Navigating a Beautiful Death
By Woody Winfree
As the saying goes – life always has its way when you are making other plans.Beauty and grace can be learned and shared by bringing conscious intention to the dying process. While many roads can fundamentally lead to this redemptive place, the first step is living consciously in relationship with a singular truth: we are all going to die.
To acknowledge this truth is essential in navigating a beautiful death. To deny this truth is the surest chance to create a passing mired in struggle and fear.
Is it our obsession with youthfulness that has contributed the most to a culture of fear around death - something that was once held by recent generations as a part of the cycle of life has now warped into something that is regarded more so as a failure of life? Could this schism be the greatest cause of heartache, pain and fear during what is an unavoidable transition of life?
There is an old Babylonian myth called the “Appointment in Samarra.” I read the retelling of it in The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully by Frank Ostaseski. The myth tells of a merchant in Baghdad who sends his servant to the market for supplies. Shortly after his departure, the servant returns empty handed and stricken with fear. He tells his boss that a woman in the market crowd-bumped into him, and on closer look, recognized her as Death.
The servant coaxes his boss to lend him his horse so that he may ride to the neighboring town, Samarra, where Death can’t find him. The boss loans the horse, and the man rides off in a wild fury leaving the merchant to go to the marketplace himself for the needed supplies. There, he too sees Death and asks her why she threatened his servant.
Death replied, “That was not a threatening gesture. It was only an expression of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad … for I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra!”
When it’s your appointed time for a date in Samarra, you can’t outrun it - even on the fastest horse - but you can affect the mental, spiritual, emotional, physical, practical and financial aspects of death and dying when you make the choice to plan for it.
As Sacred Passage Doulas, one of the most important and cherished tools we have to support this planning is the Best 3 Months planning guide gifted to us by the founder of the Conscious Dying Institute, Tarron Estes.
Coaching through the Best 3 Months, we work with individuals of any age and health status to create a Vision Map that clearly expresses the love, attention, beauty, grace and support a person desires through their end of life journey. These thoughtfully articulated and mapped details cover specific choices from pain management to preferred lighting in the room.
The process of creating your own personal Vision Map evokes you to think about many aspects of care, not only to ensure the most comfortable and peaceful environment for your personal journey, but also as a map for the loved ones at your side, thus reducing stress and inducing confidence in how to provide end of life support.
Like the merchant, facing death means taking the opportunity to see death differently. Seeing allows us to create loving legacies To do otherwise - to run away in fear - leaves us helpless.
We are all going to die. Refusal to acknowledge this truth creates undue hardship for the dying and their loved ones. *Sixty percent of us die without a will or estate planning; seventy percent will have no advance directives. Comparably, seventy percent report that we want to die at home, yet that same seventy percent of us will see our last days in a medical institution and will likely be subjected to unintended and unwanted interventions. Vision planning for the Best Three Months of Life is a tool that allows us to move beyond advanced directives, demystify death, bring peace of mind and create loving legacies. Perhaps most compelling of all is the promise that by consciously Navigating a Beautiful Death, we can lead more fully awakened lives.
Thank you. *The above statistics come from the AARP and CDC .
Woody Winfree is a Sacred Passage End of Life Doula and Lifecycle Celebrant working with student enrollment for the Conscious Dying Institute. Woody believes the uniquely Western world’s desperate struggle to NOT die causes pain and suffering for individuals and families, and wastes precious resources that would be better shared with younger and future generations. Harder to articulate - is her sense that this futile struggle is shredding the un-namable veil between the earthly world and the heavens. She senses tha this “violence” creates great harm to all of humanity as this negative energy gets trapped in the earthly field - rather than to be purified to live on eternally on the “other” side.