I want to do two things here today - First is to lift up the amazing work of Julie McFadden.
In her own words: "I educate people on the death and dying process and help them through it. I believe that people should know about the dying process BEFORE they're actually going through it with a loved one or themselves."
Indeed, through her social media platforms, many interviews and podcasts and news articles which feature her work, Julie is changing the way people experience death and the process of dying. I highly recommend checking out what she has to offer; from discussions on the fear of death and dying, to very practical tools for the journey, including videos showing the body's natural process of dying, Julie makes the mysterious familiar. And, as we all know, what you KNOW is never as scary as what fear imagines. Julie is doing a phenomenal job of bringing awareness to the process of death and dying.
The second thing I want to discuss here is the idea of a "bad" death. This is the one arena in which my view differs from Julie's. I suggest that you consider both, and then, from a place of your own discernment, make decisions for yourself or your loved ones.
In one of her videos, Julie shares what she calls a "bad death". You can view it
I would venture to say that most - or many - of us in the western world would agree with Julie's view on the young man in question's death. What I want to discuss here, however, is that this is not a universal viewpoint. There are cultures, religions and individual souls for whom "comfort" is not the pinnacle or goal of life or the process of dying.
Yes, most agree that SUFFERING is not a preferred experience, and that shifting suffering is a worthy focus. However, HOW one shifts suffering may differ. For example, generally speaking, in the western world and western healthcare, the method for shifting suffering is usually medical intervention. That is, if there is pain, give pain-reducing medicine. If there is anxiety, give medicine that alleviates anxiety. If there is difficulty breathing, give medicine that relieves that difficulty. Etc. But in some other cultural, religious or personal viewpoints, one might see suffering as an opportunity for spiritual and/or psychological evolution - perhaps to become more present, to let go of striving, to free one's mind from an illusion of separateness or the misconception that who or what we ARE must be anchored to the body or personality.
I raise this issue because our goal in end-of-life care in hospice is TO SUPPORT THE DYING in manifesting their wishes and doing their dying process as they wish to do it. If this is so, it is important for us - as hospice workers, as friends, as family and for anyone who is care-giving at end of life - to think beyond our own ideas of "a good death" or "a bad death", and open to whatever may be the truth for the person we are serving.
My own mother's death was a learning experience for me. She went through many feelings and desires along the journey, but ultimately, she shared that the purpose of life was NOT to "feel good" but to EXPERIENCE EVERYTHING! At one point, after a night of excruciating pain (for a number of reasons due to location and miscommunication, we had no access to pain meds even if we had wanted them), my mother, knowing that she had perhaps a day left to live, said "What I would give for just one more day - even the worst day of my life!" I was shocked. This was a woman who had had many very rough days in her life - days most of us would do much to avoid every having to face. "Even the WORST day?" I asked. . . "Yes", she shared, "When you have all your days ahead, you think it is all about having "good" days, but when you have no more, you realize that just getting to experience things - even the worst thing - is a gift." Her words changed the way I viewed hardship from that day going forward in my life and to this day. I am much more curious about - rather than dreading of - the hardships I encounter. This view, in and of itself, has lessened my suffering on a daily basis.
Meanwhile, in some spiritual traditions (several Buddhist ones come to mind), consciously being present with pain, struggle, fear or other "difficult" emotions, sensations and experiences, may be seen as an opportunity, rather than something to be avoided. Learning to "bear witness" to hardship, to spiritually expand one's ability to contain yet be larger than an experience does build us in so many ways. If this has not been your focus or practice, it may seem brutal; yet do we not owe it to those we care for to honor THEIR choice, EVEN WHEN IT SEEMS TERRIFYING OR PAINFUL TO US??
In my opinion, YES, we do.
Whatever our personal beliefs are about how a person "should" face their death, pain and suffering, it is good to know that ours is not the only way. If we say that our mission is to be in service of another, is not that other's desire then to be lifted up before our own? And if we feel we must impose our own views over theirs, might we not take a step back and imagine what it would be like to have our own views disregarded for someone else's?
Whether you see suffering as a thing to be mitigated at all cost and would prefer total unconsciousness to any pain, OR if you see pain as a thing to be embraced as opportunity for experiential growth (or if your own view is some combination of these extremes), it is my hope that you might explore opening to the fact that not everyone will choose what you would, and that this exploration might gift you a wider view for the next time you are honored with the task of supporting another who has their own views and hopes for their very personal, very sacred last weeks, days, months, hours or moments here on Earth.
Here are a few websites to investigate further. . .
An article on assessing and managing pain for Buddhist patients - CLICK HERE.
HERE is more on Buddhism.
THIS LINK is to an article where the author considers matters of pain avoidance.
MORE THOUGHTS on spirituality and pain.
And now for a bit of the beauty, depth and light on the topic of death and dying, please enjoy a watch of a fabulous episode of "MY LAST DAYS" (MY LAST DAYS was created by Justin Baldoni, with episodes directed by Baldoni, Ahmed Musiol and Farhoud Meybodi, produced by Wayfarer Entertainment, in association with SoulPancake, with executive producers Justin Baldoni, Rainn Wilson, Ahmed Musiol, Farhoud Meybodi and Sam Baldoni.)
CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE EPISODE:
SPREADING A MESSAGE OF LOVE AND HAPPINESS.
If you are not familiar with SOULPANCAKE'S MY LAST DAYS, it is a beautiful documentary series sharing stories of inspirational living - from the lives of people who are dying.
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Rev. Maya Massar