Holding Hands With the Dying

 

1354 Relax and Succeed - Holding Hands with the DyingWhen I do it, it’s usually for a client. But not that long ago I helped a dear friend die. The way it happened we didn’t have a lot of time, but enough to have a couple really beautiful heart to hearts.

Like many sick people, he liked that I didn’t have a hyper cautious or maudlin way about me. Unlike many, he loved the world the way it was. He wasn’t interested in overextended expressions of sympathy. He was in a state of acceptance and he wanted connection.

Dying is new for each new ego. Having someone there to hold our hands in a particularly profound (even if not physical) sense can make that journey less daunting and more wondrous. Due to preparation, we didn’t have much ‘daunting’ stuff to deal with then, but we did talk about awe, which can feel similar.

I’d met this friend as a student of these classes, so our flow of language was very helpful. We had some terminology for some pretty nebulous things and at that time that really helped. He had always been eager and diligent and he made the most of everything I shared with him. Anyone who knew him considered him a lightning rod for energy and enthusiasm.

He was very kind and generous with his words and he was extremely forgiving as well. By the time he’d died he had the ability to extend all of those qualities to himself too. That too is a beautiful thing. With no history to slay or lost future to hope for, we stayed present and talked about the journey he was on.

Part of that included discussions about potentially embarrassing physical issues and hospital life, but almost all of it was about the wonder of a lifetime and the wonder of death as well.

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We discussed the fact that he didn’t have to worry about dying itself. Death had plenty of experience and it was in charge. Mostly we talked about how marvellous his life –ugliest warts and all– had been. And how exciting the next mysterious step was.

The joy he felt in looking at his life in that non-judgmental way was so incredibly beautiful to behold that it still stirs me deeply. Even his anxious excitement about death felt more like someone breathing deeply before stepping onto a stage for the first time.

It was difficult knowing that so many people in that building were facing a similar fate, and yet so many are often scared and alone –if not in the physical sense, at least in the spiritual sense.

Several times I’ve overheard the loving visitors of other patients struggle so hard with gigantic emotions that they would end up unwittingly saying things that felt as wrong to the speaker as they did to the listener. Presence must be practiced. It’s a form of psychological balance.

If it wasn’t such a personal moment between them I almost wish I could have comforted the dying person afterwards. There were ways to do that and help contextualize the visitor’s innocent mistake.

1354 Relax and Succeed - Everybody wants to go to heaven

Hearing those people struggle makes me look forward to the day when –instead of someone calling me for help with a family member’s death– every family will know how to handle it with grace. That will be a victory for the dying as well.

My friend had a great life and a great death. Although I will say, I think he made one mistake in his clarity. He forgot that the people he left behind don’t live with his enlightened perspective, so his lack of a funeral gave everyone no way to close this chapter of our lives with an event.

I presume he didn’t do that because he was concerned it might be a maudlin gathering he would be asking people to participate in, but in that case he underestimated himself. Because through his influence, I feel quite confident that everyone who knew him would have learned enough from him to forgo grieving his loss in favour of celebrating his existence.

Learn from my friend. Don’t be afraid to die. Live fully instead. And work towards profound and non-judgmental self-love. Because in every moment we achieve it, we are winning at life.

RIP Orest. I love you.

peace, s

Living With Death

His death had rocked her hard. They had just started to talk about what retirement might look like in 10 more years–and then he was gone. I had just started working with her on her self esteem when she asked me to go to the funeral with her that day. She just wanted to feel a bit more solid. She faintly trusted me when I told her that even feelings this bad would eventually pass, like they all do.

His life had been pleasant if not exciting, so there it was at least a funeral where the sentiments expressed at the podium all felt sincere. Her part was made harder by the fact that none of her small family were able to make it over from Europe. She also hadn’t been here long enough to establish the deep sort of friendships that help one through things like this. His friends were great, but in truth she felt largely alone, with me being a strange exception.

