After our last head of the order died, back in 2003, I drank in every bit of information about hospice care. He spent the last two weeks of his life in hospital being treated intensively for cancer. In the end we brought him back to Shasta and he died there within hours of arriving. That’s where he wanted to be.
What about the quality of life as one approaches death? Now there’s a question. There is a huge amount written on this subject, in books and on the Internet too of course. Read breath taking accounts of people struggling to live in the face of overwhelming odds, and who survive. What I read, back in 2003, comforted me. Now what do I think? Well, I have to say that the quality of life, of living, during the period before death is probably most strongly conditioned by the way life has been lived to that point. Yes, having ones nearest and dearest around to attend, at home, is good. To be kept out of pain, be physically secure, and to be loved by ones family and friends, is good too. What might get lost sight of, in the push to care and to comfort, is the deeper aspect of what’s going on. What ever else is happening bodies simply wear out, and stop. Of course some want to, WANT TO, die and don’t. That’s not necessarily despair either, yet can be.
This period, longer or shorter depending on circumstances, may be an intense time on all levels. People will cast back and forth; regrets and sorrows abound, unfulfilled longings, undone deeds remembered and now not able to do, deeds done which can’t be undone. And there can be pre-death visions too, both waking visions and ones that come in sleep. My mother, reportedly, had visions in her sleep a week before she died. She referred to them as revelations. They brought her measures of peace, and faith enough to keep going while I flew back from America to be with her. And some people simply drop down dead in the garden or fall asleep in their arm chair. Sometimes it is helpful to remember that death is not a mistake. Or a failure of medical science. I’m sure doctors find death really hard.
See: The Quality of Death: Ranking end-of-life care across the world. Thanks to Walter for bringing my attention to this survey. Britain comes out top!
One thought on “Life Before Death”
Rev. Mugo–I’ve been following your blog for a while now and love your insights. This is a wonderful post. After my parents both died, and as I’m growing older myself, it’s hard to not think about death. My mother died of a heart attack and was gone before my plane landed in Ohio. My sister, who was the only one of 3 siblings who was with her, told me that what she remembers is how terrified she looked. That’s always stayed with me. A friend of mine who is Tibetan Buddhist told me that the primary purpose of her practice is to clean up her karma in this life so she can prepare for a good death. I love your line that “death is not a mistake.”