Contemplative Practices and Conscious Dying V:  Unitive Practices

“Well. . . if you were my wife,” my young doctor began to answer my question.  Faced with a challenging decision, I had asked, “If you were me, what would you choose?”  But he was not able even to imagine being me; the closest he could approximate was envisioning his wife as me. This is not unusual.  Throughout my journey with chronic, serious illness I have had countless experiences of feeling just how different the people around me – doctors, nurses, friends, family members – may perceive themselves to be from me. And my guess is that each of us […]

Contemplative Practices and Conscious Dying IV:  Purgative Practices

  My second journey with death, the one that was precipitated by the birth of my second child, was drastically different from my first encounter with dying. If that initial meeting with death contained many experiences that felt like visiting Heaven, this journey closely resembled nightmares of Hell.  Illuminative Practices and the states of consciousness they touched upon were not often available to me.  Rather, I consistently felt mired in emotional, psychological, and physical pain that seemed to demand most of my awareness most of the time. The grief I felt at the thought of leaving my newborn child and […]

Contemplative Practices and Conscious Dying III:  Illuminative Practices

After my first heart surgery, through which doctors and nurses temporarily halted the advance of my condition and prolonged my life, I discovered that I did not want to leave the hospital; in fact, as I gradually became well enough to be sent home, I found myself very fearful of departing.  It was not the physical space of the hospital that I did not want to leave; rather, it was the place of in between, where I could be both in this world and journey to that elsewhere I visited so often from my hospital bed.  I frequently had encountered […]

Contemplative Practices and Conscious Dying II:  Practicing for Death

  Dualities in Dying As I began to gather resources to help me learn how to die, I quickly became aware of the predominant language used to discuss protracted deaths; people talked and wrote about “peaceful” deaths and “good” deaths and “dying well”.  And none of these phrases felt good to me; indeed, none felt life giving.   Where there is a good, there is a bad; when something can be done well, it can also be done poorly; peaceful exists in contrast to violent.  More boundaries.  More division.  More duality. I immediately knew that there were right ways to do […]

Contemplative Practices and Conscious Dying I:  Views from my Deathbeds

Erasing the Lines “When I was dying.”   “While I am dying.” “The next time I will be dying.” These are phrases I say quite often.  Indeed, this is the only way I refer to my first death journey seventeen years ago, the two other death journeys I have experienced since that one, and those I have not yet encountered.   And every time I use such phrases I see looks of confusion on the faces of those around me.  They may be wondering, “How could she have been dying and be here now?”  Perhaps they would prefer for me to […]

Sexual Abuse, Forest Fires, Hurricanes:  Grieving our Collective Losses

    Losses of Biblical Proportions Biblical proportions. “Of or pertaining to a natural disaster or other cataclysmic event so immense that it brings to mind biblical accounts of horrific catastrophes.” (yourdictionary.com)           Earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, fires. “By extension, of or pertaining to a thing or occurrence having vast size, extent, or consequences.”  (yourdictionary.com) The slaughter of dozens and the harming of hundreds at a music concert.  The sexual abuse and harassment experienced by countless people throughout our globe.       When disasters are so large that our minds have trouble comprehending them, we often say that they are of “biblical […]

Good People Earn Easy Deaths – Dying in a Culture of Meritocracy

“Why would God do this to me?”  My elderly hospice patient greeted me with this question as I walked into her sunny room one spring afternoon.  She repeated these same words to me several times during each of my weekly visits.  I do not think she expected an answer from me, because she always continued on with her reasoning:  “I worked for the church my entire life, and this is what I get?  Everything hurts.  I am all alone.  I cannot believe that God would repay me in this way.”  I gently stroked her wrinkled hand and tried to comfort […]

Becoming Experts at Dying: Death in a Culture of Mastery

  “This thing I am doing — this is really hard; I’m afraid I’m not good at it” my friend said as she looked up at me from her bed.  Just two weeks earlier, a fall in an airport led to a visit to the Emergency Room, a diagnosis with end-stage cancer, and quickly to this room in a nursing facility.  Death was not a new experience for her.  Decades as a minister had given her the opportunity to contemplate death, to preach about death, and to sit exactly where I was sitting:  at the bedside of a dying friend. […]

Sit, Be Quiet:  How to Support the Dying

“I haven’t called you, because I just don’t know what to say.”  My (former) husband had finally caught up with his relative, who admitted that he had been avoiding calls and requests for support.  “I have never been in your situation.  Your wife is dying.  I don’t know what that’s like, so how could I know how to help you?” the young person asked. I had just been diagnosed with a terminal condition, and I was quickly learning how challenging it was to find people who could help me.  Not with medical assistance, although that was challenging as well.  What […]

Romeo, Juliet, and the Death of Young Love: What Two Star-Crossed Lovers Can Teach Us About Life’s “Little Deaths”

“Romeo and Juliet had to die; do you understand that?” My friends and I, sitting in our Ninth Grade Honor’s English class, were flabbergasted when we heard Mrs. Feldhausen say this.  We drew in our breath in surprise and began to argue with her: “No, they didn’t!  It was just a series of really foolish mistakes that led them to die.” “Nothing had to happen; it’s a story.” “Shakespeare could have written the story however he wanted.” Our teacher patiently listened to each of our objections; and, when we had quieted down, she began to speak. “The love that is […]