When it came time to speak she stood there at the podium and she met her commitments, but she found the whole experience wracked and painful. She was grateful she wasn’t overly religious–the entire process had not taken long. She asked if we could walk. I too felt like being under a big sky. The whole day felt like a hug you never wanted. The feelings were too big for words for a long time, so we drive to the river valley and parked and headed down a trail.

We walked down by a little lake. Finally, she asked what she could do to stop the hurting. I looked at her genuinely confused. I explained that the hurt was the other side of the love. They were inextricable. If she took the pain away then she would have needed a history where she didn’t love her husband. It is possible to be relieved when someone dies, but this was not one of those cases.

I asked why she didn’t want the pain. She thought it was a bizarre question, which I realised from her perspective it would be. She’s just started with me, so she thinks she wants to increase her happiness and decrease her sadness, when what she’s really looking for doesn’t do that. It makes you feel the same way about your happiness as you do about your sadness. Rather than liking the good parts, you value it all.

I explained that she chose an identity of a woman who’d lost her husband and it hurt. I felt that was suitable. If the universe gave you the capacity to experience emotional pain like that, I suggested that the death of a beloved loved one was maybe the most suitable time possible to get that feeling out of your quiver of feelings.

I was sorry the pain was stabbing, but that’s how that feeling operates. Far from living wrong, I thought the pain was a sign of her health. She seemed to be right where one would feel it was appropriate or natural for her to be. When she asked what she was supposed to do with the pain, I told her to feel it; to know it. I told her that the more she understood it, the more valuable she would be to people in similar situations in the future.

I explained that knowing the pain didn’t make it worse, it made her wiser. Crying at the death of a loved one is wise. So is being stoic if that’s how you naturally unfold. The point is, of course there would be a reaction of some kind. Accept that. And know that it won’t last. That it’s just the suitable feelings for the context, just as a raincoat suits rain.

She told me that simply knowing there was no answer had actually taken a layer of suffering away. I explained that what she had removed was the illusory layer of suffering that her mind layered over top of the pain. Now that she had gotten rid of the voluntary stuff, it made it easier to handle the mandatory pain. Plus she felt stronger, which was a nice feeling.

It’s going to take some time for her to go through this. She’ll do it in stages as everyone does. She would need build a new mindset to be a single woman with new challenges. And then one day someone will really need her, and she’ll know just the right thing to say to them and they’ll be so relieved, or maybe grateful. And then she’ll realise that this experience is what taught her the wisdom she shared. Our cracks truly are where our brightest light escapes.

Don’t offer resistance to painful experiences. They pass more quickly with less resistance, and you can learn a great deal by travelling through them. Some are simply awful, and if you’re experiencing one right now I am so sorry and I love you. But you too will get through it, and you too will live to laugh again. But in the meantime, you’re going to be collecting some of the most hard-fought wisdom a person gets in their lifetime. Big hug.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

The Friday Dose #73

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Today’s Dose is about the remarkable, consistent and unconditional love of animals. Our pets love us in such a pure way. They know everything about us and yet if we’re not conscious enough to do anything about it, they still let us get away with fair amounts of neglect and they will still meet us with love.

Today your mental distraction starts with the brilliant mind and eye of a German photographer who specializes in pets, and in particular Dog photos that could be featured in ways that communicate their personalities. Her work is delightful, it’s gorgeous and it’s very likely to make you happy. Ladies and Gentlemen, I bring you Elke Vogelsang and her models:

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Elke Vogelsang Photography

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And after that bit of lightness we will proceed on to an absolutely beautiful film that will has a great lesson for all of us in life. It’ll make you cry in that way we all love doing, where you feel better afterwards–even you tough guys out there. This is a story narrated by Denali, about his life with cancer, and the living he did with his best friend, Ben Moon. I highly recommend it:

Thanks everyone. If anyone’s interested in any more dog material, here’s the link to my last day with my beloved dog Mo: Mo-ments

Have a great weekend everyone. Love who’s present.

peace and love. s

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