Today marks seven weeks since dad passed away. Not a day goes by without him coming to mind for one reason or another.
Over the last two weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to re-tell my ‘dad’ story to two people. Each time I tell of the events that happened, I become animated and engaged in gratifying conversation as the sharing of the story elicits much thoughtful discourse. What does one do and how does one act when one is told that their life is coming to an end? How does it affect the immediate family? What choices does one have to control the way their end-game is played out? Where do we go? Is there a somewhere else, another place, another dimension where the soul goes? Is there a god, a higher power? What is spirit? What happens as death draws near? Physically, emotionally, spiritually? Can one die with dignity, without fear, with absolute peacefulness? What is death like?
I have mulled over these questions frequently in my life and have been known to have a bit of an obsession with the notion of death, a fear not of the actual death (well, maybe a little bit), but more the fear of no longer being on the planet in my current physical form to enjoy the beauty that surrounds me. I love life too much. And that has been the basis of my underlying fear of dying.
Over the last few years, as Bruce and I have continued down our spiritual path, I’ve been working through this and other fears. Through yoga, meditation and attending various ‘healing’ workshops, I’m learning to live more and more in the ‘now’ – to train my mind to be present, in the moment, in the now. Not in the future and not in the past. For when you dwell on things not yet to come or have already past, then you create your own anxiety, your own fears that are likely not based on a true reality of now.
When I get stressed or find myself feeling anxious about something that *might* happen in the future, I sit down, start my deep breathing and ask myself ‘Is everything perfect, right here, right now?’ ‘Am I in danger, right here, right now?’ ‘Is there anything to be afraid of, right here, right now?’. Almost always, the answer is YES, everything is perfect, NO, I’m not in danger NOR need I be afraid. My mind comes back to the present and I inherently TRUST that things are happening for a reason I may not yet understand. And I repeat the mantra as I breathe in and out “Perfect.Now. Perfect. Now.”
This training of the mind to see the divine perfection in everything was certainly put through the test when I got the email telling us that dad had cancer and was terminal. Though we rationally knew the day would come when our parents would die, being faced with its reality is a different kind of feeling.
There was no way out of this one. My dad was going to die soon. I was going to go to the United States on a one-way ticket to be with him and mom. Suddenly all my death-related fears were back in the forefront of my mind. I was going in to face them, with no way out except to go through the fears and to do the best I could with the tools I had.
I would summarize my experience of the last twelve weeks with three simple words: ‘touched by god’. Every single day, some words, some person, or some encounter was delivered to me and to my family to give us what we needed at that moment. My reality unfolded in a way that was perfect and full of grace because I chose to look at it that way.
I’m not trying to paint a rosy picture of my dad’s death. It was sad, hard, and difficult to witness. I cried a lot. There were days I fell apart and didn’t think I could handle another moment. I could have whined, complained, gone on about the unfairness of it all and been consumed by negative emotions – what a waste of time that would have been! It was much better to shift into a space of love, compassion, empathy, and acceptance and to help my dad in the most graceful way I could to finish his time on earth.
We are all going to die. And what I wanted to understand was whether we have a choice in how our deaths are going to go – peaceful and with acceptance, or difficult with struggle and resistance. Conscious dying. It is possible? The resounding answer is YES. We have a choice.
Death is the ultimate rite of passage and is sacredness should be treated as such. We too often let our fears around death or our busy lives get in the way of participating fully in this final life journey of a loved one. I came across this paragraph in a book I was reading on grieving: “ What seems to be most significant in facilitating a good death is a consciousness about the experience, a recognition of the sacredness of the event, a sacredness that does not necessarily refer to a religious dimension. The goal is acceptance and support of this final rite of passage by allowing what is happening, both as one dies and as others participate, to be uppermost in the awareness of everyone involved. Whether what is sought is the ultimate spiritual transformation or the creation of context that simply provides peace and serenity, death and dying become a ceremony in which one is privileged to share despite the attendant grief.”
It was a privilege and an honor to be with my dad during his final days. I learned so much about the physical, emotional, and spiritual realms of death and dying and I want to share them with others who have yet to experience this themselves. I am grateful to several female friends who went through this with their own loved ones and who gave me the encouragement, faith, and tangible knowledge to embark on this journey with my dad with courage, compassion, and love.
Over the upcoming months, I will be writing a “Touched By God” series of blogs (now called “Magic, Mystery, and Mircales”) with the goal of sharing my experience and hopefully eliciting dialog of this most sacred of events: death & dying. For in the discussion of death & dying, we see that it’s also about life & living. I hope you too will be able to be touched by god and bring grace, beauty, and compassion into your daily lives, to live the best you can, and to live well. For we never know how long our time will be on this beautiful earth. Be conscious. Be courageous. Be free.