It appears to me that how we cope with grief is directly related to how we look at our own mortality or death. Death is not something we like to focus on. But in reading so many books on death and dying by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross and Stephen Levine, it has become evident to me that the more fully we live our lives, the easier it is to look at issues around death and dying and perhaps they will ease us when it is our time to make the transition.
In order to help you begin to process this issue, take time to write down what you would do if you only had five years to live; next one year, next six months, next one month and finally one day. Be as descriptive as possible. This exercise will assist you in coming in touch with what is really important in your life. Becoming aware of things you would like to accomplish before you die are set in motion as you come in touch with them. Are there friends and family you would like to say goodbye to? Are there relationships you would like to heal through forgiveness? Would you want to have a Hospice program intervene in your "end-of-life Stages?"
Reflect on how you have appreciated your life up until this very moment. Reminisce on the joy in your life as well as the peace. Have you stopped daily to smell the roses and nurture yourself? What will you miss most after you have died? What keeps you from living more fully in the present moment? Ponder on what you would consider to be a perfect death. Would your death be quick, easily and effortless in your sleep? Would you want it to be drawn out? Who would be present with you at your side in your final moments here on this plane? Do you believe your soul lives on in an "afterlife" or do you believe that once you have died, there is nothing more that exists?
Other questions you might think about are your religious beliefs towards death. How do you feel about them? How do they support you? What role does Spirituality play in your life or belief system? Questions both you and your loved one you are caring for may be : "Who am I?", "Why am I here and why am I leaving?" " Why am I suffering so?" "What is this disease trying to teach me?" "how will I die?" "Will I be at peace? "Will I want to sign a "DNR" or have an advanced directive?
The next step is to write your own eulogy. What would you like to have said about you at your funeral or memorial? How would you like to be remembered? How do you see others remembering you?
Finally begin writing a will. Something we all put off until sometimes it becomes too late. In writing your will you are accepting that death is inevitable. It is also an opportunity to evaluate what is important in your life and how you would like your personal possessions to be divided and to whom.
By being open and honest with yourself around these issues, you will be able to come to some deeper understanding and acceptance of death. In sharing it with your family or friends or the loved one you are caring for, even more meaningful depth can result from opening them to these concepts as well. Hopefully you will be able to embrace death through living life more fully as well as learning from those in their end of life stages by being more open. When you speak or share from your heart, others are encouraged to listen more openly, thus enriching communications and deepening the connection or bond between you.
In processing through these exercises, you will find yourself opening more to living your own life more fully. It may shed more light on what choices you can make in changing the way you are living from this moment on. Ultimately only we can answer these questions for ourselves.
Copyrighted Gail R. Mitchell 05/28/2000
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