Reflections on Death & Dying
By Jessica Thomas, PhD, LMFT
There would be no chance at all of getting to know death if it happened only once. But fortunately, life is nothing but a continuing dance of birth and death, a dance of change. Every time I hear the rush of a mountain stream, or the waves crashing on the shore, or my own heartbeat, I hear the sound of impermanence. These changes, these small deaths, are our living links with death.
–By Sogyal Rinpoche from The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
The future is, and always will be an unknown experience, death is no different. Our perceptions of death can guide our intentions and hopes of the unforeseen reality that awaits us all. We can choose to avoid engaging death, or we can acknowledge it, accept it, and liberate ourselves from fear of the unknown. Through both avoiding and accepting death we perceive life. If our intention is to live a life that is truly free from fear then the process of accepting our own mortality proves to be advantages. In fact, in some cases, those who are forced to face death through extreme circumstance often times gain a deep appreciation for life and begin to live more authentic and free.
It is no coincidence that we quickly learn to embrace life when we are confronted with death, either through a terminal illness or a loss. So why then do so many people wait till death is obvious to acknowledge it? Are we not in the process of dying everyday?
How might we use this existential knowledge to grow as human beings, to live and love more fully, to be happier people, both for ourselves and others?
Reflections on End-of-life Caregiving
By Jessica Thomas, PhD, LMFT
The experience of loss or an impending loss can often evoke a cultivation of one’s spirituality in the meaning-making process. It is through the human struggle that we learn to let go of attachments and experience the true nature of life, impermanence. Caregiving for a dying close friend or family member can be a transformative experience, one that promotes gratitude and interconnectedness.
Meaning-making generally involves the reflective process of stepping back from an experience to connect with it a deeper understanding and more expansive view. In stepping back, a space is created to marvel at a larger life narrative that unfolds in relation to the past, present, and future.
The reflective space created for the meaning-making process can provide existential and spiritual nourishment as one begins to confront the anticipated loss and come to greater comprehension of their relationship with the dying person. Meaning-making while providing end-of-life care offers a unique opportunity to connect with the more caring, and loving aspects of ourselves, which Freeman (2014) described as “our own potential goodness coming into being in tandem with the reality of the Other” (p. 57).