The Challenge Of Death And Dying: Caring For Aging Parents
The process of dying is one of the great stages of learning of the human soul, often met with fear and resistance, yet even in the presence of these, filled with the growth of the soul in its appreciation of its relationship to life.
There is no one way to experience dying so that it produces the maximum amount of growth. For some, the sense of flow from one aspect of life to another is intuitively felt, even if nothing in the earlier stages of life has been articulated as a spiritual belief about the afterlife. For others, there is a well-defined understanding and sometimes experience of the continuity of life, so that apart from the pain or discomfort that may be present during the final stage of physical life, there is no fear. For still others, there is a sense of confusion about the end of life a perplexity about anticipating non-existence. Often, the idea of death has been imposed on the psyche from the past and includes the notion that there is a kind of black-out of consciousness in which everything ends. And yet, even though this may make sense to the mind, it is perplexing to the heart which cannot comprehend such an idea.
Over and over again, a person who is trying to make sense of the experience of dying is pondering the question of what happens next, whether they are actively doing so in a conscious way or not. It is the main question of the last stage of life for many, especially for those who have not yet come to a conclusion which leaves them with a sense of peace. Even in the presence of denial concerning death’s approach, or of anger that life has been ‘cut short’, or in the presence of the desire to just keep living without any thought of the future – even in the presence of each of these attitudes, the underlying process of trying to deal with the perplexity concerning the end of life is taking place.
For those who have inherited a family configuration in which caring for elderly parents is very much part of a central aspect of living, it is very important to know how to be with the dying process in the elderly. And for those who are simply loving the ones who are preparing to pass out of their physical existence, it is also important to know how to be with this stage of experience and of life.
What is crucial to remember and to trust is that the process of learning and of absorbing the meaning of death and of life is happening even if the elderly parent or loved one gives no sign that this is so. It is happening on the level of the deeper consciousness or soul, even if it is not happening outwardly or in a way that can be articulated. The deeper self is reaching out toward light and truth, and though the outer self may not understand that there is an answer to the question of “why?” why death, why life – the inner being knows that there is.
For some, the process of dying is the most central experience of life, however it may appear externally. It may be that life has been lived fully with relationships, family, a productive work life, and experiences that have been rich and alive for many years, and at the end of life that there is more and more limitation and restriction of activity. At such times it may seem to an observer and also to the one who has become very limited physically, that life is not being lived fully any more because of the cessation of physical activity. This is never the case. The shift has simply been made or is being made from a physically observable living of life with outer events that can be marked, to a less observable or invisible inner life that is being refocused around the question of life and death. What causes anxiety or distress in those who are witnessing this shift is the hardship of the limitation of the physical activity and functioning of the aging and dying person. What would relieve this distress to a considerable degree is the knowing that the dying process is taking place successfully, no matter what the outer manifestation that is occurring concerning actively dealing with it. Some things can be processed more easily through the mental aspect of comprehension and articulation of ideas, and some things must take place below the threshold of awareness in a place that joins mind and heart in a synergy in which both are trying to feel their way into a new experience and into a new understanding.
The positive support of those surrounding an elderly person who faces death is of great importance in all situations, for what can get transmitted through this loving support may not be ideas about death and the continuity of life, but the feelings associated with such beliefs of hope, of safety, of trust, and of peace. These feelings can be transmitted without words. They exist in the heart and in the deeper knowing of the soul, and so even without active conversations with loved ones, these deeper feelings and attitudes can be conveyed with benefit.
In the end, each person as a soul must go through the passage from physical life in their own way and with the experiences they are ready to have. The time can be a rich one and even a joyful one for one who knows that they are on the verge of experiencing an expansion of life’s possibilities, rather than a diminishing of the reality of existence. For such a one, the prospect of dying has the feeling of going home to something familiar, even if not known, and can be a place that one anticipates visiting or entering with a sense of peace and with a deep sense of homecoming.
For those who are not yet ready for this perception and preparation, it is often the experience of dying itself, even within the last moments of life or at the time of the last breath, that conveys the truth of the continuity of life to the departing soul. These moments of passage are an experience all their own, and no matter what has led up to them, a soul is capable of a profound amount of awakening and of new learning at the time of death’s completion. For this reason, it is important to greet the passage from physical life as a journey with many parts, and to know that the final part, the moment of the soul being exhaled from the body, may be the last breath of physical life but the first real knowing by the soul that it will not die, but that it will live and continue into ongoing life.