A Reflection on Death & Dying
I have been wanting to write this post for a while now; I keep postponing it because the title is too morbid; the subject is taboo; the event is not to be spoken of.
But this year, I am trying to write about things which I think are not popular; the so-called topics which we avoid talking about; which makes us uncomfortable; we want to quickly skim through it to get to the fun contents.
No other topic fills all these shoes other the 'Death' - irreversible, intangible, life-altering.
I totally understand if you do not want to read this blog post.
If you haven't been visited by Death yet on your journey of life , consider yourself blessed to be shielded by this unnerving truth of life; If you have been part of its force, someone close to you has passed on, either recently or ages ago; you understand its brute impact on the people left behind.
Have you heard of the story of Kisa Gauthami, a mom who lived in the age of the Buddha?
She loses her young son, barely 10, and becomes bereft with grief. A village elder asks her to consult the Buddha to bring her son back to life. When she beseeches the Buddha to bring her son back to life, he tells her to get a handful of mustard seeds from any house in the village, which hasn't seen death.
She visits every house only to know Death has placed its foot in each one.
She then understands that death is an integral part of life; each one who has been born will pass on; she understands this fundamental truth of Life and becomes a disciple of the Buddha.
Lovely story, right? Very very challenging to accept this truth, isnt it?
Each year, the months of February & March are particularly difficult for me. My Appa passed away in February a long time ago, when I was 11; my Amma passed away in March, 4 years ago. The world has indeed shifted for me, going through these deaths and coming to terms with them.
I have lived with the shadow of death on my shoulder as long as I can remember.
It has been the biggest teacher in my Life ;
- my day starts with this realization that I am finite and human, flawed and prone to imperfection
- It has taught me to be grateful today, not in a perfect future-time or an unblemished past
- an ordinary, boring, uneventful day is a great Blessing
- everything and everyone I hold dear to me will change
- my actions or Karma is the only thing I carry with me forward
- release expectations; learn detachment in small ways with people & situations
- create a community of like-minded people around
- connect on a deeper level with meaningful discussions of journeys
- make time for silence and inner awareness as a daily practice
Now that I know I am going to die, how then shall I live?
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, one of the pioneers on the study of Death wrote :
"It is not the end of the physical body that should worry us. Rather, our concern must be to live while we are alive - to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a facade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are".
As a community, we need to support each other when our lives shift through major upheavals like death. I remember, when my Amma was going through cancer for 3 years, so-called good friends stopped calling. They didn't want to hear about this painful journey, as though death would find them too, if they were in my vicinity.
Death is beyond all our fears, our limited thinking patterns, it's the great Equalizer.
Instead of these childish behaviors, we could share our pains; create spaces to be where we can speak unedited; Our grief will reduce; change with time ; but,we are changed forever.
Elizabeth also writes "The reality is that You will grieve forever ; you will not get over the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it; You will heal and rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered; You will be whole again, but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to"
Next time, when you might go through grief-filled times, you could:
- Give yourself time to grieve and be kind to yourself
- If a long illness is involved, forgive yourself for any care giving lapses which may have occurred, even given your best efforts
- Be grateful for the time you had together
- It's ok if people see you cry; You are human
- There is no timetable for grief. Each of us grieves in a different manner
Advice for those who surround the bereaved :
- Cut the bereaved person some slack. Grieving takes time and endurance.
- Offer to run errands or do the driving for that person; just grocery shopping would be very helpful
- Listen, even to the silences, of the grieving person
- Don't just say "I'm here for you". Actually be there.
- Resist trying to 'fix' anything; or trying to 'cheer' them up
Perhaps, in sharing my journey, I can relate to your journey better.
We accept Death; but we persevere to make our present Life a great one!