Today, a young woman is dying and moving closer to her last breath. She will be leaving three little ones who will be too young to remember her. She is struggling and acknowledged to the Hospice team member, in a soft whisper, ‘I am afraid of dying.” She is young and we are used to supporting the elderly in their dying. Supporting the death of a 30 something is out of natural order and it brings pain and tears to those assigned to her care and to the whole team.
Most of us either acknowledge a fear of death, the unknown, or state that it is not a fear of death but the pain in dying and letting go of life and loved ones that we fear and grieve. If we are honest we can see that this fear gets played out in different ways every day of our lives as we make choices, usually unconsciously, based on any one or all of those fears.
We all know the spontaneous rise of fear when the body feels threatened. The feelings of anxiety and racing heart and mind. We fight to calm our breath and seek outside ourselves for answers and perspective, something to cling to that allows the fear to subside, something that distracts us and gives us a feeling of soothing or safety. It all seems to work for a while and then the cycle starts all over again At some point, we find it is the clinging that brings us full circle back to the fear of dying, the fear of letting go and having nothing to cling to in the attempt to claim our identity.
Death is not something most of us think about in our 30’s and it is something most of us can avoid thinking about on a day to day basis. When it comes time to take that journey ourselves or to assist a loved one on their journey we have little awareness of the experience.
We are a land of how to’s, directions for everything at our fingertips. I googled, “how the body dies,” and got a tremendous amount of information on how the soul leaves the body at death. And yet, it will be our first time, or not, depending on our beliefs, and we don’t know what it feels like, we don’t really know what it will uniquely be for us .
I am thinking of this today as the deeper I go in my meditation practice, I discover the more I have to let go of and to let go of clinging to, with a feeling of floating away from shore into nothingness. I am beginning to understand my meditation practice as the practice of dying.
11th Century mystic, Mechthild of Magdeburg, writes:
The soul is made of love and must ever strive to return to love….By its very nature it must seek God, who is love.
It is not what we find in the distractions or what we consider a safety net; shopping, reading or anything else that takes the mind away. Rather it is that which we seek in the inner life through prayer, contemplation, meditation, alone time in nature, and ultimately death, that brings relief to our pain, our suffering. We seek to return to love. It is something to remember when we fear death, or the death of another, and struggle to understand. We seek to return to love. It is the timing of our death we do not know. But as one team member offered, “You were born, you gave birth, you know how to do this.” We struggle with believing that we do know how to die, to return to love.