Last week, I received an urgent text from a friend asking for time to talk about a personal matter. As a coach, this is a fairly regular occurrence, so I simply scheduled the earliest time I had in my calendar to talk. I logged into our Zoom video conference, and her bright, beautiful face soon joined me.
“Hello, friend! I’ve missed you!” I said, realizing it’s been months since we last connected.
“I’ve missed you, too,” she said with her usual beaming smile. “Do you have some time after our call to process because this is not going to be an easy conversation?”
I felt my energy shift.
She added, “I’ve received a prognosis that I don’t have much time to live.”
Stabbing pain went through my heart as I cried. I knew she was a breast cancer survivor, and she didn’t need to say more. It was back.
“I want to hold space for you to process this news,” she said. “Take your time.”
Wait, you want to hold space for ME? You’re the one dying, I thought.
Through my tears I asked, “How much time do you have?”
“Two weeks to a few months,” she responded gently as if she were a doctor delivering the news to a patient.
After the tears subsided, she shared that I was on the short list of people she wanted to tell personally and be able to share what our connection and time together has meant to her.
What an amazing gift to give someone; that at the end of this lifetime she wants others to know their impact. It is a rare soul that shifts attention from their own death to shine a light on someone else’s value.
Our exchange was beautiful. We were each able to tell the other what we loved about each other and how much we appreciated each other. We reminisced about our first meeting, and all the interactions since. It was open, it was honest, and it was pure loving presence.
She shared a story behind the necklace she was wearing, what it symbolized to her, and why she wanted me to have it after she is gone. (A personal story that I’ll leave between her and I.)
Then she made a joke about mailing out Save the Dates for her funeral ceremony. Always the one to find humor and be playful.
She shared that she doesn’t fear death. She’s leaning into it as all part of the adventure. She is genuinely excited to finally know what that experience is like and trusts that this lifetime is one in many that her soul will have. It is only death of the body. And because we’ve touched each other’s life in the way we have, that it probably hasn’t been our first soul-level interaction and won’t be our last.
I could feel the authentic peace in her. Her only concern was holding space for others to help them navigate their grief. That was how she wanted to spend her last few weeks.
She has been writing a book that she won’t be able to finish. She asked me to speak at her ceremony to share this very conversation we were having as a yet unwritten, but not undocumented, chapter of that book. How moving to receive a request to speak by the very person I’d be honoring.
So often we don’t have conversations with people about what we want at the end of our lives and after. We don’t have conversations about where we’d like to be when it happens, or who we want around when it does. We don’t talk about what to do with our bodies after our soul has left it. Or what kind of ceremony we’d like others to have in our remembrance.
We avoid the topic as if somehow not talking about death will somehow help us avoid it. Or that if by having the conversation we’re now counting down to it and welcoming it to arrive sooner.
Hate to break it to you, but we all die. In fact, the moment we’re born we’re in contract that we will die. I personally believe that, while we absolutely have free will in how we live, our death is predetermined as part of our journey. I can’t speed up my time simply by talking about it, although I can affect the quality of the time that I do have.
So what would happen if we didn’t fear it and instead talked about it like we did the weather?
Jane Whitlock, an end-of-life doula, wrote an article on this same topic: “What if we treated death like birth?” (There's also a corresponding TED Talk, which I encourage you to experience as well.) She states that if we were to treat death like birth:
“We would have the go-to books that every dying person needed to read, like ‘What to Expect When You Are Dying.’ In those cases when we knew death was imminent, we would hold death showers — giving blessings, poems, candles, cozy blankets, singing bowls, and create playlists of their favorite music. We would create crafts that helped us process our anticipatory grief as a way to keep our hands busy while our hearts and minds prepared. We would compose prayers of gratitude for the person’s life.”
What a beautiful way to die! Yes, yes, yes. Yes to the messy and authentic richness of this. Yes to holding loving space for those near the end. Yes to living our lives more deeply for that very experience. Yes to the gratitude that welcomes in.
To my dear dying friend, you are such a testament to unyielding faith that everything is exactly as it should be. You embody everything I admire…carefree, spunky, intelligent, confident, patient, playful, kind, generous, inspiring, no-BS direct, spiritual, joyful, creative, intuitive and hilarious…and I’m so privileged to know you.
I aim to die as gracefully and full of presence, playfulness and peace as you have shown. I love that you have no fear. You truly are an inspiration. Thank you from all of my heart.
Until we meet again, dear One!