We LIVE in a DEATH phobic culture.
Over the past century in the West, death has become medicalized, hospitalized, and sterilized. This is evident because death is hidden out of sight and behind closed doors. We don’t see it, we don’t talk about it, we don’t think about it and we rarely have a plan for when it happens. Communication around death is wrongly deemed depressing, death hastening, or morbid.
Western society simply evades the topic of death. The intimacy, responsibility, and choices surrounding death have been handed over to doctors, businesses, and industries.
We do everything to keep ourselves far removed from the one inevitable truth…
WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE!!! WE JUST DON’T KNOW WHEN!!!
This TRUTH has become TABOO.
While it is natural to have hesitance around the topic, what we think we know about death is typically inadequate, incorrect and solely fear-based. It seems that what is inadvertently “taught” about death are the inaccurate and dark portrayals that visually bombard us through the news, social media and movies. Due to avoidance and lack of direct involvement, we’ve lost the ancient knowledge and wisdom about how death shows up.
Knowledge reduces fear.
It is possible to acknowledge death in a respectful and healthy manner. Exploring the great mystery of death in a fundamental way can be educational, practical, and spiritual. It can shine a light on what it truly is…the ultimate and sacred right of passage.
Curiosities about death won’t make you die sooner but lack of death awareness can perpetuate chaos and confusion when confronted with end-of-life situations.
Due to our lack of death literacy, we don’t do death well in the West. Too many people die lacking proper support, comfort & care, while tethered to machines. Too many people die without having their end of life wishes met, or not feeling valued. This can change!
“Studies have shown that approximately 80% of Americans would prefer to die at home, if possible. Despite this, 60% of Americans die in acute care hospitals, 20% in nursing homes and only 20% at home”.
– Standford School of Medicine
Knowing this, how can we become more mindful of death? How can we connect with the most natural and inevitable part of our life? How can we…DO DEATH WELL?
10 WAYS TO DO DEATH DIFFERENTLY:
SHOW UP for Death
A loved one is dying. Confronting this reality is daunting, overwhelming and uncomfortable. You want to participate but you don’t know how. You think “What do I say”? “What do I do”? Not knowing how to respond may cause avoidance, turning death into “the elephant in the room”. Here’s the secret…JUST SHOW UP, JUST BE PRESENT. You do NOT need to say the “right thing” and you are doing what is needed just by being there. Your presence is enough. Showing up is showing your love and support. TRUST yourself with this.
Listen here and learn how Kimberly Paul addresses death as “The elephant in the room”.
USE the “D” WORD
Death, Died, Die! Our dialogue is so dissonant from death, that we rarely use these words when referring to fellow humans. We say things like “my phone died”, “my car died”, “my plant died”, “my goldfish died”, but we never say “grandma died”. We replace the “D word” with euphemisms such as “she passed on”, “we lost him”, “he departed”, “she transitioned”. We even go as far to insinuate that the dying process is a medical failure, “the doctors couldn’t do anymore”, “they gave up”, “she lost the battle”, “the illness won”. All of these phrases and verbal avoidances detach us from the true human experience of death. Listen here as Rev. Bodhi Be, founder of Doorway into Light, explains why it’s important to actually say “grandma died”.
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Death is not a MEDICAL event, it is a SPIRITUAL event. This is not the time to shy away and “leave it to the doctors”. This is an imperative time to gather and get personal. It is a time to hold hands and hug to say “goodbye”, “I love you” or make amends. It is a sacred time to share the last precious moments together. This is a time to be present and honest. This is a time to connect. Having support, comfort and love means dying well. Listen here as Stephen Jenkinson explains why “we have a moral obligation to die well”.
