that soon we will get over it and they will be dim memories. That’s all that will be left of them. Dim memories, getting dimmer by the day.
Coming to terms with your own death probably means letting go of your concern about being forgotten. My friend who died today had come to those terms. Relatively few people were involved in her last days. She just wanted it to be over.
Courage takes many forms. Usually courage means striking out bravely and accomplishing something, standing in the face of danger. My friend’s courage was the opposite. What she had decided to do was NOT fight for her life, NOT try to stop death, but instead, to let nature take its course without interference.
It was her decision, to stop eating and not sustain herself. She felt she had accomplished everything she wanted to accomplish. She said good-by to her family and friends. She meticulously prepared her records and paperwork. Everything was in order.
We will miss her.