How do you feel about death?
A question that we don’t often wish to answer or is not deemed appropriate to ask. It is socially acceptable to talk about life but not so much about death.
I had a curious experience with death once. It is difficult for me to articulate because there are no words for something which is truly beyond words but I will try because I really believe that we do a great disservice to ourselves and our children when we don’t encourage acceptance of death.
I first came to learn the importance of befriending and meditating upon death as a young adult exploring Buddhism. It instantly resonated with me. The teachings and practice have been a valuable support when I have had loved ones pass and found they also helped me when I had my own strange meeting with death.
I woke up one morning a few years ago and instantly felt that something was different. There was a feeling of being held by a vast, all consuming presence that seemed to expand throughout my being and even beyond the bedroom. This wasn’t like feeling the presence of a spirit or an angel. This was infinite, still and silent but seemed to want to be noticed.
I couldn’t speak and inside I was asking “what is this?” What felt like a quiet whisper arising from my heart responded with “death”.
Then there was internal panic. Had death come for me? I wasn’t sick so how or why would I die? What should I do? You can’t tell your loved ones that you might die this week but you don’t know when or why or how….and I can’t leave them now!
Then suddenly I felt soothed by this presence and I drew comfort from my faith, my previous experiences of loss that had me reassured that there are no endings, just transitions.
I decided no longer to resist but to surrender to this presence instead. To just be.
It was beautiful, it was steady and peaceful. After resting there for a while, its intensity began to subside and I felt able to move, but over the course of the next five days, it would return each morning and in random waves throughout the day.
Sometimes the anxiety would return along with the presence prompting me to surrender again and as before it would pass. It was quite surreal.
Then on the sixth day it did not return but I received the devastating news that my beloved grandmother had passed unexpectedly in the early hours of the morning. Slipping away in her sleep in her own home, a place full of love and cherished memories.
Looking back, I can’t be sure what any of this means.
Maybe in some strange way, life was preparing me for the death of a loved one.
For even though we can accept and even befriend death, it does not mean that we will not feel grief or loss.
What it does mean however is that we are less likely to get stuck in that grief and pain helping us to accept that in every moment, we are living and dying.
When you accept the impermanence of life, you don’t take things for granted. There is full appreciation for each moment of life and a willingness to show up for it all. Even the stuff that is out of your control.
Contemplation upon death is part of a spiritual practice. It actually changes your relationship with everyone when you remember that they are going to die one day.
It is not dwelling on loss or being morbid. It is just making peace with the inevitable, a reminder to live fully and no longer waste time on bitterness, pettiness and greed.
Life is a fleeting, precious beauty and I believe death is not an ending but a transition.
I invite you to contemplate how you feel about death and see if it alters your relationship with life and with those you love.
I would love to hear your reflections to this post if you feel comfortable sharing in the comments.