Break the silence! Death is rarely discussed amongst family members and friends until it is too late. We avoid talking about death because we feel fear or shame or we fear upsetting loved ones. Avoiding this conversation, however, can create enormous amounts of chaos, angst and indecision. When you open up to conversations about death, you allow others to do the same. Talking about death clears confusion and creates peace of mind. Sharing your wishes and preferences regarding end of life choices relieves your loved ones from the burden of having to guess. Let it be known what is needed, expected or wished for. Share your views of death and the kind of care you wish to receive when the time comes. Share what you want, or don’t want, and why in. Your choices may change with time, but now is a great time to start talking. Break the silence while breaking bread around the dinner table by starting the most important conversation you will ever have.
PLAN for a Good Death.
In life we plan. We make plans every day, all the time. We even plan for things that may not happen, hence having insurance for most “just in case” scenarios. When it comes to death, which is guaranteed, we rarely plan at all. Everybody over 18 should have an EOL plan period! An end of life plan provides an opportunity to share how you want to be treated and what choices you want made at the end of life. An end of life plan will be your voice if you cannot speak for yourself such as in an emergency. Without a plan, loved ones have to guess and make choices for you, rendering you powerless over your own preferences and putting a huge burden on them to “make the right choice”. An end of life plan is not depressing, it is empowering. An end of life plan=Less confusion=Less chaos. A good plan documents preferred choices clearly. When it comes to end of life care, you have more choices than you think. Empower yourself with knowing what these choices are. Know what an end of life plan entails. Start now. It is easier than you think. Create your own DIY end of life plan here.
Be CURIOUS about Death.
Death is an inevitable part of the human circumstance and exhibiting curiosity about it is healthy and life-affirming. Think outside the box and explore death in an abstract and artistic way here.
GATHER for Death.
Death is a community event. Building community is how we care for each other. We need to help each other and teach each other to learn, share and grow. We do this through participation. It is important to talk about our experiences with death. This is part of a healthy grieving process that connects us on a deeply human level. Would you like to talk freely and openly about death, in a non judgemental, safe, guided, yet agenda-free forum? Try a death cafe! Grab a cup of coffee or tea and join others who dare to share their stories about death.
Host your own death cafe or learn where to meet such a like-minded community here.
Go Green! Traditional burial and fire cremation practices are the two leading ways to handle a body after death, but they are both EXTREMELY toxic, wasteful and use a lot of natural resources. Embalming fluid contains formaldehyde, a known carcinogen and considered to be in the top 10% of most hazardous and dangerous chemicals according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Fire cremation takes up a lot of energy and many harmful substances are emitted in the atmosphere such as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrochloric acid and even mercury from amalgam fillings. There are so many new and ingenious ways to leave less of an imprint on mama earth when we die. Learn about some of these options here.
Do Death at HOME.
Death is doable at home. Death is not an emergency and a recently deceased body is safe, so… it is OK and LEGAL to do death at home. In fact, caring for and preparing the body of your loved one at home is a kind and beautiful final act of love. Death has been removed from the home in the last 150 years due to the practice of embalming. With a few specific exceptions regarding body transportation, Embalming is not necessary or legally required! Embalming is a highly toxic procedure! Laws about at home funerals and ceremonies vary according to states and provinces, so make sure to be up to date on the rules in your neighborhood. Reclaim this special knowledge here.
As mere mortals we live and we die. This is the same for every human, everywhere, on this planet. Yet all cultures, all around the world, respond to death in completely different ways. Some cultures consider it bad luck to talk about the dead, while many celebrate with music and dancing in the streets. Some cultures superstitiously remove mirrors from walls, while some immortalised their dead through mummification. Some cultures eat the cremated ashes of their loved ones, while others feed the body of the deceased to the birds. Whatever the practice, death is a prominent part of life and is revered as such. Listen here as Julian Noel from “Shine Global” talks about death from the point of view of New Zealand, Maori culture.
Death must be destigmatized. Death is not anti-life, it is essential for life. It is the unconscious driving force that kicks us out of complacency and into an awakened living. The more acquainted we become with death, the more we will awaken to live life fully. This starts with YOU being open and honest about death, without shame or apology. Doing this will encourage others to do the same. Eventually, there will begin to be more comfortable around the topic. We are all in this together. Let’s talk about death baby, let’s talk about you and me.