Maybe it’s because I work in hospice that I find the season of Lent to be a beautiful time to not just reflect on Jesus’ death but to contemplate and plan for our own. We start this season each year by hearing the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return”. While some may find this depressing or morbid, I find it to be reassuring as is for me the image of death as a single drop rejoining the vast ocean. My work with individuals crossing from this life to next has brought me to see the death experience as simply love returning to LOVE.
But my work as grief counselor has also shown me that how we prepare for death matters profoundly to those who will remain behind. Time and time again I see a difference in the bereaved between those whose loved ones were able to embrace their mortality and took the time to plan well for their death vs. those who never could or would. It’s not that the sadness or grief is any less for those in the first group; it is that along with the grief comes a peace in knowing what mattered most to their loved one and what their wishes were as death approached.
It seems that our society is finally starting to embrace that fact that we are mortal, which given the fact that the mortality rate for humans still holds at 100% is a good thing! Thankfully today there is no shortage of books exploring how to age well and die well, topics that for too long have been left unexplored. There are also movements such as Death Cafes or Death Over Dinner Groups that open space for individuals to explore their fears, questions, or experiences with others without judgement or an agenda.
It is a passion of mine to hold space for others as they contemplate and articulate what matters most to them when it comes to the aging and dying process. But even more than that, my passion is about helping others befriend their death in order to live life more fully and freely no matter the number of days or years that lay ahead. As Henri Nouwen writes in The Dance of Life, “Befriending death seems to be the basis of all other forms of befriending. I have a deep sense, hard to articulate, that if we could really befriend death we would be free people. So many of our doubts and hesitations, ambivalences, and insecurities are bound up with our deep-seated fear of death that our lives would be significantly different if we could relate to death as a familiar guest instead of a threatening stranger.”
If these words resonate or spark an interest with you, I invite you to consider joining me at Loyola to break open the book, Being Mortal by Atul Gwande. Look for information to come regarding this upcoming offering in May.