Written by Deborah Gaines as part of her Creating Stories and Sharing Lives Community Writing Class
I don’t want to die in the middle of a big project. I have this vision of dying at the end of a week when I have all my bills paid. I have cleaned my house and mowed my lawn. Not only did I finish the book I was reading, I finished the book I was writing. My daughter is happy, well adjusted and I am able to leave this Earthly existence without the worry of anything being undone. When I die, I want to be fully present in death. I don’t wish to leave this world looking backwards, clinging to a life that isn’t mine anymore. I want to be prepared to move forward, to embrace death.
When I talk about being prepared for death, most people may think I’m referring to going to the funeral home and talking to a well-trained professional about their funeral arrangements. And I say, that is a good idea, but that is not the only thing that I am talking about. Going to the funeral home can help prepare one in earthly ways which can bring about a level of mindfulness in accepting that death happens. But I am talking more about preparing ourselves spiritually for death. I may never be able to die at a moment when my lawn is mowed, my house is clean, and my to-do list is done. But, I can die when I am mentally and spiritually prepared.
As a mortician, I think about death more than most people would ever want to and I wonder, why when birth and death are the two times in our lives that we make a big transition, do we embrace preparing for the birth of a child, and yet many times avoid putting any effort into planning for our death or the death of our loved ones? We dream about what our baby might look like, how it’s going to feel to breastfeed, or when our baby grows up to become the first female President. But, most of us rarely spend time actively imagining what our death might be like.
One of my favorite questions to ask people is: “If you could choose the manner of your death, what it would be?” Would you choose to die alone or surrounded with loved ones? Would you die in bed or out in your garden? What outfit would you have on or would you be naked? To prepare ourselves for a peaceful transition, we could spend time imagining our departure from our Earthly body. We could picture the perfect day with loved ones, family and friends and a blissful night of good food and wine. If you could choose to die while you’re sleeping, would you? Or would you rather be awake and conscious for as much of the process as possible? Would you choose to know when you were going to die, such as a terminal disease, or would you choose to die instantly? If you knew you were going to die within a year or two, would you live differently? What would you do different? Would you choose to die in silence or would you enjoy being sung to? What is the feeling that you would imagine having in your heart? Do you remember the most peaceful feeling you have ever had?
When I speak of preparing for death, I am not suggesting that people rush into death. I am talking about putting intention into living a full life and, when it is time, attempting to be present and making as peaceful of a transition as possible. Dying is an essential part of living. To live life mindfully, death needs to be brought into our awareness.