I recently went to a fund raiser for the Centaur Theater in Montreal and the key not lecturer was Marc Garneau a famous Canadian Astronaut. During the evening Mr. Garneau shared how it felt to prepare for a trip into space. I noticed that lots of what he shared wasn’t foreign to me even though I’ve never traveled to the moon (yet that may be debatable). Ironically lots of what he said resembled my story with chronic illness. I think there is more than one way to reflect on life and one’s mortality. Whenever we’re asked to face the unknown and surpass our fears we touch a part of our self that is God like. Whether we wait impatiently to be called to board a rocket ship or we wait impatiently to be called to take a 2 hour nuclear scan I think that for some of us the experience moves us to see more than the ego, the fears, the panic and to touch the mystery of life.
I often tell people that what I find is lacking in our society is the knowledge and wisdom to prepare for death. It’s not something that we can do during a crisis or on the spur of a moment. It’s a process that starts from the day we are born. We should consider death with every passing day, or every inhale and exhale. Lots of people think that this idea is macabre and depressing when in truth those are the reactions we get when we are not prepared or used to the topic. Marc Garneau told us through his talk about a tradition that every astronaut goes through before a trip into space. A week before the journey, they are given access to a house on a beach where they can connect to their families or loved ones. During this time they put their papers in order, share memories, talk about subjects they’ve been avoiding, bring resolution to old conflicts etc… Then, on the last night they are given what is called “a last supper.”
I wondered during the evening if there was a difference between the last supper of an inmate on death row; the last supper for an astronaut; or the last supper of Jesus Christ? I liked the idea of expecting death and being ready for it. I liked the idea of leaving my loved ones with closure. I liked the idea of living death in mystery rather than in fear.
In the last 30 years of my life I’ve had my fair share of death. In the last 15 years I’ve helped many people in their final hour. Each time I’ve been touched by the beauty of death rather than the tragedy of it. There’s something that happens at the end that is like watching the Earth from space. It’s overwhelmingly beautiful and fills the soul like nothing else. 10 out 10 people that I’ve assisted have been greeted by their already deceased loved ones on the other side. You can see on their face the blue of the earth and the vastness of the galaxy. Suddenly life makes sense and so does death.
With guidance and support people who ready themselves for death feel in awe and safe at their final moment. They welcome and surrender to the death experience in the same way that they welcomed and surrendered to life. What is said and done in the last few months before death is always incredibly mysterious and phenomenal. It builds the process that brings us to die in peace. If we could only have more people who are experts in death and in this process to help us prepare – there would be less bitterness, unresolved, and fear towards this natural occurrence. Why not teach about death?
P.S. Picture of a Mayan Ruin (Costa Maya)