10 STEPS TO DYING GRACEFULLY
Sitting there watching my client’s face, so peaceful, so easy as he took his last rattling breaths. I felt a peace coming over me, a knowing again for the umteenth time that death is moving into lightness. I’ve worked with several dying clients to help them find this place of peace at death and so far it’s always the same. So I decided to share a few steps that can help us to find out how to die gracefully, peacefully and without fear.
Most of my life has been about helping people to find a more joyous, peaceful and fulfilling life but almost nothing is as fulfilling as watching someone die with joy and grace.
I’ve seen fear, struggle, almost a hysteria as clients moved towards death, until they discover how to move beyond that. Dying like birth can be a joyous and uplifting experience. Let’s explore how they changed death from being something we fear, into something that is powerful, joyous and transformational. In this blog we share tools, techniques, meditations and ideas that can help you or your loved through this transformational experience.
“For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.” Khalil Gibran.
Most of us associate death and dying with grief and suffering. We find the subject something we want to avoid or we feel uncomfortable about it. Yet it’s an unavoidable part of life. How can we can help ourselves, or our dying loved ones through this transition when it’s time?
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” Steve Jobs
Dying in the end is just dropping our space suit body, yet it’s also so much more. Death and dying gracefully is a podcast series in which we explore and experience these new and ancient ways of dying.
“Death is not the greatest loss in life, the greatest loss is what dies inside us when we are alive.” Norman Cousins
Here are ten steps to dying gracefully:
First let’s look at the five regrets found by Bronnie Ware as she worked with dying people for eight years:
1/ “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
2/ I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
3/ I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4/ I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5/ I wish that I had let myself be happier.
I’ve found a few other life changing ideas for the living and dying:
6/ Knowing how to find peace
7/ How to find joy in life
8/ How to be okay with who we are
9/ How to be present/mindful in our life
10/ How to love ourselves and others
‘Bronnie Ware has released a full length book titled The Top Five Regrets of the Dying — A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing. It is a memoir of her own life and how it was transformed through the regrets of the dying people she cared for. She says, “For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives. People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.”
Focusing on these five regrets in some form has been transformational even for those of who aren’t dying right now! Asking ourselves each question and taking a few days to keep asking them can give us a huge relief and new view of life.
1. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. It is very important to try and honor at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.” Bronnie Ware
So many of us are living according to who we feel we should be, rather than what we want or who we really and truly are. This is a great question to ask ourselves a couple of times a year and share it with friends and family. Some get angry at death because of this. I had one woman who had a period swearing at everyone and asking them to ‘leave her alone’, as an Italian mother and grandmother, she never had the ability to speak her mind or do what she wanted.
2. “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.
By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.
We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.
It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.
When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.
Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.” Bronnie Ware
Here are more ideas and questions we can explore as we’re dying and to help us to live and die gracefully:
6/ Knowing how to find peace within.
“Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace.” Dali Lama
When we rely on how others make us feel we can never find inner peace. We have an inexhaustible reservoir of peace deep within and we need to take time to access this, it never leaves us, we have just left it (and it’s not our fault).
The outside world is like waves washing over the sand of our peace. We can choose to loose our connection to it, or build a bridge and use tools and techniques to remember how to get there. This place has been in us from birth, but we’ve lost access to it. So, what to do? Take a few moments in the morning, before you get up to feel the goodness and appreciation for the small things in your life. Put the corners of your lips up and think of one thing you appreciate, do this all through the day and you’ll begin to feel that peace more and more. You’ll be building a bridge back to your always perfectly peaceful place.
People who die knowing the place of peacefulness die more peaceful, it is the place those of us who’ve had near death experiences found ourselves.
I was eating a Cloppa fruit in the Transvaal with my father and sister. Suddenly I swallowed the huge seed and it blocked my throat. Everyone was busy eating their delicious fruit and no one noticed that I was turning blue, until I began falling to the ground. I was slipping inwards, into a deeply peaceful place and I could see a tunnel of light. Daddy saw me and grabbing me by my feet, he held me upside down and hit my back. The huge seed popped out and I took in a bug rasping breath. I asked, “Daddy, where was I going, what was that place?” “He replied, what place?” “That place that was so quiet?” “I don’t know darling,” he said.
Knowing this place before we begin the death process is important, although we can discover it then too. When we do it makes us less fearful. How do we do that? We take short moments where we stop, put the corners of our lips up and drop into the feelings in our hands, our feet, our body. We watch a raindrop on a leaf and feel how our body feels. We completely experience the apple as we eat it. We are wholly in the hugs we share with someone. We are totally in the present.
