If you’ve read this blog a bit, you’ll know I often draw on existential therapy and how the idea of death – and really engaging with it – can help you live a more vivid life.
But this time I don’t just want to talk about ideas. I want to talk about the nitty gritty stuff. The real stuff. The physical realities of this dying business; and the way that many of us in the western world will probably die (and whether that even gets close to how we might like to die when we finally do).
Because it’s important stuff to talk about.
And, as Jean Kittson put it: “there are no Apps for this stuff.”
I’ve spent the last few days at a conference on palliative care* with some really inspirational people (doctors, nurses, occupational therapists, volunteers, pastoral care workers and therapists) who all work with life and death. Who aspire to help us all “live until we die.” Who are guided by principles like these:
“You matter because you are you.
You matter to the last moment of your life.
We’ll do all we can, not only to help you die peacefully,
but to LIVE until you die.”
– Dame Cicely Saunders, Hospice Movement Founder
So let’s talk…
Instead of insisting that you must simply ‘learn to let go’ of the person you love after their death (as many of the earlier theories suggested), this idea of continuing bonds allows you to forge an ongoing relationship with them – even despite their death.
(Notice I didn’t write ‘the person you loved’, in the past tense? For this theory recognizes that even though that person’s life may be over, your love for them, and your relationship to them, are not).
Death is making its presence felt around me at the moment; in my work, in my family, in my circle of friends. So I’m thinking a lot about grieving, and the challenges of doing it in a society that would rather forget about death altogether.
Not so long ago, we generally did our dying at home, surrounded by the people we loved and the places we knew.
Now, more often than not, in the western world our dying is ‘outsourced’ in some way. Many of us will die in hospital and then be washed and dressed for our funeral by strangers. Handled ‘discretely’ behind closed doors.
All of this makes it easy for the whole business of dying, and therefore the business of grieving, to become taboo. Consequently, many people feel uncomfortable about grief (‘What should I say to the bereaved?’) and, collectively, it seems we’d rather that any grieving was kept quiet and ‘respectable’.
So, in light of this,
how might we grieve when it comes time for us to do so?