Life Matters Media
Start the most difficult conversation American isn’t having- the conversation about our end of life preferences

Is Death The Enemy?

In the end, the marginal status our culture assigns to the end of life- with all its fear, anxiety, isolation and anger- is inevitably what each of us will inherit in our dying days if we don’t help change this unfortunate paradigm.

For many of my healing and helping professional colleagues, death is the enemy. That doesn’t come as much of a surprise, really. Most everything in our training, as well as most everything in our culture, underscores this mindset. However, that truism may actually be counterproductive more often than we realize. I am of the mind that if we encounter our mortality in an upfront way, we will likely be more compassionate toward our patients, clients, friends and family members as they face theirs.

Image: Jacques-Louis David's 'The Death of Socrates' via WikiMedia Commons and Metropolitan Museum of Art
Image: Jacques-Louis David’s ‘The Death of Socrates’ via WikiMedia Commons and Metropolitan Museum of Art

The following are some things we might want to consider if encountering our mortality is our goal.

First, death is not only a universal biological fact of life, part of the round of nature; it is also a necessary part of what it means to be human. Everything that we value about life and living — its novelties, challenges, opportunities for development — would be impossible without death as the defining boundary.

While it may be easier to accept death in the abstract, it is often more difficult to accept the specifics of our own death. Why must I die like this- with this disfigurement, with this pain? Why must I die so young? Why must I die before completing my life’s work or before providing adequately for the ones I love?

Living a good death begins the moment we accept our mortality as part of who we are. We have had to integrate other aspects of ourselves into our daily lives – our gender, racial background and cultural heritage, to name a few. Why not our mortality? Putting death in its proper perspective will help us appreciate life in a new way. Facing our mortality allows us to achieve a greater sense of balance and purpose in our lives as well.

Dying can be a time of extraordinary alertness, concentration and emotional intensity. It is possible to use the natural intensity and emotion of this final season to make it the culminating stage of our personal growth. Imagine if we could help those that are sick, elder, and dying around us to tap into this intensity. Imagine if we had this kind of confidence about our own mortality.

Healing and helping professionals can help pioneer new standards of a good death that patients and clients can emulate. We are in a unique position to help others desensitize death and dying. Most importantly, we would be able to support our patients and clients, as well as those they love, as they prepare for their deaths. We could even join them as they begin their anticipatory grieving process.

If we face our mortality head-on and project ourselves to the end of our own lives, we would better understand others as they negotiate pain management, choose the appropriate care for the final stages of their dying, put their affairs in order, prepare rituals of transition, as well as learn how to say goodbye and impart blessings.

Facing our mortality may even allow us to help others learn to heed the promptings of their minds and bodies, allowing them to move from a struggle against dying to acceptance and acquiescence.

In the end, the marginal status our culture assigns to the end of life- with all its fear, anxiety, isolation and anger- is inevitably what each of us will inherit in our dying days if we don’t help change this unfortunate paradigm.