Living Well, Dying Well

Mary Friedel-Hunt

I am currently reading about seven books. That is typical for me. One of my favorites right now is Kathleen Dowling Singh’s book on aging: “The Grace in Aging.” Beginning my 80th year last month motivated me to take a look at aging. This author is excellent. Her book leads the reader to look hard at the reality of aging and, yes, death.
If I suggest we all take 20 minutes to walk outside or exercise, no one would think a thing of it. But if I suggest you take some time to sit at your own deathbed and see what your dying self has to say about your life, that might feel more challenging. Many might react with a feeling of dread, fear, a desire to avoid that thought. They might label the whole idea as morbid or want to avoid the pain of a significant loss of their own. Still others might consider this to be helpful to assess their own lives. In a culture like ours, one that believes we must always be happy and positive. Convincing someone to take a look at death is not usually welcomed.
So this is an opportunity to grow, to gain insight. What happens if you sit at your own deathbed to see what your dying self has to say about your life … or your death? Try it. Look at death: your own death. Doing so can help you realize that death is real, that we will all die, and we will all lose everyone and everything we love. This is just reality, one we ignore far too often. Facing that reality can deepen our gratitude, our joy and the meaning of our lives. It can lead us to make better use of each day.
No one really wants to think about things endings. We do not like endings unless they are the end of something we have labeled as being “bad.” We do not like change. So with that in mind, sitting for a moment at our own death beds can be foreboding. But remember: It can be life-giving, life-enhancing and growth-producing also.
Try it. Face the reality that all of this is going to end. Ask yourself what has your life been and what do you want it to be in light of having a chance to change some things. Ask what you need to do to make those changes. What are your priorities? This is May, the beginning of new life.
Then go for a walk on the next warm, sunny, beautiful day in May. Preferably choose some place where nature abounds but any place will do. Focus on the life around you and perhaps, just perhaps, because you spent some time with death, your appreciation for life might be richer and deeper. You might be more aware of the tiniest flower or even the intricacies in some of those weeds.
We need both to be whole … an appreciation of life and an acceptance of death.

Mary Friedel-Hunt MA LCSW is a clinical social worker, thanotologist and certified bereavement counselor. She can be reached at mfriedelhunt@charter.net; P.O. Box 1036, Spring Green, WI 53588; or www.PersonalGrowthandGriefSupportCenter.com. Vincent Kavaloski’s “Parables and Ponderings” will return next month.