By Colleen Akkerman
I recently attended a workshop entitled Death 101. I had just experienced the death of a loved one, and was feeling very sad at that time, and when a friend told me about the workshop, I was intrigued and felt compelled to go. I wanted to know what this workshop would reveal to me, if anything.
In readings that I have done, I’ve come to realize that death is part of the miracle of living. Death is a given – we’re born, and we die. And we can know this with complete certainty. The big question to consider is, “What is death, and what does it mean?” Personally, I have always believed that it is only our physical bodies that die, and that we each have a Soul, and it is that Soul in us that lives on.
Most of us don’t want to talk about death, much less think about it, until we’re faced with it ourselves. We seem to have great fear over the unknown. However, there is a growing interest in exploring death, as evidenced by “death cafes” which are popping up all over the world. I had never heard of “death cafes” until I attended the workshop. Might this movement have become popular because of the great number of baby boomers that are “coming of age” so to speak?
I learned that the “death café movement” originated in Europe in 2004 and arrived in America approximately a year ago. People come together over coffee, tea and rolls, to have conversations about all aspects of death. Jon Underwood organized what is believed to be the first official British death café in September 2011, which then inspired the first death café in America. He has a website you can check out (deathcafe.com). He says “We just want to create an environment where talking about death is natural and comfortable” and “increasing awareness of death helps people to make the most of their (finite) lives.”
In the workshop we talked about the many ways that people face death. Some people feel sorry for themselves, thinking about what they will lose and have to give up, or worry about leaving their loved ones behind. Some doubt their immortality. Some face it with courage, (What else can they do?) while others refuse to think about it and can’t even consider the possibility of death. Some accept death as “God’s will”. Many wonder, “Will I be forgotten?” Some, in the process of dying, worry about losing control and being a burden on their loved ones. Others are concerned with wanting to be forgiven. A few see death as a form of punishment. Some say “I’m going home”. Or think they’ll go to “heaven” where they’ll have everlasting life and see Jesus if they’re lucky. While others think they might go to “hell”. Some say they have NO IDEA what happens, but that they trust that the Universe will support them. This list could go on and on. Each of us deep down has our own ideas about death, whether we care to look at it or not.
We also had a conversation about what is a “good” death versus a “bad” death. In a “good” death were found opportunities for personal growth and positive transformations of relationships. What made a “bad” death included its suddenness, when suffering was involved, and when a difficult relationship between the deceased and bereaved existed.
Other discussions brought up at “death cafes” concerned sanitization of death, embalming, cremation, a desire to treat death as part of life, pain management for the dying, funerals as a community affair, the death process supported by the community, green funeral homes, green cemeteries, how to support people who are dying, how to support those close to the dying. Again, this list could go on. Each of these subjects would be worth looking into, which I intend to do, but not in this article.
So, it appears this movement is helping us to look at death in a different way. Alice Bailey, in her book “Death: The Great Adventure” states that “death can be made to hold a definite place in life and thought, and we can prepare for it as something which cannot be evaded, but which is simply the Bringer of Changes. Thus we make the process of death a planned part of our entire life purpose. We can “live” with the consciousness of immortality, and it will give an added coloring and beauty to life; we can foster the awareness of our future transition, and live with the expectation of its wonder. Death thus faced, and regarded as a prelude to further living experience, takes on a different meaning.”
She also states, and I love this, that “death is only an interlude in a life of steadily accumulating experience”, and that it “marks a definite transition from one state of consciousness into another”. We each have a soul – “that something that persists after the disintegration of the physical body”.
Overall, the Death 101 workshop was very beneficial for me. I’ve been able to consider and identify what is important to me concerning my own death. I also have a better appreciation of my mother, bless her heart, who had her death all planned out. She wrote her own obituary and planned her memorial service. She let us know that she wanted to die at home, she wanted to be cremated, and she wanted her ashes in an urn that was to be buried on top of my father’s casket. She did not want any life support to keep her alive, and she wanted her children to know that it was only her physical body that died. She was quite the woman, and she got what she wanted! I also do not want to be put on life support. I would like to die at home, I would like to be cremated and have my ashes scattered to the wind. I would like a celebration of my life, rather than a funeral. And I want all my friends and family to know that I am really not dead. I want to die with dignity and on my own terms. Is that too much to ask?
If you could list five wishes you have concerning your end of life wishes, what would they be?