How can I know about dying and how I want to live my journey if I don’t open myself up fully to the experience?
As I watched my sister-in-law this past summer and now my good friend go through the deaths of their mothers, as I hold their hands, share my wisdom and cry tears of loss and gut wrenching life lessons, I reflect upon what I know. I try to give comfort throughout their suffering by sharing what I have learned. This I know for sure, the most powerful life lessons are to be learned from dying.
We live in a society that denies death and shuns dying. Death is akin to weakness. “She’ll fight it!” “He never gave up!” These are our hope and fear-filled battle cries. There is nothing wrong with that. However, we rarely offer praise like, “She accepted it with grace.” “He embraced his journey.” Only those who have been through it know the value of this acceptance and the power of each individual’s personal journey toward death. We tend to forget, that while there is dying there is still living and that even the end of life – especially the end – deserves to be lived. These remaining moments deserve to be honoured with laughter, love, grace and understanding, immersing ourselves fully in those final years or months or days. Because this I know; one day that will be me. So, despite the excruciating heartbreak the death of a loved one brings, how can I know about dying and how I want to live my journey if I don’t open myself up fully to the experience?
While there is dying there is still living.
We don’t see images of the old or the infirm and when we do they scare the sh*t out of us. We feel pity and we feel fear. We reinforce the power of youth and strength in nearly everything we do all the while missing out on what I have come to learn is one of life’s most beautiful and enlightening experiences – the journey to death. My mother’s journey was a physical fight to stay alive but an emotional journey of love and grace. Early on she accepted that what will be, will be and from that point on our family experienced the most intense love and connection I have ever known. My mother was the hub, always, but during the year of her dying everything else in our lives fell away. With a peaceful acceptance we all came together with the sole purpose of supporting her journey. She gave us the greatest gift, her surrender to fate, and in turn we gave her our unconditional love and support until the end.
This is not to say that we didn’t experience heartbreaking feelings of loss and fear during this time. I know I did. I shed many a tear and regularly asked “why us?” But what I saw in my mom was a strength no one talks about. The strength of acceptance. The will to fight physically paired with the grace to live those final months in a way that is not wrought with fear and anger and denial but immersed in love and a sense of peace. This takes the greatest strength of all.
She gave us the greatest gift, her surrender to fate, and in turn we gave her our unconditional love and support until the end.
This is how I hope my journey goes. I hope I can provide comfort and love to those around me while opening myself up to the same in return. I hope that fear and anger will not be my rulers but that grace and peace will follow me to the end. The year of my mother’s dying was full of life lessons. I learned more about myself, my strength and compassion and values, during those months then I had in all the years that came before. I felt an intensity of love I would never have known had I not opened myself up to this experience and had my mother not allowed us to do so through her commitment to live fully while dying.
I see the pain and fracture caused by fear and denial. I see the ends of peoples’ lives being wrought with it and families being burdened by it. But the truth is that the end is still the same. We will all die. It is how we do it that is the legacy we create for those we leave behind.