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Dancing with Death

Dancing with Death


Dear <>
Dying is a wild night and a new road - Emily Dickinson
I’ve just had the tremendous honour of walking alongside a friend on her journey of dying. It was beautiful, bittersweet, catalytic and heart-wrenchingly profound.  I’ve been reminded that there are many deaths, endings and goodbyes in life, each with their very particular stories, layers and contexts. So I write these musings and offer this song from my latest dance with death.

1) Accepting Death
Every man knows that he must die, but no one believes it. - Yiddish Proverb
Death is one of the facts of life - like the existence of giant octopuses - that seems incredible yet is actually true.  It’s beyond our comprehension while we are living, yet we know it to be one of the constants in life, alongside birth.   So much of life is set up as if it’s just going to carry on, when truth be told, we have no idea whether we will be here in the next moment. Accepting death enables us to live more fully - not to take anything or anyone for granted and to make the most of every moment.  When we accept death consciously we can make more empowered, loving and compassionate choices when we face it in ourselves and our loved ones.

2) Death is not a battle or a failure - it’s natural
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. - Steve Jobs
In the Western patriarchal capitalist version of life, to die is to lose or fail - it’s to stop producing, consuming and accumulating as a separate body in a material world.  The media headlines death as a tragedy, as if it were somehow avoidable and describes those who die from terminal illness as having ‘lost the battle.’  This is a ludicrous denial of death which is actually as natural and inevitable as the withering of flowers after they have bloomed. ‘Battling death’ sometimes has harsh consequences - I once found myself in a festival fireside chat with a Intensive Care Paramedic who said that the hardest part of his job was watching patients with fatal burns die slowly after a doctor had fought to keep them alive.  We need to balance our natural, innate instinct to survive with the wisdom of understanding the natural, innate process of dying which creates space for growth, renewal and evolution.

3) Death needs to be out in the open
If you are protected from dark things, then you have no protection of, knowledge of, or understanding of dark things when they show up. - Neil Gaiman
Quoted in Consolation for Life, 7 Unusual and Wonderful Books That Help Children Grieve and Make Sense of Death
We need to talk more about death - right from childhood.  The recent initiative Death Cafe aims to do just that - enabling people to meet and discuss death together over tea.  I am so grateful that my friend was brave and straight-talking about death - when she passed I felt that we had said everything that was needed to each other.  In terminal illness I’ve noticed that there is often a time when a person who has been doing everything they can to stay alive shifts into accepting and wanting death.  Those around them also shift into wanting relief from suffering for their loved one.  This shift towards death often involves making choices about treatments, taking care of personal affairs and making the most of time with loved ones.  We must make sure that the dying are not made to feel that they have somehow ‘let people down’ or failed to ‘fight to the end’ and lovingly support their choices as they let go.

4) It’s ok to be afraid and it’s ok to let go
Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak whispers the o’er fraught heart and bids it break - Shakespeare
Whatever our spiritual beliefs, Death, as the ultimate unknown, can generate all sorts of powerful emotions - from panic, anxiety and grief to trust, relief and surrender.  It’s important that there is a space to process the full spectrum of our responses as we encounter the many deaths and endings that are part of life.  We need to have space to acknowledge the deep connections to our lives and loved ones which continue in various forms as time enfolds the past into the present to birth the future. We also need to give ourselves permission to surrender and let go as we transition beyond.

Wishing you a beautiful Easter/ Pesach/ Eostre/ Spring Awakening

 
Helpful Practices for Facing Death
1. Talk with supportive friends/professionals - it’s important to share our deepest feelings with those who will be understanding and non-judgemental.  
2. Keep Moving - movement practices such as dancing, walking, running, yoga and deep breathing can help our bodies process the powerful emotions around death
3. Touch - hugs, cuddles, massage, holding hands - it’s so important to hold and be held and to keep literally in touch with our loved ones.
4. Cry - allow the tears to come - tears of sadness, joy, relief, wonder, uncertainty - give permission for feelings to flow.
5. Creative Expression - writing, dancing, listening to music, singing, journaling, sketching - creativity supports healthy emotional release and brings us into the present moment, making space for new perspectives.
6. Being Still - as the ultimate stillness, Death invites us to meditate and befriend the stillness within us. Connecting with a sense of what is essential and most important to us helps us make empowered choices.