Dear Older Self,
Death is the one inevitability. For all of us. There are no exceptions. Yet, we do not really believe it. We can’t take it in. How do we grasp such a radical change?
We witness the death of those we know and feel bewildered. It is so surreal. Where did they go? How did they just disappear? How can they be gone?
Death can seem so strange. And so frightening. It can feel so frightening that you might find you don’t want to talk about it or prepare for it.
Not talking about death is one of the ways you might resist death. It is almost as if you can come to believe that if you don’t talk about it, it won’t effect you. Or it doesn’t exist.
The problem, of course, is that this can add to your fears. And it can add to your isolation. In addition, it can be experienced as a kind of abandonment by those closest to you.
It is time to talk about your approaching death.
To do this, dear older self, you need to start where you are. If you are numb, you can start by acknowledging this. If you feel afraid and anxious, you can start by talking about your fears. If you find yourself feeling sad, make room in your life for this sorrow. There is much to feel when it comes to our own death. A vital part of opening your heart and mind to the reality of your own approaching death is to make room for these feelings. As you begin to acknowledge your fears and sadness about your approaching death, you can ask God for the courage, humility and strength you need. This might mean that you will continue to grieve. It is only through courage, humility and strength that you will gain greater clarity about the amazing gift of life. Try to stay open to the possibility that, as the psalmist suggests, when you “number your days,” you will find that you grow in wisdom. Letting go, a little at a time, of your denial about your own death can help you embrace preparing to say your final good-byes.
One way you can prepare for your final farewell is to begin a process of saying a personal “thank-you” and a personal “good-bye” to people who have been a part of your life.
Saying a final good-bye to the people you love can be a powerful experience. You can spend time thanking them for the gift of who they are. You can list some of the ways they have loved you and touched your life. You can speak of the gifts you see in them.
Stay open to whatever other people might want to offer you as well as they say “thank you” and “good bye”. In Tuesdays With Morrie, Morrie talked about the former students who contacted him to thank him for how he blessed their lives. He described how he was tempted to brush off these gifts from the heart that were being offered to him. But then he realized that when he minimized peoples’ gratitude for him, he was effectively dismissing them. So he began to be intentional in his receiving of their vulnerable, invaluable gifts to him.
Remember your friend with late stage terminal cancer who called you to say thank you and good bye? You both cried. You each expressed your gratitude to each other. You each said a last good bye. When you hung up the phone, you put your face in your hands and sobbed. You were letting her go. You were surrendering her and yourself to God’s care. Her call was a profound and powerful gift. It opened your heart. It both softened you and strengthened you in ways that were beyond words.
Preparing to say your final good-byes might also involve making notes about what you would like to have done at whatever memorial service might be held after you die. You might want to think about what gifts of words or music you want to leave for those who come to a service held in your memory. What would you want such a service to be like? What loving message do you want to offer?
So, dear older self, with a gentle spirit and with patience, begin to let go of your denial about your approaching death. Make room for the feelings that come. Ask for God’s help and strength. Prepare for your final farewell.
This meditation is taken from Notes to Our Older Selves: Suggestions for Aging With Grace by Juanita Ryan and Mary Rae. You can get a copy at Amazon.com