There is no question that most people in our society are far from comfortable with the idea of death. In fact most of us avoid thinking or talking about the subject (particularly our own death) as if it won't happen if we stay in denial. As an example, when I told one woman that I work in hospice she remarked, "How depressing that you actually have to tell people that," as she walked away and never spoke to me again.
But one thing (among many) that spending time with dying patients has taught me is to be comfortable with Death. After sitting with many patients through their own journeys to the end-of-life, I no longer fear my own dying. Instead, I view it as the next adventure, with much to explore and learn from. In contrast to most of our society, I think about Death every day and find I am curious about stories, articles, music, and art that deal with the end-of-life.
So I would like to introduce you to my friend Death, known by some as the Grim Reaper or Thanatos. Death is not nearly as frightening or sad as you may have heard, but you'll have to trust me on that until you get to know Death more intimately for yourself. I encourage you to strike up a friendship of your own, perhaps by volunteering at a hospice or nursing home. If you're not sure this is a good idea, here are five reasons to get comfortable with Death:
1. It's going to happen no matter what you do.
Yes, Death is inevitable and it will visit you whether you prepare for it or not. The most irrational aspect of our societal denial of Death is the overwhelming evidence that it exists and cannot possibly be avoided. So rather than waste your energy trying to pretend you'll never die, take a deep breath and step into the real world of mortality. You'll find it's not so bad here.
2. Death is an essential part of Life on Earth.
Spend a little time studying nature and you will soon recognize that Death is a key component of all living things. No tree, flower, blade of grass or tiny insect could exist without the nutrients obtained from the Death of another living thing. The cycle of Life was created to include both Birth and Death and it's a beautiful thing when you stop to think about it. Death is all around us, all the time, enabling Life to occur and persist. Death is truly Life's best friend.
3. Death is Universal.
No matter what issues divide us from other people here in our country and around the globe--race, religion, beliefs, economic status, culture, lifestyle--there are two threads that ultimately bind us together with every single being on the planet: each of has been born and each of us will die. This is a profound reality: Death is the one thing we have in common with absolutely every other human being. We all face that ultimate outcome and we all struggle in our own ways with that reality. Here is the impetus for compassion for all others: regardless of our differences we share the sting of mortality. I believe it is a pathway toward peace and understanding for all mankind to share our common pain and fear of Death, learn from one another, and let Death connect us as human beings.
4. Death brings an end to suffering.
I have worked with many elderly folks, my own mother included, who confessed that they were waiting patiently for Death to come. After many years of living a good life they were feeling tired and their deteriorating physical bodies, which had carried them through so many adventures and difficulties, were now the source of suffering. When life becomes too painful to bear, Death is a friend that mercifully brings an end to the agony. Knowing that Death will, without fail, come to bring us home is a source of comfort for those in the midst of great pain.
5. Death makes each moment precious.
When we recognize that life is limited and will one day end, we can utilize this knowledge to bring deeper meaning to every moment. We learn to savor each experience of life because it may not come our way again. Death points us toward living life as fully as possible, while honoring what really matters, like Love and Forgiveness. "Life is fleeting," Death whispers to us, "waste not one breath."
So no matter what your current situation is, stop for one moment and consider the fragility of your own life. Can you make room for Death to enter your thoughts every now and then? Can you get comfortable with the idea of Death as part of your life? You have much to gain from getting comfortable with Death ... the best friend that will never desert you.
If you'd like to learn more about all aspects of the end-of-life consider signing up for End-of-Life University, a free online series of educational interviews.
About the Author:
Dr. Karen Wyatt is a hospice and family physician and the author of the award-winning book "What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying." She is a frequent keynote speaker and radio show guest whose profound teachings have helped many find their way through the difficult times of life. Learn more about her work at www.karenwyattmd.com.