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Practical preparations for death

When I wrote the February newsletter we were in the midst of a snow storm here in the Nyack area. After that it snowed a few more times, keeping it white and bright around us for most of February. But then it started to shift last week, the warmer sun has been patiently melting the snow away. There is still some on the ground, but soon, it will all be gone. The birds are definitely fully aware of the shift of seasons that has started, I can hear it in their morning song. There are plenty of bulbs in the flower beds that are peaking out, it’s the season of rebirth and life. A time more welcomed then ever by so many of us as it brings ease to gathering with friends and family outdoors, actually together in the flesh. I for one am so grateful that we are approaching warmer weather. I do not wish winter away, I have too much appreciation for the season, but I certainly welcome spring this year in a way like never before.
Alongside with the slow start of spring, of the notion of life, I have been spending a lot of time reading about, and reflecting on, death and dying. There has also been many conversations about it with my partner and friends. It happened to be that I was reading a book about medical ethics simultaneously with Joan Halifax’s book “Being with Dying”. This was not a plan, but it turned out that they went well together. I knew before starting to read Joan’s book that it was of great importance, and it proved to be true. I feel a gentle change in my being from having read it. Even though I have had an awareness of impermanence for a long time, and have had ease around dying and death, I now have a heightened sense of gratitude for life itself, and for the beautiful, and sometimes painful, fragility of life. If you did not feel drawn toward the book when I first mentioned it, perhaps make a note of the title, and revisit sometime in the future?
One of the things I learned from reading these two books alongside each other, is how important it can be that we express to our family and friends how we look at dying, and what we would wish for ourselves when it’s our time. Not just by having conversations, but by giving as detailed and clear guidelines as we are able to do today, in writing. I am currently working on my own document, so to have it readily available to family and friends who will be around for my death. I found the Five Wishes organization that offers up a basic document online that one can make personal changes to. There are questions that are hard to answer today, but it can aid in giving guidelines, if not always details. I came to understand that there are so many different scenarios that we can end up in. That even if we have verbally expressed how we look at dying, and what our wishes and hopes are, that it is often helpful to have as much in a written document as we can. This helps both our closest loved ones to make decisions on our behalf if needed, and for medical personnel to know what we actually might want even if we are not fully conscious to express it. I encourage you to do the same if you haven’t already. It might end up being a great aid for you and your loved ones, and there is no better time then now to tend to this matter.
Being with the concept of death, has an immediate impact on how we live. You could say that even though Joan wrote a book to help and support us in that particular part of our human journey, the book is very much about how to live life today.
“With mindfulness,
you can establish yourself in the present
in order to touch the wonders of life
that are available in that moment.”