[A special dedication honoring the life and transition of Jamilah Nation]
We all experience death and loss at some point in our lives. However, death should not be the first time we consider the meaning of our own lives, nor should we avoid talking about death as part of the meaning of life.
Grief throws us into a sea of emotions, and for some these are emotions that are not typically allowed or explored. The emotions that come through grief are part of a documented process by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and are termed the Stages of Grief. Initially, there were five stages but some years later two more were added on. They are Shock, Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining, Guilt, Acceptance/Hope. They do not occur in any order nor do they neatly pass and never return. Many times as a matter of fact, one may return to a stage several times during their process. For example, a husband who loses a wife of 50 years may come move through the all of the stages to acceptance and then on their wedding anniversary cycle back to depression or even anger that she is not still with him.
Why do we avoid talking about death and dying? The most obvious answer is fear.
But fear of what? Our own mortality? Losing a close loved one? Often the fear is surrounding experiencing the feelings associated with loss rather than actual loss itself.
Of course, people may fear losing someone close, but the reason they don’t talk about death and dying is the fear of the feelings that come when even thinking about it. Some may even fear the simple act of "putting it out there" is bad luck, and therefore never address necessary issues surrounding planning for their own or a loved one’s death. IN addition, because of the common fear of sickness and dying many people do not talk about their desires should they become incapacitated to make their own medical decisions. This is very important issue, because without this information, the loved ones own wishes may be ignored or not known, and very difficult decisions are placed in the family’s hands.
How can we bravely but gently address the issues of sickness, death and dying?
It begins with self-evaluation. What are our own feelings, thoughts and fears about death? Ask yourself this question: What do I fear about death? Is it the unknown that follows, the humiliation of giving up control, loss of bodily functions, separation from family and friends, the pain? To face your own fears about death will ultimately help to alleviate your loved ones’ fears of your transition as well.
How can we plan appropriately for sickness and death? We can never know the future, but discussing with our family and loved ones our wishes for ourselves should be become terminally ill, incapacitated to make decisions, or should we transition will help your family to know what to do in these times so that they will have the least amount of stress during an already challenging time of grief. Here are a few things to discuss and do to prepare for transition:Have a living will. Also called advanced directives, this will let your family and the doctors know your wishes to either be kept alive, revived, or disconnected should you become very ill and unable to make your own medical decisions Know how you want to be released. Do you want to be cremated or buried? Do you prefer funeral services in a church, do you want celebration of your life or just mourning? It sounds pretentious maybe, but it’s important for your family to know how you want to be remembered. Consider life insurance. Again, this may sound pretentious, but the money that comes from life insurance often can help cover the bills that are left behind from funeral services, hospital bills, and miscellaneous items that you may have not had the opportunity to pay off during your lifetime. At least a million dollar policy is custom to help the family and leave a bit of breathing room for your loved ones. Life insurance policies are usually not expensive (even the $1,000,000 policies and especially if you are generally healthy when you purchase it). Don’t wait until the end to get a life insurance policy, likely you will be denied. Do not take out a life insurance policy on your loved one without their knowledge! That just screams motive for murder (yes, I know that’s skeptical, but it has to be said). If you want to be buried, consider buying a plot of land and a casket in advance. Believe me this saves the family a lot of financial and emotional strain when that time comes. If you want to be cremated, pick an Earn, and leave your desired spot for release. This will help your family with closure. If you become terminally ill, consider hospice. The challenge of caring for dying relative is not easy and many times hospice can help take some of the stress off while making you or your loved one very comfortable in their last days so that you and the family can focus on just enjoying and loving each other.
Finally, why does facing our fears about and planning for death matter so much in life…and what does it have to do with our wellness in the present? Chances are if you avoid the discussion death because you fear the unknown, it is quite possible that this is the way you approach life as well…with fear and avoidance. To face death consciously, we must also face life consciously, embracing our fears and monsters!
Ask yourself this question: What am I doing to find meaning in my life today? Here are some questions to meditate on as you go about discovering meaning in your life.Do I regularly contemplate and re-examine my values and priorities? Do I listen to my own inner guidance in day to day living? Do I allocate time work on my visions and aspirations? Am I aware of my character strengths and regularly use them in my daily life? Do I focus my awareness on the present moment rather than becoming stuck in the past of the future? Do I regularly acknowledge the things and people in my life that I am grateful for? Do I find ways to perform kind acts and acts of services to others on a regular basis? Do I look forward to opportunities for personal growth?
Life is a cycle. Death is part of that cycle. Appreciate and live every moment. Tell the people you care about how much they mean to you. Take time for the lighter things in life, but do not be afraid to confront the heavy subjects like depression, terminal illness, and death. This is how we achieve healthy balance, and ultimately the highest well-being.
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Image credit: Justasurferdude | CC0 Public Domain