No longer scared of death

Last night, as part of my tucking in routine, I created an affirmation for Ashleigh and Peter to repeat:  “When things are difficult, when I feel disappointed or don’t get what I want, I can be a detective and find SOMETHING to be grateful for about that experience.”

They repeated it, and I felt to ask: “Do you know what I mean?”

Ashleigh (age 12) piped up: “It’s the ‘glad game.'”

Me:  “That’s right.  Pollyanna’s ‘glad game.'”

Peter (age 10):  “What’s that?”

Me:  “Ashleigh, can you explain it to him?”

<I can’t remember her explanation.>

Peter:  “So like, if you got hurt and broke your leg–you could be grateful that at least you didn’t die.”

That got me thinking, and I shared this: “Here’s another example.  With my depression, even though having it was horribly painful and unpleasant, the result of it is I’m no longer afraid of dying.”

That surprised Peter (age 10), who asked how I could not be afraid of dying.

I tried to explain my line of thinking:  “I came to realize that living on after death (as a spirit) left the possibility of my getting depression in the next life, maybe FOR ALL ETERNITY–which sounded worse to me than just dying and being ‘gone.'”

Peter started to choke up at the thought of no longer existing:  [sob] “I’m scared of dying.”

Putting on my “chaplain hat,” I replied: “Peter, can you tell me what scares you the most about dying?”

P: [crying] “You’d miss everybody.  You wouldn’t be able to be with them.”

Me:  “That’s true.  But you wouldn’t know it.  You wouldn’t feel anything.  When trees are chopped down, do they get sad that they’re no longer with the other trees in the forest?  No, because they don’t have consciousness.  If you were dead, you wouldn’t have consciousness . . . ”

<We said more at this point–I can’t recall the dialogue exactly.>

P: [crying] “Could we please stop talking about this?”

Me: “I’m afraid, son, if we don’t talk about it and help you feel better, you’ll end up with nightmares.”

P: [still crying] “If we talk about something happier, I won’t have nightmares, either.”

Me: “Psychologists talk about the importance of facing your fears . . . ”

P:  [crying even harder]

Me: “Do you want to get over your fear of death, son?”

P:  “No.”

Me:  “No?”

P:  “I just want to stop talking about it.”

Me: [an idea occurring]  “Who do you know who has died?”

P:  “My pets . . .” [sobs even harder]

Me:  “Yes, some of your pets have died.  What humans do you know who have died?”

P:  “Great grandma.  Great grandpa.”

Me:  “Yes–Great grandma Vesta.  Great grandma Turner.  GG.  How old was GG when she died?”

P: “95.”

Me: “95, or 96.  She had a long, good life.  Where is GG now?”

P: “Dead.” [cries again]

Me: “She’s in a box, but she doesn’t know she’s in a box.”

Peter started sobbing harder.  This wasn’t going well . . .

<I can’t remember all that was said next.>

P: “We don’t now what happens when people die.  Nobody comes back!”

Me:  “That’s right.  We don’t know.  There are two possibilities:  either we cease to exist, or we live on as a spirit.  If it’s the first, we won’t be sad because we’ll just be dead.  If it’s the second, it probably won’t be scary.  People in near death experiences talk about meeting their guides–their angels–”

P: “There really are angels?”

Me: “What I mean is spirits–so kind of like angels.  When they meet these spirit guides, they feel a warm, burning sensation in their hearts of complete love and peace.  It makes them very happy.  But after a while, some of them are told they have a choice:  to either stay there, or go back.”

P:  “I’d go back!”

Me: “At first, most don’t want to go back.”

P: “Huh?”

Me: “It’s so peaceful and pleasant for them, in contrast to the stress and problems they experience in life.  Eventually, though, they are shown different scenes from their life, and they see someone hurt or sad, and say, ‘That person needs me!  I’ll go back to love and help that person.'”

P: “I hope Raven Paw [his hamster] is happy with his gerbil guide.”  [smiles–calming down]

Me: “It’s interesting how having a near death experience changes these people.  They no longer fear death, and their priorities change.  They learn that the most important thing is love.  Treating people with kindness.  Their focus is no longer on becoming rich, having the fanciest car, having the best career.”

P: “I wish I could have a near death experience.”

<I can’t remember exactly what was said next.>

Me: “Those people who’ve had one don’t know when they’re going to die.  But, they’re not afraid.  They just try to live a good life until the day they die.”

P: “Loving others.”

Me:  “Yes.  And something else–living without regret.  What I mean by that is they try to live so that the day they realize they’re going to die, they don’t look back and feel bad about something they did.  They want to be able to look back and feel satisfaction that they had lived a good life.”

P: “You might die tomorrow, so every day you just have to live a good life.”

Me: “Exactly.  But we’re not perfect, so we all will probably have some regrets.  That doesn’t mean our lives were bad and that we don’t have any worth.  Some regret that people feel relates to NOT doing something they wanted to do.  For example, maybe someone would say, ‘I always dreamed of going to the Eiffel Tower.  I never made it there.  What a shame.'”

P:  “I always dreamed of going to Hawaii, and now I have!”

Me: “Right.”

P: [giving me a big hug]  “I love you so much, Mom!  I feel better now.  I didn’t want to talk about it, but it helped.”

Me:  “I love you, too, son.  It is such a privilege to have you in my life.”

May we face the reality of our own mortality with the knowledge that 1) we’re doing our best, and 2) we’re truly blessed to be sharing our lives with wonderful people all around us.  May we enjoy the time we have together.  Carpe diem=pluck the day (for it is ripe)!

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Face of peace ⇒ peace of mind

I think I read somewhere that looking at cute pictures of babies or kittens helps people lower their stress levels.  Today, I went looking for pictures of people (me, included) who looked–per their faces–at peace.  Here’s hoping that viewing these will help me lower my stress levels, unfurrow my brow, and remind me of my primary priority: peace of mind.

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Be curious

My friend posted a Marcus Aurelius quote today on Facebook:

“If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.”

It’s such an interesting challenge–to not be offended by correction. I get that the ego clings to the idea of “self-rightness” as part of its identity. Maybe it’s for that reason that we often feel compelled to point out others’ “wrongness”–just to reinforce our own sense of “correctness” of thought/opinions/behavior.

In chaplaincy training, there is an emphasis on remaining “curious” and “open” to whatever people need to express/explore. To not judge or condemn–but to walk beside them as they make sense of who they are and what they are going through. Through a “ministry of presence,” we accompany people through their sadness and anger until they are able to tap into their inner resources of strength, healing, and meaning. That emphasis on curiosity could go a long way in our everyday lives as we respond to others’ attitudes and behaviors–including correction.

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