Photographers love to take sunset and twilight photos for the quality of the light and the vivid colors. Artists love to paint end of day scenes, too. People like to gather in their favorite spots in nature to watch the big light show.
But what about the sunset and twilight that are end of life for people? Are they held with sweet regard for a life lived or does the scene become a rush to revive the body at all costs – literally and figuratively?
REALITY OF THE END
My 95 year-old father is hovering near death, so I am thinking about these issues again. How does society portray end of life? Under more ideal circumstances, what could it or would it be like?
In much of the world view, of the view we usually call Reality, death is still considered the end of things. Fade to black. Even when millions of people believe in a religious model of an afterlife, the idea of dying still brings on sadness, sometimes hopelessness, sometimes a sense of tragedy. You’ll often hear the term “tragic death” in the news. We grieve, we weep, we miss.
My mother died in late 2011, twelve days short of her 93rd birthday. There was sadness around that event, but also for me celebration that she no longer had to endure life house-bound in a pain-filled body. I had my grief that I could no longer interact with her physical presence, but was pleased to see her in my mind dancing in the streets of heaven.
As someone who has heard and read many accounts of near-death and other mystical experiences, the idea of dying is not so disturbing to me. I will be quite surprised if I die and don’t wake up somewhere else. Of course if I don’t wake up anywhere I won’t care one way or the other. I’ll be dead.
BUT THEN THERE’S THIS
I’ve had personal conversations with people who experienced NDEs and I’ve heard other accounts at support groups. For most of them, dying was a piece of cake. Returning to the body was truly the hard part.
One person who “died” in a car crash told me that she was out of her body and hovering over the roof of the car before her head hit the windshield. Another woman said that as soon as she realized that a bus was going to slam into her car, she instantly popped out of her body.
Several people who “died” during medical emergencies found themselves hovering over their bodies or appearing in an entirely different environment without at first realizing what was going on. It took them awhile to figure out that they had ejected themselves out of their bodies.
As I talked with these people, I began to conclude that most of the deaths I had ever seen in the movies or on TV were probably inaccurate. They were clearly one-sided depictions because we rarely followed “death” from the point of view of the person dying or killed. We just assumed that dead means most sincerely dead.
My interest in near-death experiences is not just about what happens to us beyond material living. It’s also socially relevant, at least to me.
If death is really a transformation instead of a termination, then much of what we encounter at life’s end may be wildly misleading. You may disagree, but I believe that dying won’t kill me. I plan to wake up. Consciousness will live on. I am critical of legal, medical, and sometimes even religious systems that don’t prepare people for their next life.
Some people are faced with having to make trying medical choices near end of life. Imagine being elderly and diagnosed with cancer. The medical community would want you to undergo radiation and/or chemotherapy in an attempt to cure the cancer. These therapies are not fun. They can lead to serious side effects. They are exhausting. Would you put yourself through that ordeal to buy a few extra months of physical life, especially if you believed that death was just a doorway to a new life? Or would you elect to coast as comfortably as you could through hospice care?
Most social institutions would say go for the cancer treatment. After all, they reason, if there’s a chance for recovery, you should go for it. It usually does not enter into the dialogue that the person can choose to let nature take its course. Choosing to die is usually viewed as giving up or even failing.
What’s also not usually brought up in the conversation is how expensive these treatments are. If you don’t have the right kind of insurance, medical treatments can break the bank. If the treatments are not guaranteed to restore health, and if the person is realistically close to death, is medical intervention the right course to take? If you spent a lifetime protecting an estate to leave behind, would you want it all to go up to feed the financial hunger of the medical system, especially if you personally were convinced that death only killed your body, not your mind.
WHAT IF THERE’S MORE?
Human life at any age is precious, yet if we had more of a grasp on what may exist beyond the boundaries of a physical life, we might think differently about the end of life. I already do.
If it were absolutely, positively proven that death is transformation, not termination, would medical science insist on trying to “cure” people of life-threatening diseases when they were old and frail? Would social pressure be so intense on “trying to do everything we can to save” someone if strong evidence suggested that consciousness survives death?
Of course, medical science is not very interested in pursuing the question of soul survival. This is not financially profitable research to undertake. It’s all about the physical body and business as usual. They maintain that breathing is better than not breathing under nearly any circumstance.
Clearly if a person wants to fight a disease and prolong life, that should be an available option. But if a person chooses not to pursue medical intervention on the grounds that living a few months more is not worth the pain, suffering, and cost, that should be honored, too.
END OF LIFE PARADIGM
If death is actually like graduating from Earth School and moving to a new campus, then our whole paradigm around death needs revision. Miss people as we might, we would feel less angst and more hope if we thought about them as moving on to a new life, not vanishing altogether.
When the sun sets, we all have strong confidence that a new day will dawn in a bit. That’s the way I would like to see the sunset of a human life: colorfully filled with hope.