“Death is a challenge. It tells us not to waste time… It tells us to tell each other right now that we love each other.” –Leo Buscaglia
This has been a challenging couple of weeks, as several families I know have had to deal with the death of a loved one. No matter what the circumstances, whether the individual was young or old, whether it was sudden or expected, death is not easy to face. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ famous book, On Death and Dying, explains various stages that people go through as part of the grieving process. She identified shock, denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance as stages that people progress through and noted that people may be in several stages simultaneously and may move back and forth between stages. In her book, she states, “It might be helpful if more people would talk about death and dying as an intrinsic part of life just as they do not hesitate to mention when someone is expecting a new baby.” In our society, death is a taboo subject. It is not something that is commonly talked about, yet it is inevitable for all of us to face. In some cultures death is a time for joyous celebration with songs and parades, in others the deceased is kept in the home for several days after death before the burial or cremation. Buddhism actually encourages people to think about death as a constant companion, like their shadow. Although it sounds morbid, there is something special that happens when we are forced to deal with death. Suddenly all of our daily problems seem small in comparison and expressing love seems much more important. There is a shift in how we view the world when we are faced with the reality that we are not guaranteed tomorrow. We begin to think about what we would miss most about life and we make those things our priority. We have all been given a terminal diagnosis: it is called birth. While we all know this, it is something that most of us don’t like to think about. Our denial of the inevitable causes us to put off doing things for another day but, if we knew that this was our last day, what would the priority be? A hospice nurse once told me that the biggest thing she learned from sitting with people in their last days was that most people talked about their regrets for the things they didn’t do when they had the opportunity. While it is often hard to find meaning in death, there is a gift; it awakens us to life.