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The Costs of Death Denial


Two years ago today, mom was lying in her room ready to die. 


She had been ready for months - that was becoming more and more clear to me.


Over the summer she had withdrawn. She would sit in another room, away from us, in front of the TV. When I think about it now I wonder if she was even watching. She stopped calling her friends for hours at a time.


She was still receiving aggressive treatment. 


On Thanksgiving she was weak. She ate only a little, and when she was done she would say, “I did well today”. She didn’t seem concerned with buying Christmas presents for Dylan or my cousins. I remember wondering about that. My aunts and sister and I went to see Wonder, and I was frustrated when mom said she didn’t want to go. She would have loved it. She was afraid to leave the house. 

At that point, she was still receiving aggressive treatment.


A few weeks later she made the decision to stop her treatment. That was the moment I realized we had to release all of our resistance to make her as comfortable as possible.


She died the day after the 2017 solstice, just five days after choosing to stop treatment. 


Five days of comfort - and only God knows how many months of agony, fear, uncertainty. Only God knows how long she had been ready to die.


I could blame the doctors for continuing to give her the treatments, for not recognizing her terminal condition, or for not saying anything. I could blame myself and my family for our failure to recognize the signs, or our denial of them. Maybe my mom wanted to fight, or maybe she wanted to because that’s what we wanted her to do. I could blame my mom for not saying something sooner. Or I could blame myself for not asking her. 


The truth: we were all doing the best we could with the tools we had. 


Some people are afraid of the word “hospice”. People in my own family still won’t say the word “death”. 


Hospice is not a “place people go to die”. The philosophy of Hospice services is life-affirming: the goal is to give people the best quality of life they can while they’re living with a terminal condition. It’s meant to be a service people receive months before death. 


The average time a hospice patient is served in this country is 17 days. 

The costs of death denial for our family are still revealing themselves. The ones I recognize so far, I’ve named the 3 C’s:


Comfort - when we deny the truth of imminent death, refuse to say true words like “hospice” or “dying”, and avoid difficult conversations before a loved one dies, we may also be denying our loved ones the opportunity for greater comfort at the end of their lives. How do we know what they truly need if we don’t want to hear the truth? 


Connection - family and friends had 5 days to say the things they wanted to say to my mom. Some wrote letters, texts, talked to her on the phone. She wasn’t able to respond, and we can only hope the messages were received and helped her feel loved as completely as she was by those people. I had five days to start to work through some of my own stuff around death, and around our relationship, and in the end I wasn’t able to be the person I might have been for her if I hadn’t been willfully blind for so long. What would have been possible if I started the work when I saw the signs, or even before?


Celebration - hear me out - some wise & spiritual person I know once said, “The only thing more dangerous [meaning...dangerously fun] than an open bar is a timed open bar”. Isn’t that a brilliant metaphor?? Life is like a timed open bar. & for those who don’t imbibe, life is like a wedding reception with a DJ who’s only getting paid until 11pm. There were so many things we could have celebrated about my mom when she was alive. Awards and honors she was given posthumously that would have made her so, so proud and filled with purpose. 


I’m devoted to sharing death awareness and death contemplation practices to advocate for compassionate care for the dying and terminally ill.


AND...there's a peculiar arrogance in denial of our own impermanence. Procrastination, putting things off, not living up to your potential, not doing all you can to be of service and share your gifts with the world.


What would be possible in your own life, TODAY, if you were to sit with the reality of your impermanence? 


Death meditation is a powerful motivator for connection, a map for clarity, and a mirror for unconsciousness & blind spots that are keeping it from living the life you were made for. 


What if I told you you could fall madly in love with your own life by meditating on your death? 

Would you be willing to learn for yourself? 


Join me for a 1:1 Death of the Decade meditation session to reflect on the past decade, dance your way into 2020 with gratitude, and birth your biggest and wildest dreams for 2020 and beyond.


xo

Alyssa



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Last Updated December 2019 by Alyssa Budinock. Proudly created with Wix.com