Tag Archives: Death

“Confronting Mortality: Faith & Meaning Across Cultures”

The New York Academy of Science and the Nour Foundation sponsored a forum Feb. 5 2014.

Despite advances in technology and medicine, death itself remains an immutable certainty. Indeed, the acceptance and understanding of our mortality is one of the enduring metaphysical challenges that have confronted human beings from the beginning of time.

How have we sought to cope with the inevitability of our mortality? How do various cultural and social representations of mortality shape and influence the way in which we understand and approach death? To what extent do personal beliefs and convictions about the meaning of life or the notion of an afterlife impact how we perceive and experience the process of death and dying? Psychologist Lani Leary, historian of religions Jeffrey J. Kripal, and sociologist Allan Kellehear come together to share a multicultural perspective on death, dying, and what lies beyond.

– See more at: http://www.nourfoundation.com/events/rethinking-mortality/confronting-mortality-faith-and-meaning-across-cultures#sthash.xxZNq6an.dpuf

The value of ceremonies

I recently received an inquiry from a family grieving the death of their daughter from an accident 5 years ago.  I think this is a common question, and speaks to a valid need for community and support:

Dear Dr. Leary:  Why do we find meaning in attending the “In Celebration & Remembrance” ceremonies year after year?”  Friends may say this is really sad that we have not “gotten over” the death of our daughter, but for us, we have a chance to once again feel her memory and be with people who understand this journey.  Why do we keep returning? Is there something wrong with this?  

It takes great courage to grieve, because it asks you to be open and vulnerable to your deepest wound.  Your grief exposes you and can make you feel out of control.  It takes courage to feel your pain and share it with others.  It takes courage to learn how to live in a new world, in a new way, without your loved one.

But in our culture, the bereaved most often report that they feel alone with their grief.  You may have felt abandoned just weeks after the funeral.  You may have felt as though you were on your own, trying to navigate this unknown territory by yourself.  The bereaved often say that they feel ashamed that their grief has not abated to other’s timetables.  That is, until we find a community of others who know our experience of death and grief; who share our common language; who also know what we need and what helps.

You return to rituals and ceremonies that honor your loved one because you find meaning and solace in a shared experience with love and loss.  During these ceremonies, rituals, and celebrations you feel you are in community with each other, and the connection is what makes your loss more bearable.

In this community of the bereaved you have created a safe space.  You are a family and you are as different as you are similar.  While each of your loss is unique, each one of you is the expert for your grief alone, but you all grieve and are in community.  You share the human condition of being vulnerable and that is what connects all of us.

Each of your heartaches is unique and none of it is common…but you have much in common. You grieve because you have loved.  You are in pain because you felt an attachment.  You come together again to remember and honor that love and connection, and you come to these remembrance celebrations because it is here that you are given permission, time, safety, and validation to grieve.

Together, during these remembrance celebrations, you do not need to be afraid that you will forget or that your loved ones will be forgotten.  You can speak their name; you can tell their stories; you carry on their legacy; you share your loved one with others.  Just having a caring environment in which you can express your feelings and be heard is profoundly healing.

All grief needs to be blessed, and in order to be blessed, it must be heard.  Someone must be present to your expression of grief, someone who is willing to hold it by listening without judgment or comparison. When you wail or tell your story of loss, it is based in your need that your loss not go unnoticed—the death of your loved one will not be overlooked, and your loved one’s place in the world will be marked. Grief is an expression that validates your loved one’s existence in the world and acknowledges that love for a person does not die just because she or he did.

You return to these ceremonies because it is helpful.  You return because remembering matters.  There is nothing wrong with returning to love.

 

My feature on AfterlifeTV with Bob Olson

Late last month, I was featured on Bob Olson’s “AfterlifeTV” internet show. We spent the hour discussing Finding Peace and Meaning in Death and Bereavement. I’m flattered that the show already has nearly 3,000 views on YouTube, and I hope you might have time to take a look for yourself. As always, feel free to contact me with any questions that come up during the show!

Hospice Care is the Gold Standard

Hospice care is a “gold standard” for end-of-life care. Hospice focuses on the patient’s quality of life and pain management, or palliative care, as its core objectives. The hospice philosophy and care response emphasizes the patient’s dignity and choices. In addition, family education and guidance means support before, during, and after death for loved ones and caregivers. Hospice care is valuable for both patients and their loved ones. However, hospice is not widely used in most states and when it is, dying patients commonly have the support of hospice care for less than a week. This is needless suffering when 70% of Americans report that they want to be at home with loved ones at the end of their life, but health care resources and the family ability to respond often outweighs patients’ wishes. We need information and collaboration with physicians to suggest hospice services to patients sooner rather than later.  If a physician does not offer hospice as an option to end-of-life care, the patient or their advocate, family, or caregiver should start the discussion.

Making a decision for hospice services is not a loss of hope.  When your physician finds that there is no cure or further treatment available for a terminal diagnosis, we can find new focus for hope: the hope for compassion at the end of life; the hope to be surrounded by loved ones and not emotionally abandoned; the hope to be pain-free and comfortable; the hope to be able to share one’s legacy and be told that their life mattered; the hope to be loved unconditionally and cared for with dignity.

Presentation at the Decatur Book Festival

I will be speaking about my book, No One Has To Die Alone: Preparing for a Meaningful Death, at the Decatur Book Festival on Saturday, Sept. 1 at 10 a.m.  The Decatur Book Festival is the largest independent book festival in the country. My goal is to bring hope and inspiration about care at the end of life, so we accept the great privilege of being present for our loved ones through illness, ageing, or decline. I plan to teach skills, attitudes, and perspectives so you know that you can make a difference, and you can intervene to lessen pain, anxiety, and fear for everyone.  Please join me in Decatur or online as I share tips, tools, and skills.  See more at www.decaturbookfestival.com

“Let’s talk about death…” article in Honolulu Star Advertiser

The Star Advertiser wrote an article about my work discussing death and my new book. I have shared a copy of the article below in this post, or you can view the original article at the Star Advertiser website (requires an account to access). Continue reading