My fascination with death was prompted by the death of my father in 1988 and six weeks later a dear woman who was a mother figure also died. I lost in that short space of time two very significant people in my life. My father had a history of various illnesses and my other dear friend had a experienced a double mastectomy as well as secondary cancer throughout her body. I wanted more than anything to understand and make peace with this thing known as death.
In 1989 I began working with AIDS in Western Australia, where my journey was to continue for six years culminating with the final two years of my managing a Respite House that served as a hospice for those dying of AIDS. I witnessed angry deaths, stoical deaths, peaceful deaths, fearful deaths, drawn out deaths, many of them brought to a conclusion with the help of a morphine injection.
I remember very well, the love, the compassion and most importantly the physical affection that was given to all of those we attended to during that time. I also have very clear recollections of those who I knew in the community that had the early symptoms of AIDS who ‘self-delivered’ because they knew what was to come and did not want to lose their autonomy and suffer the indignities of a slow, drawn out shutting down of their body and its functions.
For me personally, I respected and honoured their choice. I respected their right to make their own decisions about their life and how and when it was to end.
For those of us who are happy, healthy, and then dead, as was my grandfather, they are indeed the fortunate ones. For those of us who are to experience something like cancer taking us out, there is the likelihood of a long drawn out dying process. As a dear friend has mentioned…”I am not afraid of death itself, but am afraid of the manner of my dying”. I too feel the same way.
I am the first to agree that the process in a book called ‘Deathing’ by Anya Foos-Graber may not be easy to experience or master , whether with a mentor or not. Hell, I have difficulty meditating as it is. I do think that a seed has been sown though, about the possibility of being able to experience a conscious death, especially in the case of having an illness. For me that would include, not choosing medical interventions (apart from pain relief), to have the grace and dignity of acceptance to what is and to willingly go with the process. It is probably easier said than done though. If this could be helped along in some way, I would be all for it. After all I believe the journey continues.
Having witnessed so many deaths of others, I know the shutting down process of the body is not a quick process. It takes days and this is where I would love to have the choice of sitting back with music and a concoction and sip my way into the twilight zone with whoever wants to be with me. It is not cheating. On the flip side, there are many who will want to hang on tooth and nail to every least drop of life, of that I have no doubt. Fear is an incredible emotion.
A friend who has been reflecting on this issue believes that maybe a conscious death is nothing more than having the awareness to know when it is time….. and (I add), exercise my right to cease being on this planet.
One thing I know for sure, no matter what age you are, it is NOT wrong to die.