We are all going to die. Dying is a universal experience that links everyone one of us. Although I have been interested in death and dying for many years, I have been surprised to find myself immersed in this topic for the last three years, even before the tragic death of my brother. I became a hospice volunteer, am a core member of a monthly discussion group called Death Café, I participate in a neighborhood book discussion group on death and dying and am constantly bringing the topic into discussions with friends, family and my women’s group. I’ll admit: I’m a little obsessed.
I find it curious that my post cult healing process has been accompanied by this exploration. I have found the death/dying conversation to be paradoxically inspiring and life enhancing. Perhaps because the violation that I experienced from Doug was primarily on a spiritual level, I am drawn to exploring anything to do with spirituality and therefore death. For now, I am gently holding the question about how the death discussion relates to cult recovery, and will certainly come back to it.
One thing that is very clear to me is that culturally, it's taboo to talk about death. Why is this? And how might our lives be different if we actually integrated discussions about death into our daily lives? How might our finite lives be different if we, dare say, celebrated death, or even looked forward to it?? Looking forward to death? It’s a radical thought. But not as radical as you might think.
A week ago I met someone who literally can't wait to die. His name is Peter Panagore and nearly 60 people came out of the Vermont woods to hear this man speak on a Tuesday evening. The title of his talk was “How dying taught me that death is just the beginning.” I had already read his book about his near death experience, so I had an inkling of what was coming – but it did not prepare me. His presentation blew my mind. This man can't wait to die, because he already did once, up on a mountain when he was 20 years old, ice climbing. He died of exposure. He knows what it is to die and he wants to go back there. He describes, in incredible detail how he separated from his body, and experienced … the indescribable – sensations of profound beauty, joy and of being flooded with light and surrounded by exquisite harmony and loved unconditionally - so completely beyond any worldly experience. Today, Peter wants to die, because he knows, unequivocally, that he is going back to that wondrous place.
Mr Panagore is not alone with this experience. Millions of people all around the globe have had near death experiences. After the talk, I did a web search and found the website for the International Association for Near Death Studies (IANDS). They have documented millions of near death experiences, and studied the themes, many of them, very similar to Mr Panagore’s experience. The IANDS researchers report that the after effects of a near death experience are overwhelmingly positive: nearly 80% claim that they have less anxiety, no longer fear death and have a greater sense of life purpose.
The IANDS website has many resources – many of which connect to research and scholarly papers completed by Astrophysicists and Quantum Physics gurus who have proved and/or are proving that consciousness does not end when the body dies. The self does not die. In fact, they say that consciousness and matter exist in an incomprehensively multidimensional reality that can only really be understood as divine.
But I still have this question: if consciousness and the proof of divine reality after death are so amazing, why do we not want to talk about it? Heck, even if we don’t buy it, that despite those millions of first-hand accounts to the contrary, and we think that the end is just the end, there is still a big question in my mind: Why are we as a culture, so reluctant to talk about death?
Since we are all going to die, why not embrace death as an integral part of life? I can say that as a hospice volunteer and as a member of a Death Café discussion group my life has been profoundly enriched through facing into death unapologetically, with honesty and curiosity. And to this end, I want to invite you to do something that might make you feel uncomfortable – to speak with one person this week about death – a loved one, a friend or a complete stranger, and just see what happens. Be open to the miraculous. Since (in the words of my late father) the only thing we really have to do is die then let’s embrace it with the wonder and honesty of a vibrant life.