What are the options?

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How often do you think about death? I know it will happen, but I don’t know when, nor do I dwell on thoughts related to my death. I don’t ponder about the how or when it will happen. I accept death as a part of life, but while I am alive, I want to live it and be fully present in the moment. Death can conjure up memories and emotions that you weren’t expecting and can have a profound effect on your spirit and the way you view the meaning of life and death. In my recent experience, even though I was not close with this person, it caused an immense (and unexpected) amount of grief and sorrow. This sorrow was not a result of feelings of any personal guilt (not to sound callous or selfish), but rather it was pure, heart & soul wrenching, raw sadness. 

I don’t know how dying is supposed to look like, for either the person that is dying (especially if they are deemed unconscious), or for those surrounding the person dying. I have visited one other person in palliative care in my life, and this person was alert and fully aware. That experience was difficult because you are sitting together, having normal conversation, knowing the whole time that this will be the last conversation. You’d think that if the person was unconscious, it might be easier. It’s not when you are a hopeful person like me, because I still wanted to believe there might be a very small part of this dying person that seeks comfort.

The experience was difficult because I expected something different. I expected this person to be constantly surrounded by people that gave a damn. Maybe that only happens in the movies. Maybe I have a different view on what comfort and respect means. And quite possibly, as my mother has always deemed as one of my many weaknesses, maybe I’m just too emotional. When I first received word, it didn’t touch me. It was simply out of respect that I chose to say goodbye. I had even tried to make dinner plans with friends for that same evening! Luckily it fell through because I had no idea what impact this first visit was going to have. Over the course of days, sadness and disappointment consumed me for different reasons. The idea that you could live an entire century, only to be left alone in death – it hurts my heart. The reality is, this could be my fate, but given that I have always been a lone wolf, I think I’ve always expected this for myself.

Although I was disappointed that this person did not have a stream of visitors, or loved ones constantly bedside, in retrospect I am thankful for all the time alone we had. It allowed me to feel all the raw emotions, and to say all the things I wanted to say, and to be able to grieve in my own way, in private. Those many hours of silence between us was comforting to me, and in my heart, I wanted to believe it helped this dying soul feel less lonely and afraid. I actually expected this person to hang on for at least another week, though during my visit last night, I reminded this person that it was ok to rest and to let go and move on to the next adventure. I learned of this person’s passing today. It surprised me a little, but I felt much relief. Happy journeys, Beautiful Warrior!

Coincidentally, I came across a TED Talk about the physical body after death. I know about traditional burial, cremation, and donating organs and parts for medicine and research. But this talk has opened my eyes to another intriguing option – recomposing – turning your entire body into compost – exemplifying how death breeds new life, literally.

What if our bodies could help grow new life after we die, instead of being embalmed and buried or turned to ash? Join Katrina Spade as she discusses “recomposition” — a system that uses the natural decomposition process to turn our deceased into life-giving soil, honoring both the earth and the departed.

If you’re as fascinated by this option as I am, watch Katrina’s 12.5 minute talk here.

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