For many of us, it is taboo to even discuss it. We push it away, distancing ourselves, pretending dying and death are not inevitable.
If the reader is willing, let's take a look at what is in store for us at the end of our life, acknowledging that it is, of course, "the great unknown," and that not knowing can be a really scary thing.
When death occurs without warning, suddenly and out of the blue, we have no way to prepare. When a seemingly healthy person collapses and dies, or there is a fatal car accident, it is shocking and traumatic. We struggle to make sense of something that makes no sense, of a life over much too soon.
It is those who are left behind who suffer the most, sometimes becoming despondent for years or even an entire lifetime, as they grieve their loss
Releasing our attachment to the suffering can be a huge step.
The topic of death and dying may require us to give some attention and thought to this natural part of life.
It may be seen as one more step on our journey from birth, through childhood, adolescence, adulthood, old age and then letting go of our body.
Does the losing of our body and our mind as we move into "the great unknown" have to be dreaded and feared? Is it better to live in denial and make believe that somehow life on this earth goes on forever?
It does help to have a spiritual foundation — something that you believe to be true about life and death.
If your belief system is a positive one, rather than the threat that you will, upon dying, visit hell and damnation, this topic is much less frightening.
You may follow a religion or not, but to have some understanding of "the bigger picture" can be important when you consider the transitions ahead.
Personally, I appreciate the assurance of the ancient Hindu scripture, The Bhagavad Gita. "There has never been a time when you have not existed, nor will there be a time when you will cease to exist. You were never born nor will you ever die. It is only the body which is born and which will die. Your real Self is not the body. The eternal Self inhabits the body through childhood, youth and old age."
Another approach to the fear of dying is to consider what countless people have said about their "near-death" experiences. There is usually a common thread. They see themselves passing through a tunnel toward the light. Greeting them are loving guides to help them to the next destination. Those who return report that they are told that their time is not yet over, and there is more to do. Those who survive tell us it is a pleasant and deeply moving experience to be so near to death.
Just recently, it was reported that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, right before he passed, said goodbye to his gathered family and looked beyond them and said, "Oh, wow, oh, wow, oh wow."
So, what's to fear? The unknown? Surrendering control?
Of course, the dying itself can be really hard to take. Being prepared and making end-of-life decisions can help assure things are in order. You can take care of the proxies and appoint trustees of your estate, but have you planned how you want to die if you get really sick and there is little to no hope?
You may have watched a loved one needlessly suffer, on medications and living with tubes and machines, while the doctors tried to save his or her life. You may have waited for a miracle that never came. There were no choices at the end of life. But now, we in Massachusetts have the opportunity (as has been approved in Oregon and Washington) to pass Death with Dignity, a bill that will be put before voters in 2012, which gives terminal patients a choice in planning their death.
This legislation — which includes strict safeguards — will guarantee that, if you are of sound mind and you have no more than six months to live, you may request a prescription from the doctor that allows you to self-medicate and end your life in a dignified manner.
You may choose the time, the place, and invite loved ones to be with you in those final moments. You can choose to be in your home, or in hospice, or in the hospital.
Never before have we had this choice. I, for one, will sign the petition to make sure we see it on the 2012 ballot. Then, I may feel even more positive about my "ending" when it comes, while believing that, really, there is no end.