The picture above is a tree. This tree began life, as most do, as a seed. It received nourishment and grew. As it matured, it developed many ways to survive and thrive. It lived as a splendid tree, housing birds, squirrels, and insects. Perhaps sun-kissed children enjoyed climbing its fully-leafed limbs in the summer. It provided shade and sang soughing songs of leaves rustling in the wind. In the winters it shed its dying leaves and rested. When spring arrived, the tree awakened and reached up in all its living glory. What a beautiful life story.
Many seasons have come and gone. Now, the tree has died. What a beautiful lesson the tree gives to us about living fully in all the seasons of our life; and then dying, a process seen in all of nature. It challenges us to see this fullness of life (not in years but in living) and then the letting go of this earth, the dying. Sometimes when someone we love dies we cannot bring ourselves to even say the words – death or dying. Perhaps we want to be careful for others’ sake, so temper the words. Or we simply struggle with the reality in front of us. We may feel using different words than dying, death, or dead might ease the acceptance. I wonder if what really happens is that by doing so we deny our self and the one whom we love who is dying, the chance to say good bye, thank you for being my best friend, my lover, my husband, my mother… What would it be like if we leaned into the shade of the tree, the shadow of death; entered into the moment?
We have seen our society shift away from most things to do with death and dying as both birth and death are not so commonly experienced at home anymore. Studies show that approximately 80% of Americans would prefer to die at home, if possible. Despite this, 60% of Americans die in acute care hospitals, 20% in nursing homes and only 20% at home. A minority of dying patients use hospice care and those patients are often referred to hospice in the last 3-4 weeks of life. However, we must also recognize not every patient wants to die at home. Dying at home is not favored in certain cultures, due to cultural taboos. Some patients may wish not to die at home, out of concern that they might be a burden on the family. (Source 2017 Stanford School of Medicine website).
The fact is we will all die, just like the beautiful tree. It is an inevitable part of being the mortal we are. While we are fully alive, perhaps we should talk about this upcoming event. Perhaps we should plan how and where we want to spend our last days on this earth. Of course, this is not to say we have the power to control our death. Unexpected events happen. But, if you could say “This is what living well looks like for me.” “Keep me clean and comfortable.” “Let me sit on the back porch and feel the sun in my face.” “Let me have meaningful conversations with those whom I love.” Would that help us to live this life with more intention? With less fear about the future? Would then we and our family know better, what our wishes are for living? And when the completeness of our life comes and we let death enter into the room, have we done so fully?
At Friends of Hospice, through caring, certified advance care planning facilitators, we help normalize the conversation about death, by talking about living. We do this one-on-one with a family or in a group setting through a church, club, or organization. Our highly trained facilitators are available for in-home personal conversations. We conduct group Advance Care Planning workshops and would come to your organization. We offer Death Cafe’s (an international movement started in 2010 in England; see www.deathcafe.org) throughout Whitman County where folks can meet in a safe and confidential space to explore thoughts and ideas about death and dying. Our community grief support groups allow people to explore their grief, receive support, and find resources on their grief journey. All of these services are gladly offered on a complimentary basis. Please contact us at 509-332-4414 or www.friendsofhospice.net.