Everything Dies

A few thoughts on death —

We will all face this moment at the end of our time. But before our own end, we are likely to watch while someone we love passes that mile marker.

I think there is a process to dying that happens two weeks before we pass. During this time, people tend to become less well. They typically struggle to walk and become sleepier – managing to stay awake for shorter and shorter periods. Towards the last days of life, the ability to swallow tablets or consume food and drinks eludes them.

It is around this time that we say people are “actively dying”, and we usually think this means they have two to three days to live. A number of people, however, will go through this entire phase within a day. And some people can actually stay at the cusp of death for nearly a week before they die, something which usually is extremely distressing for families.

Do not seek death. Death will find you. But seek the road which makes death a fulfillment.

My own observations and discussions with colleagues suggest that if pain has not really been an issue for a person earlier, it is unusual for it to become a problem during the dying process. In general, it seems like people’s pain declines during the dying process. We don’t know why that is – it could be related to endorphins.

There are a number of processes in the brain that can help us overcome severe pain. This is why soldiers on the battlefield often don’t feel pain when their attention is diverted.

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The priceless book, “Healing into Life and Death” by Steven Levine, relates the experiences of numerous individuals as they pass through the dying process. Levine’s training for these patients usually helped the dying to pass through in a state approaching happiness — even euphoria.

Our society has a strong fear of death, but it is my experience that only a relative few people require enough medication at the end to “obliterate their pain.” Often they cannot legally obtain such relief — and in such a circumstance even a few suffering unnecessarily is too many.

The use of psychedelic drugs such as MDMA — or even stronger psychedelics such as LSD — may allow for a critical change of thinking, there at the end, which allows the patient to face his own death calmly. But for many, just a bit of training in mindful focus — or the ability to recount their lives with an interested listener — is enough for them to bypass the anxiety and fear of dying.

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