Learn to accept death and the process of dying gracefully
No one wants to die. We live and behave as if we aren’t going to live forever. The idea of our own death rarely strikes us. Even when it comes to mind, we summarily overlook it. We don’t discuss this issue even with our family and close ones.
However, as we get older, most of us unconsciously and reluctantly start accepting the inevitability of death. As more and more of our friends and known persons start dying, then we begin to visualize our own death. Then our desire arises to die gracefully, without pain and suffering. We don’t want to experience uncertainty about our death.
There is always a natural cause of death when we die, even in very old age, such as diseases or infections. Major causes of natural deaths are heart attacks and heart diseases, diabetes, diarrheal disorders, respiratory/lung diseases, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other kinds of dementia.
One study shows that when people face imminent death, they start accepting it and focusing on the positive aspects because they know they don’t have much time left.
We all want to experience a “good death” after living to the fullest. Looking into what constitutes a successful or good death, an important study by researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, came up with some answers.
The study identified 11 core themes of a good death: preferences for a specific dying process, pain-free status, religiosity/spirituality, emotional well-being, life completion, treatment preferences, dignity, family, quality of life, relationship with a healthcare provider, and “other.”
The top three themes across all stakeholder groups were preferences for a specific dying process (94% of reports), pain-free status (81%), and emotional well-being (64%).
People want to die not only peacefully, but with some measure of control. No one wants to suffer pain, which is the biggest fear of all. To eliminate suffering, euthanasia (the painless killing of a patient suffering from an incurable and painful disease, or in an irreversible coma) or palliative care (specialized medical care for people living with a serious illness) are becoming popular worldwide.
The top concerns for aged people facing imminent death are first, that their death is painless; second, that they did not become a burden on others; and thirdly, that they are not alone near or at their death. Loneliness is a great concern for many senior citizens. Sadly, most people do not want to talk about death. To discuss one’s own death is generally taboo, especially in India. Even family members and close friends of terminal patients don’t dare to discuss this delicate subject. The fact is, by not acknowledging and discussing death, we cause more harm to ourselves.
Our quality of life would be improved considerably if only we could embrace death gracefully. We must take death and dying as a natural phenomenon in life, and work on removing our inhibitions.
First, we must continue to follow our passions, spend time, whatever maximum we can, pursuing interests like writing, reading, painting, photographing, gardening, golf, playing cards, cleaning, or even gossiping with friends. We need to lead an active life, to the extent possible. Lighter exercises like walk, yoga along meditation should be done religiously.
Secondly, we should continue to eat healthy food along with other medicines and supplements, as prescribed by doctors.
Thirdly, we shouldn’t forget to spend time, whatever possible with our close friends and family members. We must avoid feeling ‘lonely’ and ‘boredom’ if we stay alone at that age. There are ways to avoid loneliness even with the help of digital platforms including social media.
Being mindful of death can have a positive impact on our health and well-being. Our whole perspective on life will change when we keep the inevitability of death at the back of our minds. Our worries and fearful ruminations will become insignificant. We will always keep meaningful goals in mind.
Quality of life improves if we think about death for at least a few moments before we start each day. This can be possible by way of mindfulness. Awareness of death will lead to greater self-awareness and more power of acceptance. This then opens the heart to more compassion and empathy for others. Facing our own death when it becomes a certainty, as happens in cases of advanced cancer, is greatly eased by the practice of mindfulness.
It can also be extremely helpful in alleviating pain. Rather than resisting and automatically reacting to pain, people can, through mindfulness, be aware of the pain and accept it nonjudgmentally. In addition to strong pain-relieving medications and palliative care, mindfulness can be a very effective approach to preparing patients for death.
Through mindfulness, one can accept death more gracefully and peacefully.
Of course, mindful acceptance does not completely remove the suffering, but it can reduce the pain and fear of death. Through acceptance, not only can we calmly acknowledge the onset of death, but also the feelings and thoughts associated with death. There is also a Buddhist meditation practice called Maraṇasati, which uses various visualization and contemplation techniques to meditate on the nature of death. This is also known as mindfulness of death or death awareness.
When we forget that we will die, we tend to lead a habitual and complacent life. We may even start doing things that we don’t really approve of or wish for ourselves.
Through this meditation practice, we become more aware and accepting of death as a natural ending to our life. In Maranasati, practitioners learn to accept impermanence and suffering, while also becoming more closely and intimately aware of death. Aging is a disease or curse because we’re physically and mentally declining and eventually we are going to depart the world.
It’s finality, It’s the mindset and attitude that determine the course of our journey towards the end. It can become a blessing, once we accept the inevitability of death wholeheartedly. We must start seeing aging as a journey of transition.
What kind of journey we may be undertaking towards the end of life, can at best be guessed? Suppose the end of our journey is painful and suffering is prolonged, then we can surely, through the power of acceptance and mindfulness, embrace and accept death with greater ease and grace.
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