Taking these times enables us to feel the place of wellbeing with and as we do this more and more throughout our day, we find it spontaneously happening. Then when we are dying, we can we can practice this and relax into the peacefulness that we are opening into.
7/ How to find joy in life
“Only those who have learned the power of sincere and selfless contribution experience life’s deepest joy: true fulfillment.” Tony Robbins
Joy like love is a state, not an emotion. It’s like a bubbling up of our wellbeing. When we see a sunset, when we hug a loved one, when we see a beautiful flower in nature we slip into a state. This holds us for a little while and then something crosses our mind and it’s gone. How can we grow this state of joy?
“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” Thich Nhat Hanh
Find small things to appreciate, like the earth you’re walking on, the road your driving on, the clothes your pulling over your head, the breath your taking. When we appreciate we create a pathway into the state of joy.
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” Thich Nhat Hanh
Even when we are ill or struggling to move beyond life, we can open moments of joy, when we have practiced awhile. Joy like love and peace are states that are always within us behind all of the other stuff.
8/ How to be okay with who we are
This ties into the first regret.
“Who were you before the world told you what you were not?” Bryant McGill
So much of our life is lived believing what others have told us about who we are and who we’re not! Perhaps today ask yourself, who am I without what I do; what I have achieved; what I look like and what I own? We are born unique and yet so often we are covered with words and emotions we or others have placed over who we are. Like post it’s that cover our being, which we can’t see through. We can begin to remove those post it’s by questioning our thoughts and beliefs. Use the Byron Katie’s Work question, “is it true”. When we question our thoughts, we change our life forever.
Here are a few of her powerful quotes.
“It’s not your job to like me — it’s mine”
“A thought is harmless unless we believe it.
“An unquestioned mind is the world of suffering.”
“No one can hurt me — that’s my job.”
Dying is often filled with thoughts of, “what it”, “if only,” “Why didn’t I,” “why didn’t they.” When we discover how to question these thoughts, they so often just go away and leave us slipping into the joy, peace and love that we are under all of the other ‘stuff.’
9/ How to be present/mindful in our life
Mindfulness brings us here now and enables us to feel who we are. It is a mental state found through focusing our awareness on the present moment, as we calmly acknowledge and accept our feelings, thoughts and what’s going on in our body.
“The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.” — Jon Kabat-Zinn
Take the time today, now to just be here and notice everything, the trees, the grass, the expression on someone’s face (without judging). When we do this we find a quiet within, a presence that brings us to who we are.
“Mindfulness is a way of befriending ourselves and our experience.” — Jon Kabat-Zinn
Right now take a second to really be here with everything that is in your experience now, how your body feels, the sounds around (how does the fridge sound?), the smells, the thoughts, the colors. Mindfulness brings us home and is powerful tool when we are ill or dying, as it keep us here and moves us gently away from emotional suffering.
10/ How to love
Love is a state, a sensation, not an emotion, it can’t be given or taken, only felt. Right now as you look out of your eyes, appreciate something in your eyesight.
“Appreciation and self-love are the most important tools that you could ever nurture. Appreciation of others, and the appreciation of yourself is the closest vibrational match to your Source Energy of anything that we’ve ever witnessed anywhere in the Universe. -Abraham/Hicks”
Love is the same energy as appreciation. When we spend time each morning, each day, appreciating something about us, we are loving us! Appreciate our hands that do so much for us, appreciate our bed, water, tea, coffee, the mug we drink them from and as we do this we are in the same energetic state of love.
Many of us have asked, “Who am I?” We are this expansive feeling, we are this feeling of love.
When we take time to appreciate, we begin to uncover true love for ourselves. This is something we feel, we uncover the energy of who we truly are and then we are in love with ourselves and others. In love without needing anything from them, because we are totally fulfilled, we are totally in this state of love.
When we are in this place, we can return to it, even when we are pulled out by pain or the threat of losing loved ones as we die. We are love, we’ve realized before and now with a pathway well built, we can travel back along this and find it behind the suffering, behind the impending leaving this life and these loved ones. Love is a state, a state we slip into when we are in a flow with or connected to someone or something. We are love!
“And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” Steve Jobs speaking to students at a graduation. Stanford University.
“No matter where you go, there you are” Confucius 479 BC