The Guiding Power of Death

Next month I am going to speak about those who die or attempt to die by their own hand and the following month I will speak about those left behind.

What is a “good death”?  It is an experience of resolution, completion, acceptance.  The dying person has some time to digest the news and to act upon it through the interactions with significant others.  There is often a drawing together, making peace, putting things in order.  Other people have the opportunity to say what is needed to be said, and do what is needed to be done.

When a death is untimely, through suicide or accident or sudden catastrophic illness, no one has time to say good bye.  There is no common understanding of what is occurring, no time for resolution.  Those left behind must deal with the actual event and the meaning of it without the person who has died.  It touches the core fear in all of us about our own time limitation in this life and we face it alone.  We lean on cultural rituals to support us through this time.

I have attended 2 deaths and one birth.  To me, they were exactly the same – except that my emotional responses to them were opposite.  But in all 3 situations I witnessed people “going through the veils” of consciousness; 2 away, 1 towards Life.  Both are experiences of ultimate singularity.  As I sat with my dying Beloved, I told him “I will walk with you to the door but only you will walk through the door.”

As younger people, we live in denial of death. It is something very vague and far away that does not concern us.  When a peer dies it shakes young people to the core.  It does not feel right.  It is an anomaly and we shrink quickly away from it.

As we age, we begin to consider the boundaries of this life.  As a friend recently decided, after 60 do only what you want to do.  Forget all the senseless social obligations.  We no longer have time to worry about what other people think.

I often say I don’t know what happens after we die: I have not gotten a post card from the other side to tell me.  We all have our theories.  We will not know until we go through the doorway.  I do take comfort in something a very wise man once remarked, “Don’t worry about death.  It is perfectly safe.”