“You’re Not Gonna Get Outta Here Alive….”

I recently heard a Buddhist nun give a remarkable talk about death and dying.  She began by saying, “All of us know we are going to die… but we live our lives as if we will last forever.”  Then she laughed.  She went on to say that every time she starts a lecture that way there’s a little voice inside of her that says,” Well, maybe I’ll be the exception!”  

I think that most of us have that same little voice inside.  Whether it is hope, unfounded optimism or just plain denial, I think that most of us want to believe that we may get to be that first exception.  But, in case we’re not, maybe we should start to think about some of the things that will help to prepare for that transition.  

First of all, it’s important to discuss our thoughts and wishes about decline and death with our families.  Despite some discomfort associated with raising the topic for discussion, my time as a hospice volunteer has taught me that most people are comforted to learn of a loved one’s hopes, fears and expectations with regard to death.  

However thinking and talking about the end sometimes bring up old hurts and regrets.  I think that is a good thing.  After all, aren’t those the thoughts and feelings that can prompt us to take time, energy and any other resources we need to call upon in order to make amends to those we’ve wronged?  A simple, heartfelt apology for our ‘half’ of a situation can go a long way. 

Some of us are superstitious about death.  Some are afraid.  I believe that part of the salve for that fear is to take some control of the inevitable. And, since guidelines are few and far between, we might all want to take a page from the hospice patients I have met. Though we may not be able to control the ‘how’ or the ‘when’ of our passing we have a right – and, I think, a responsibility—to decide how and where we want to be cared for, and how to be put to rest.   

And, while there are some who are more comfortable continuing to pretend that they will be the exception, there are others who are suggesting that we take time before we pass and stage a celebration of life by having an event or taking cruise or vacation with family and friends.   

I suppose the possibilities are as individual as the rest of our lives.  But even if you’re not ready to gather up the kids and the grandkids for a giant send off, most of us can work toward at least two more goals:  being at peace with our lives and selves and at peace with the notion of impermanence and letting go. 

After all, shouldn’t we really be at least as responsible for our dying as we have been for our living?

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