Getting to Know You (Thoughts About Death and Dying)

Death is the great universal in all our lives. We are all going to die. How will we do it? A deep search for ultimate meaning will touch a large number.
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Many of you have written to me asking for my thoughts precisely about this. Of course, Death is the great universal in all our lives. We are all going to die. How will we do it? Some of us will simply go to sleep -- and stay there. Others may contemplate a form of suicide. Still others will discover fresh energy at the end of life, marrying or entering into a new kind of relationship. A deep search for ultimate meaning will touch a large number. When do we particularly contemplate Death? When we're seated in our doctor's office awaiting our medical checkup. Or driving our car on the freeway. Or quietly talking about it with a close friend late at night during a quiet conversation.

Some of us will focus on Death as we write a particular letter to an old friend who is ill. Actually Death will give some people a brand new energy in planning a meeting or writing a book or undertaking any number of new projects. A large number of men and women who realize they are "growing older" will seek to move into such unknown territory as "Death" in the close company of friends who are also contemplating this unknown.

In my own case, I've shared genuine and often deeply moving goodbyes with a number of friends approaching Death. One woman told me: "I haven't really said goodbye to my father who passed away last month." One of my best friends over many years realized not long ago that he had moved into a dying mode of his own life. He sent me an airplane ticket and invited me to spend a week at his home with his family. I had long admired his incredible personal courage in dealing remarkably well with exigencies of illness and departure. I must say he had just about the finest sense of humor I ever encountered in another human being. During my visit we had a few discussions-in-depth about our old acquaintance Death, but mostly we shared quiet times of meditation and, perhaps most tellingly, moments of silence. We grew closer in what we could share without actually having to talk about it. At the end of a week I said goodbye and returned home. Shortly thereafter I was notified of his passing. Gratefully I feel that he remains close.

Intimate conversations about Death constitute a kind of networking or personal communication. It's like pulling pieces of a life together. For many, it's a prayer. Isn't it also suggestive of a classic song "Getting to know you"? With some people I've shared intimate conversations about Death. "I discover you over and over again in nature." "With you I'll have no reservations, no maps."

The concept of "small deaths" is helpful to many people. One might sum it up this way: "I'm not ready to die. I've got some serious work to do first. The truth is, I need to die some deaths. Do some homework. Get ready. Death can seem like our worst fear, but the real issue is dealing with self." In other words, if I live llighter, maybe I can die lighter.What this means is letting go of anger, envy, inner conflicts, perfectionism, isolation and control.

Finally, we can get ready to think and talk about "the other side," our own intuitions of what might be beyond Death. How it might seem and feel. Ourselves as survivors, fellow travelers on our dark-and-light journey. Perhaps we think about the classic childhood prayer "Now I lay me down to sleep... If I should die before I wake.' We can read Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman on Death. Maybe we will wish to slowly start our own extraordinary journey "on the other side." So, each of us can have a journey. Have we come closer to Death than before? Maybe we have managed to help someone else find a deeper relationship with some kind of future experience. Have we managed to help someone else overcome some residual anger or fear? Or have a stronger hold on life? Or maybe feel readier for a personal death that perhaps does not feel too far away?

Maybe we can make a friend of Death instead of an enemy.

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