<Jan. 10/16> Quite a lot of us, I think, are pretty convinced the HR (human race) is on “its last legs” now. As the saying goes.
That our extinction as a species – “near-term extinction” – is looming.
I’m finding that more & more people I know are also giving voice to this, & are increasingly willing to say these difficult words out loud …
** Hospice, according to Wikipedia: Hospice care is a type of care and philosophy of care that focuses on the palliation of a chronically ill, terminally ill or seriously ill patient's pain and symptoms, and attending to their emotional and spiritual needs.
This sure resonates for me. We are in hospice now as a species, not as individuals.
I’ve had a few experiences at the sides of people who were dying, & I’m writing this little essay now to try & distill the lessons I learned on those occasions. For my own sake, mostly. If they turn out to be of benefit to anyone else, bonus!
I’m finding the state of things sooooo bad now – knowing full well this trajectory has only one direction to move in – that I find my heart often hurts, & I mean this literally; I can feel pressure on my heart inside my chest, often. My heart is heavy, as they say.
Grief – a lot of grief & sorrow about the state of the world. (Have written about grief too, most recently here.)
But hospice is what I’m musing about right now. (Although you can’t really separate the 2 topics, can you? They’re bound up together, hospice & grief, just like the earth & the sun are a matched set (well … hmmmmm; we need the sun, of course; the sun does not “need” us. Soup & sandwich, then?? :) ).
When one is at the bedside of a person who is dying, one becomes very calm. (One is required to slow down & become calm.)
The things that are called for are
- no drama
One lets the person who is dying direct the conversation – or the lack thereof. By which I mean, one slows down to become very sensitive to what the dying person (& her/his family/loved ones, assuming they are present) finds congenial to talk about.
Or not. Silence may also (sometimes) be called for.
Humour/laughter are absolutely allowed! If the conversation & situation call them up.
(I wrote an essay called ‘Near Death Experience’ after being with a friend as her partner was dying, at home, of cancer. We had our fair share of laughs – but then, she & I had been close friends for decades, & her partner was probably the funniest man I’ve ever met. Laughter was the air he’d breathed all his life – it was certainly not going to be unwelcome as he died. Thankfully!)
Pushiness is not welcome … but practical helpfulness is.
One slows oneself down in order to carefully gauge & fit with the mood – the feelings of those present (i.e., the dying person & her/his family/loved ones).
One does not demand
Gentleness, as already referenced.
When someone is dying, this is not a time (I think) for
- “settling of accounts”
(or so it seems to me, in any case; I’m only saying what I think makes sense; let’s face it, I am terrifically far from all-knowing!)
Stephen Jenkinson – so experienced in what tends to happen in the worlds, at the bedsides, of dying people – points out that most people tend to die as they lived.
No need to be expecting your Adolf Hitlers to suddenly morph into Mother Teresa in a sudden deathbed transformation.
People will be as they have been. Mostly. (No doubt there are exceptions to the rule, but according to Jenkinson, who has a very great deal of related experience under his belt, these are very few indeed.)
I came by the book Being with Dying – Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death, by Joan Halifax, when I was spending time with another person (then) living with a terminal cancer diagnosis.
I particularly recall her admonition to “give no fear.”
I think in general that “giving no fear” is good counsel (at pretty much any time!)
These are really challenging times, fellow human.
Deeply, deeply, unprecedentedly challenging times.
I suspect we need to show these qualities of
toward ourselves as well as toward others.
We will not always be able to pull off Mother Teresa.
There are/will/may be times when we feel angry, impatient – spitting mad, even, perhaps.
(Been there!? The stuff that’s going on in the world????? Yikes. Sheesh Yikes & OMG!!!!!!!!!)
:( :( :( :( :( to say the very least!?
But just as a person’s dying time is not a time for judgment, blame-laying, finger-pointing or lecturing (I think)
Neither is this a time to hector ourselves (or friends/loved ones?) with our/their failures, or our so-called “superior” “knowledge.”
I will not hit any of my people who are reluctant to hear “the truth” over the head with my (supposed) knowledge or insights. (I know I need to promise this to myself. I do.
