There was a time when I thought that death acceptance was the opposite of death denial. I also thought that there were two signs of death denial: fear of death and dying, and strong attachments to life and living. My thinking was that if I didn’t have fear and anxiety about death, and I could sever my strong attachments in life, I would live peacefully with the full acceptance of death.
When Sarah’s mom died just over a year ago, there was so much sorrow and so much love. On the one hand, Sarah was angry and sad because her mother was dying and in so much pain. On the other hand, being with her mom in her dying days was, in her words, raw and beautiful.
Sarah shared her experience of her mom’s death and dying inside a Willow Reality of Our Mortality Learning Circle. Reflecting on her experience Sarah said, “when death is beautiful like that, I think there’s some kind of healing going on. The beauty you embrace heals the sorrow of losing that person.”
Just like love and sorrow, life and death are two sides of the same coin.
Sarah also shared with us that her young-adult daughter expressed lately her own fear around Sarah’s inevitable death. Sarah wanted to know how to free her daughter from that burden. She asked the group, “how do I get her to not be so attached and to not think about death so much?” This question led to a rich conversation and some creative exploration about the duality of love and sorrow.
Recently, Sarah began volunteering in a hospice. She told me about a vibrant man in his late 40s who is dying of lung cancer. He was the picture of health only a year ago. She sat with him and was intrigued by his interest in talking about, reading about, and exploring the mystery of death. He—like many people who come to our workshops— doesn’t have many people in his life to talk with about death. Most people believe that talking about death is depressing and morbid, and like Sarah’s daughter, live in fear of it. Sarah however, described the man in the hospice as someone who embraced life. She left his room feeling lit up and inspired!
So what’s going on? How is it that some people are drawn to death contemplation while others are morbidly turned off?
Living and dying with fear
At the Learning Circle we discovered together that love and sorrow are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other. I think we can say the same about life and death. If we live in fear of one, we likely live in fear of the other.
Sarah now has a different question about her daughter: “How do I get her to positively explore the mystery of death?” Sarah plans to begin by talking with her daughter about the conversations she had with the man at the hospice. She’ll follow that up by sharing her personal insight from the Learning Circle about the duality of love and sorrow and how she now sees that this is what she experienced with her own mother’s death.
What about you?
When have you experienced both love and sorrow and what impact did it have on you?
How do you think you can explore death’s mystery with the people in your life?