I have been reading about conscious living and conscious dying in Ram Dass’s Polishing the Mirror, and found a combination of profound insights and disturbing thoughts about how to manage the dying of those around us.
To be fair, we do not exactly manage death, but rather do have the capacity at times to manage our response to it.
Dass claimed that our way of relating to death was itself an extension of how we relate with aging, something I recently started to explore. If we deny that we will all die, then we have a tendency to present those who are dying with a false hope that they will recover and things will be ok. Our efforts are much better oriented toward helping them to embrace the present.
Difficult words to be sure, though it springs from the same notion that embracing life as a cycle means that we embrace and celebrate birth, though somehow see the end of the cycle as a finality (though a great many religions teach that it is really a transition into something else, potentially even something better). While modern Paganism has many threads for what happens to people once they die, one of the roles of a minister is to meet their spiritual needs and act like a midwife, though into the beyond.
Dass talks about death midwifery, and while he embraced opportunities related to authentically living and celebrating the many ways that we, and undoubtedly the loved ones who accompany the dying to their final moments, he encouraged us to consider how “death is a reminder to live life fully” (p. 94). While some aspects of his writing in this area did not resonate with my spiritual approach to life (i.e., astral travel with shared peace between one in a meditative state and the other who was dying), it was overall a perspective that in many ways is pre- or post-Christian (with death a punishment for sin and redemption through death on the Cross and the like). Death is a part of the process, and while we cannot understand it fully, neither can we do that same for birth, either, yet we celebrate one and try to flee or deny the other.
Death is a part of the Wheel of our own lives, and while many unknowns can be scary, it is also something that everybody who went before us has encountered and passed through. It reminds me of the story in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, “And then he greeted Death as an old friend, and went with him gladly, and, equals, they departed this life.”
I think Pagan ministry needs to grapple with the concept of death, especially as we may be looked to as we help with the crossing over.
You are welcome to join me on this journey!