I do I do I do I do I do
I will I will I will I will I will
Promise myself, I mean)
If something comes up?
If the moment is right
If the openness or willingness to discuss something is there?
Give no fear.
(Our fears, I think, are likely best kept mostly to ourselves? If we are very-very fortunate, there may be at least one person on the planet with whom we can be upfront about our fears, but for sure, increasing or feeding the fears of other people is not a path I think we really want to go down. Our so-called “leaders” of all stripes – political, religious, medical, corporate – have been showering us all with fear/s for decades, centuries, 1000s of years. & look where all this fear-based living has landed us, hmmm?
Enough of all that, thank you very much!)
Let us remember, please, to be thankful for all we’ve had (& still have).
Most people I happen to know (in my mostly middle-class life) have led (& lead) lives of considerable privilege & plenty. Some of us may even have helped ourselves to a little more than was strictly reasonable or necessary along the way, on the whole simply taking quite a few entitlements rather for granted. (I think most of us have not been overly inclined, perhaps, to give super-close examination to our personal levels of consumption & our “carbon footprints” … hmmm?)
I think we need to recognize & be mindful of (& thankful for) our very great good fortune – our many many many blessings
Especially the sheer brilliant generosity & abundance of this beautiful planet that has always been our only home, & which we have perhaps tended to take somewhat for granted (slight understatement here). Life itself! It’s a huge privilege, essentially. It is!
All in all
Let’s be kind to each other
& to ourselves
These are challenging, challenging times.
Give no fear.
p.s. it is also for sure entirely reasonable & to be expected to feel sad. Not just sad – but deeply, deeply heartbroken. There is a great deal about which to feel heartbroken, fellow human. A very very very very very great deal, indeed.
p.p.s. some books I’ve found very helpful on the topics of dying & grief
- Being with Dying – Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death
- Die Wise – A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul
- The Wild Edge of Sorrow – Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief
- AND ... There is a really amazing, beautiful, insightful interview with Stephen Jenkinson here. Absolutely a Wow experience, in my opinion.
p.p.p.s. I’ve been sitting on this little essay for a while. For a couple of reasons. 1. I’m not sure I’m saying anything particularly useful here. (But what the heck, eh?? I’ve never let that stop me before!? :) ) 2. I know perfectly well that I cannot adequately convey the sheer unprecedentedness of these times … this grief … the situation we are in – & I need to add too that I know following my advice is a good deal harder than it sounds … especially for me! It’s all just a bit … a bit, or rather a lot more than one knows quite how to deal with. You know??
My daily walks sure do help, I have to say. A lot. (Except when I’m too bummed to take one. That happens too. That’s one of those times when I have to be gentle with myself.)
Hard times hard times hard times, humans!!
‘Quote of the day’ with this post: “I propose assaulting ourselves and others with compassion. I recommend heavy doses of creativity and courage. I advise doing something well beyond the cultural current of the main stream. At this point, what have you got to lose? Indeed, what have we got to lose?” – Guy McPherson in GOING DARK
“If we’re headed for the exit gate in the near term, the question then arises: What shall I do? How shall I live my life? In other words, now that we have knowledge of the near-term demise of our species, then what? There are more than seven billion responses to the latter questions. Recognizing that birth is lethal and that we have an opportunity to demonstrate our humanity on the way out the door, I’ve chosen an eyes-wide-open, decidedly counter-cultural approach. I’ve opted out of empire to the maximum possible extent, and I practice and promote a gift economy. Beyond my own actions, I suggest individuals take actions they never previously imagined. I promote resistance against the dominant paradigm, even though – especially though – it appears too late to save our species from near-term extinction. I propose assaulting ourselves and others with compassion. I recommend heavy doses of creativity and courage. I advise doing something well beyond the cultural current of the main stream. At this point, what have you got to lose? Indeed, what have we got to lose?” – Guy McPherson in Going Dark
** Quite a few decent quotes in the NTE section of the blog
& simply a TON more in the ‘Quotation Central!’ section