Posts for Category: Death and Dying

Heart Speak

kimjackLast week I was invited to speak about death and dying to a group of young people (all under the age of 35). I had thought that younger people would not have so much experience with old age and death. But I was wrong. Each person who sat in the circle we formed had suffered the loss of a grandparent, parent, sibling, friend or pet. Each of the people had already felt acutely the loss of a loved one from sickness, natural causes or even murder.  One young man who had served as a caregiver to an older man had witnessed the grief of the elder’s son. Later when his own mother died, he said he felt the loss as if his heart had been ripped out. Then he knew how the other had felt such grief.

It is very helpful to listen to younger people tell of their experiences with the dying, of how it feels to lose ones they have loved.  It helps older people to appreciate their own lives and what it means to be a human being, to value communication across generational boundaries where we think the language is different.  I learned that the language of the heart is the same for all ages.

Conversations about Death and Dying

L. Jay Stewart: Icon-Ican 3

L. Jay Stewart

The other day I chatted with two friends.  One mentioned a phenomena that is racing around the country called “Death Cafés.”  The other friend asked, “Oh, is that where you go to kill yourself?”  Then she stopped, looking doubtful and confused. Clarity often arises from a confused, not-knowing state. But in this case my friend scratched her nose and said, “That’s not right.”

Many people are confused about what to do about dying. Should we kill ourselves or let nature take its course? Shall we take our technology or have it withheld? In order to help readers in search of a good death make it through the medical system, the author Katy Butler has written the best selling book, Knocking at Heaven’s Door. She and her mother tried for years without success to get her demented father’s pacemaker turned off.  On the other hand, her mother, when it was her time, refused treatment which had a good chance of extending her life for many more years.  It was hard for Katy to let her go. Her book speaks to many people going through similar dilemmas.

Death Cafes are intended to create a safe and social space for people to gather and talk about death in a relaxed and sharing manner.  Although the name, Death Café, doesn’t really grab me, I like the idea of a salon.  It is an aspect of culture that is arising where people have a dinner or dessert potluck and share conversation about issues that matter. The only thing that slightly concerns me about so much talking about death is the question: Does talking help a person prepare to die? Andrew Holecek, the death authority and author, is teaching workshops to give people all they need to have a graceful exit with both the meditative and practical approach (workshop in Boulder, Colorado Nov. 1-2 as part of Shambhala Mountain Center “City Series”).  As far as death cafes or salons are concerned, perhaps it is a help for people to learn what they need to avoid being hooked to machines.  Also,  many people do need a place to talk about their experiences of caring for loved ones who have died, processing anxieties about diagnoses, and in general discussing the meaning of life.

Now that the country is as Sakyong Mipham says, “…at a crossroads in our history: we can either destroy the world or create a good future,”  a salon could be a good place to nourish and consider.  Perhaps it is a first step of processing toward letting go or toward the deep ”psychic shift” that we all must make: that human goodness is our heritage and the goal is not the grave.

Reintegrating Our Elders

The following  story was submitted by Annie in response to an article which I wrote for the Shambhala Times called “Receiving the Goodness of Our Elders.”

Annie says:

“I remember very vividly one of the greatest transmissions my grandmother gave to me. She was hospitalized and in the process of dying. We were alone in her hospital room, her in bed and me sitting bed-side. The conversation turned to the future, and it hit home that she would not be around much longer – that my future would not have a Grandma Trudy in it in her present form. I choked up and started to stumble through some kind of goodbye, and she turned to me and said quite simply: “Oh, this is your first big goodbye. I will try to show you a good death.” And she held true to her word – approaching her own passing with honesty and humor – allowing herself to feel and struggle and let go in such a dignified and selfless way. Her teaching still touches my heart.

“When we divorce ourselves from our elders, we miss these great teachings. It is my secret hope that with the baby boomers aging, and the lack of social resources, we may find solution in reintegrating our elders into our homes and daily lives and reconnect to our personal lineages.”



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Ann Cason

Ann Cason,
Geriatric Consultant

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