➣ Dying Healed: A Shared Quest to Wholeness
by Deborah Grassman
The time surrounding death is fraught with fear and uncertainty. Few of us have developed an “exit strategy” for the end of our lives. Yet, exit strategies are essential if we want to die healed. We wouldn’t even consider leaving on a trans-continental adventure without seeking a map, guide, and advice. Yet, we often embark on our inevitable trip into the mystery of death all the while denying that we’re even leaving. We seldom stop to ask ourselves: “Could there be some advantages to preparing for the trip we’re destined to take? Would facing death rather than running from it reveal any secrets about living more fully?”
Not preparing for death has practical consequences: we might receive treatments we don’t want or need. Our family may be placed in the uncomfortable position of advocating on our behalf. This happened to Sheila Lozier, a hospice colleague of mine, when her father was dying of cancer. The following poem was written on a napkin in an airport as she was returning from her father’s funeral in Nebraska. She had just been through the unfortunate experience of having to advocate for his peaceful dying by preventing Tube Feedings from being initiated. Her poem helps families understand their role in helping loved ones die healed:
DEATH is Like the Birth of a Butterfly…
We walk along life’s path feeling the warmth
from the sunshine on our faces and
eating the leaves of life to fuel our bodies.
Then one day,
our body is invaded
by sickness or by time itself.
A change begins to happen.
Slowly the foods that gave us great joy
lose their interest.
Friends and family can’t understand.
They insist we are starving to death.
The journey becomes more difficult for a time.
Now, eating is done to please others.
It’s ironic that in the end,
the very ones who love us the most,
make our lives more difficult by not understanding. Nevertheless, little by little we stop eating.
Meats, then vegetables, then
anything which requires energy to chew.
Finally all our palate wants
are the sweets of the earth:
puddings, ice cream and juices.
As our energy wanes,
we embark on a new phase of the journey-
the caterpillar stage.
In this slowing down and shutting down process,
the body does not require the fuel it once did.
Like a caterpillar, the body is drawing inward
as if spinning a cocoon,
waiting silently for the dawn of a new existence.
Slowly the muffled cries from the outside world
grow further and further away.
One day a miracle happens.
The broken and damaged shell that once housed
the spirit during its journey here on earth,
begins to break away.
First the hands and feet become cold.
Breathing slows down until it is no longer needed.
Now, as in the birth of the butterfly,
a new energy emerges that is headed
on a wonderful journey on a different dimension.
Perhaps if you listen very quietly
you will hear the gentle beating
of wings as they catch the wind
on their final journey to touch the face of God.