3 Lessons from death
Updated: Oct 21, 2019
After a CPD day with other counsellors and psychotherapists, a few reflections and ideas came to mind. The topic was death. We all gathered around a celebrant who told us stories of people’s deaths. Then, it was our turn to talk about how we currently deal with these issues in our therapy rooms, followed by our reflections about death. The day moved on. Our hearts opened more to the theme for the day. Our eyes met in a more authentic way. Death was around. In the afternoon, we briefly made preparations for our own death: some of us wrote down a will, or a death plan. Others drafted a list of things they wanted to do before they died. Yet another group prepared its own funeral. Finally, we got together and shared what we had learnt, as well as how we could apply this to our practices. The day left me full of wonder and, surprisingly, extremely energised and alive.
Many counsellors and psychotherapists do not shy away from experiencing their own vulnerability towards death or any other issue. We have been facing similar issues to the ones you are presented with today, as you read this article. We are all human beings, and we share the experience of living, suffering and dying.
Anything can happen at any time
Many of my clients struggle to come to terms with the death of a loved one, or they’ve been shocked by the fragility of life: “It could have been me.” “Anything can happen at any time.” “Life is unpredictable.” These are sentences that I often hear. Some of them are so frightened by death that they've become paralysed in life. It is as if death had already entered their bones. They are physically alive, but death had sucked their living sap. They need counselling to learn how to walk again, and step by step reconstruct their lives. Other clients need a caring and safe space so that they can learn how to talk about the death of a missed person with their close ones.
We all live in the framework of a society. Our current society seems to be prone to adventures and travelling, experiencing new things and exploring new landscapes. However, when it comes to the biggest adventure of them all, our own deaths, we are hardly prepared. When someone dies, we are facing our own mortality, but we don’t know where to start preparing for it. However, the paradox is that the more we let death be present in our lives, the more alive we would feel. If you know that you are going to die tomorrow, does it really matter that you don’t have a partner? A house? A fulfilling job? Would you not just breathe the air, smile to strangers, look at the trees in your neighbourhood, or take that leap of faith into doing what your heart has always desired to do? Death can be such a great teacher.
Death teaches you about authenticity
If you believe that you need to hide your feelings, or you feel that you need to share them with the world; if you want to move on, “man up” or get over things, or endlessly grief your loss and share your sorrows with your friends, death may teach you that you will not be judged. It gives you the freedom to be authentic. You can hide, you can expose yourself, you can choose to be whatever way you wish. Death is at the door anyway. So who cares? Isn’t it that freeing? You can choose to be whoever you wish to be.
Death teaches you about community
If you are faced with death, you may wish to hide and run away from everyone, escape to a different world, forget anything that reminds you of your own mortality. But one day, it will knock at your door. However, if you face death and your own mortality, you may feel humble, scared, and grounded. You may also feel more connected to your humanity, and may wish to share that experience with others. You may wish to join a religious institution, a meditation group, or create a community that responds to your beliefs or needs.
Death teaches you about mindfulness
If a loved one dies suddenly, you know that life is no longer the safe place that you once believed it to be. Life is unpredictable, changeable, ruthless. Death will teach you that anything can happen at any time. Therefore, you have two options: either you escape and ignore this lesson, collapsing in the face of life or entering into risk-taking behaviours, or you can embrace the present and enjoy the time you have as if there was no tomorrow. Because you don’t know whether there is.
Death will keep you connected to the present and help you to fully enjoy the company of those around you. You will love your husband’s oddities, your wife’s nagging, your children’s tantrums with an intensity that you never experienced before. Imagine this is the last time that you see them. Would that not make a difference on how you relate to them? You may be more present with your boss and your colleagues, discovering that they are not out there to get you, but just struggling as human beings, like you are. So many things can change if you become more mindful as a result of knowing your own mortality.
Life and death are so interlinked that one cannot exist without the other. Accept death and your life may experience a surprising aliveness. At the moment, some “death cafés” have been organised in Exeter. If you feel that you need to talk about death and become more alive, maybe you could go to one of them. If you feel that these cafés or death trigger you, you can instead book some counselling sessions and explore this issue with a professional #counsellor in Exeter.
Copyright 2019 @ Alda Counselling - Exeter and Teignmouth