Most of us go through life compartmentalizing our own death. We neatly tuck it away and choose to believe we have unlimited tomorrows. When we are faced with the reality that our days are not unlimited, that our time here on earth is coming to an end, it is natural to go within ourselves to seek answers to questions without answers. “Why is this happening to me?” “Why is this happening now?” “What do I believe about life after death?” “Is everything I’ve always believed really true?” “How do I KNOW?”
There is no one way to die. Some people approach their death kicking and screaming and simply do not want to go. Others tie up loose ends, have deep conversations with their loved ones and accept their fate. Usually it’s something in between, but however you approach your own death, remember: it’s your death. You get to decide how you will do this. You will have control over so little else, but you can control how you approach this phase of your life in terms of spirituality and emotionality (see previous post).
Here are some ideas to assist you to work through the spiritual matters of your dying:
1. Explore your belief system. Were you brought up in a particular religion? Are you spiritual in any way? What has been your foundational belief system? How has your belief system helped you to this point? Have you moved closer to it or farther away from it? It is a very rare person who does not question their belief system in the face of death. Seek wise counsel…whether that be clergy or lay person. Read books related to religion or spirituality that resonate with you. Spend time in prayer or meditation. Allow the questions, the bargaining, the arguing, the absence of answers…
2. Engage in life review. This is the very important looking back over your life – the joys and regrets and adventures and heartbreaks. All of it. Every messy, wonderful, overwhelming moment. Look through photo albums. Spend time with loved ones reminiscing. Spend time in solitude remembering. If you can look over your life and be satisfied with the choices you made and the life you lived, this process can be joyful and comfortable. If, on the other hand, you are not satisfied with the choices you made, didn’t achieve your goals, have so many regrets, this process will be filled with despair. If the latter is the case, go back to that wise counsel (clergy, layperson, counselor – like me :-)) and talk it through.
3. Have conversations with your loved ones. As you go through your life review, you will undoubtedly find that there are conversations left to be had. You may need to ask for forgiveness. You may need to give forgiveness. You may realize that you didn’t tell your loved ones how much you love them, appreciate them, are proud of them. Maybe certain words or phrases were hard for you to say. You now have an opportunity to make things right. This will be remarkably challenging; it will be emotionally gut-wrenching.
[A word about bereavement: In many ways, the way you approach your dying will affect your loved ones who remain. Having meaningful conversations with your loved ones has a lasting impact through their bereavement. The simple receipt of an “I love you”, “I appreciate you”, “I’m proud of you” comment goes a long way towards healing.]
4. Spend time outdoors. Breathe the fresh air. Spend time in quiet contemplation. Meditate. Walk, if you’re able or have someone wheel you – without talking.
5. Plan your own funeral and/or memorial service. Be true to whatever belief system you hold. One of my family members does not want hymns sung at their service because it doesn’t fit their particular set of beliefs. As a family, we will honor that request. Choose the music, the readings, the order of service, etc. Make sure your family knows exactly what you want and how you want it.
Nearing your death does not have to mean the end of your growth. So many families report that the days, weeks or months leading up to their loved ones death were the most precious of times. The concentrated time spent together as a family is intense and intimate. Some people tell me it was the best time they ever spent together and most recognize the irony of that statement.
As always, feel free to leave a comment below or email me privately to ask a question or book an appointment.
Copyright 2014 Lisa B. Wolfe, Translating Grief, LLC