Death is not orderly. It doesn’t follow a pattern. It is not predictable.
Today over 15,000 children under five will die from preventable diseases. The United States ranks 30th on the list meaning that there are twenty nine countries in the world where a child under five has a better chance of seeing their fifth birthday.
Last week one of my friends lost their eleven year old son in an accident. My wife Zita is in Montana with her eighty nine year old father who is getting closer to death. My father died at forty three. My four close friends each who have lost a child.
Death can be shocking, it can be a relief. It can be planned for and it can come unannounced.
Still there are certain characteristics that are shared. There is a loss, a hole created when a person, a soul leaves us. It affects people in different ways often by how close and therefore the depth of loss that is created. How much do we care and how much thought do we put into the 15,000 children that we will lose today compared to a friend’s loss of a child? How do we feel about a father who has had a long life and a father who dies young?
These feelings are not measured by distance and age alone. Each person’s response to a death is personal. It does not follow a pattern. There are not words that are always applicable to console a person experiencing a death. Each situation unique, each surviving person needs personal.
The needs of a mother who understands that some of her children may die before five are personal and global. There are governments and NGOs around the world that take these losses seriously and have been instrumental in the significant reduction of under-five deaths (56% reduction since 1970.) The needs of a mother who loses her eleven year old son in Durango Colorado may have similarities but yet are very different.
As human beings who care for our losses as well as the losses of others what is to be our response. We are often left to our own conclusions for how to respond. We draw upon our hearts and minds to do our best. We consider the needs of those who are experiencing loss and navigate our own emotions of sadness and awkwardness.
At these times we can be of service to ourselves and to those individuals who may be experiencing the loss of a loved one. On a global scale there are many NGOs that are doing great work and can be considered for donations especially at this time of year when giving is at its highest. On a more local and personal level we can consider trainings that increase our knowledge and choices so that when we come in contact with death we are more prepared.
This is true whether there is time to prepare for an impending death or when it comes unannounced. The trainings for Death Doulas that are available through institutions such as The Conscious Dying Institute are necessary. They teach attendees and give them an experience that provides them with a working knowledge of how to be present when there is loss. The attendees gain benefit because they learn about themselves and can translate what they have learned to be a utilized when others are dealing with loss.
This need for presence is heightened at ritual time. When birth and death happen it is necessary to put all else aside and experience what is happening now. This is difficult for the person who is experiencing the loss. This is especially true when it happens unexpectedly. But in all situations regardless of timing having a trained Death Doula can be incredibly valuable. It is a skill that all of us will invariably need at some time in our lives.
It is a blessing when we are capable of being with another individual in time of their need. As conscious individuals we draw on our past experiences and trainings to do our best. That is what is asked for when we make decisions of who we are and who we want to be ion the world. Not everyone wants to donate for families in Africa and not everyone has the emotional intelligence to be there for others. In many ways it is all perfect and in balance. In other ways if we have a personal need to have more balance in our lives regarding where we put our energy, having the ability and making a difference where death is concerned is an admirable choice.
Jeff Markel serves as the Strategic Development Partner for the Conscious Dying Institute.