Graceful Exits: How to Prepare for Death

By The Spiritual Explorer | Published 29 July, 2015

Dear Spiritual Explorer: My uncle is dying. He is a very spiritual person and I would like to make his ending as peaceful and inspiring as possible. Can you give me some suggestions? Kathy R., Portland, OR

Graceful Exits by Sushila Blackman

Dear Kathy: I know that you all have a death with dignity law in Portland, so it would seem to me that there is some consciousness happening in your part of the country for sure. I am however gratified that you have come to me for some advice. I have been reading a wonderful book called Graceful Exits by Sushila Blackman who died shortly after she published this book. I hope that she herself had a graceful exit.

Graceful exits teaching moments

In Graceful Exits we see stories and anecdotes of people who witnessed wonderful saints and teachers who made graceful exits at their times of death. Some of these remarkable saints announced their deaths when they either arose in the morning or days before. The remarkable thing was that each of those graceful exits seem to be  preceded and accompanied by a feeling of joy and serenity. What was remarkable was that because they seemed to have some pre knowledge, these saints were able to die as they wished. It was obvious that their last moments were meant to be teaching moments for their students.

People afraid of dying

It is said that more people are afraid of how they are going to die and the concomitant pain they may endure at the time than they are at the actual experience of dying. It sounds to me that it is easier to complain about the pre-dying than face the actual fear that we are all going to die. It is said that the fear and non-acceptance of dying has given rise to all sorts of tests and surgical procedures that truly do not contribute to anyone’s graceful exit, and in fact, not only brings pain  to the patient, but to his or her family.This has given rise to the need for more role models for graceful exits. Recently, we saw in the news a young woman who was dying of brain cancer and was given the opportunity to choose her time of death. What a brave, caring woman she was. I think it set the stage for many more people who wish to follow her path.

Graceful exits through palliative drugs

There has been a great change and better acceptance of the process of dying. Whether that is attributed to people taking a spiritual view or bringing more detachment surrounding death into their lives, I don’t know. I am aware of hospices who do a wonderful job of working with both the family and the ill person before death, presenting them with a very comfortable and kind way to bear what can be very painful for the remaining family. I am also very grateful  that there is much more tolerance for administering certain narcotics so that the patient can be very comfortable as they approach the dying process. I think we will all remember the movie Terms of Endearment where  Shirley MacLaine, as mother, was seen asking for more pain drugs for her daughter Deborah Winger. The nurse however responded to Shirley that even though her daughter was in pain, it was not the scheduled time for the drug. Needless to say, we will never forget Shirley MacLaine’s voice as it increased several decibels as she demanded the drugs be given immediately to her daughter. That was in 1983. We’ve come a long way since then, thank God.

Graceful exits made by spiritual master

It is said by spiritual masters that if one has done their spiritual meditation work and perhaps simulated an experience of dying, that one loses their fears of actual physical death. Of courses those cases are rare. It is also said that if one remembers God all their life, that at the point of death, one may call out to God or say a particular mantra which they may have recited most of their lives. We will remember Gandhi who at the time he was shot, called out Ram, Ram.

Graceful exits approach

All that being said,my dear, I think you might ask your uncle what he personally needs to make his own graceful exit. Perhaps there is something he wishes to say to someone or something that needs to be taken care of before he dies. This is assuming that he is still conscious. Many people have some very peaceful music playing in the background. Some people I know have even brought a guitar to play by someone’s bedside. I have a friend who is a masseuse who is always called upon to be at dying bedsides to help people relax in their final moments. In fact, she told me that she was present at someone’s bedside and when she touched their feet,they immediately went into the dying process. It was so quick and beautiful, she stated, as if the woman had no resistance and she just slowly took a few breaths before dying. I was also present when right after this person died, there was someone who immediately washed her, covered her with flowers and then presented the body to be viewed. The washing was done by two friends who had known this woman for a long time and were very dear friends. That wonderful act can be very reassuring to the surviving members of the family, knowing that the body is well cared for.

I would just let my intuition kick in and trust that your caring will lead you to do the right thing to make your uncle’s passing as another one of those graceful exits.

If you have a question about “Graceful Exits,” or anything else, you can write me at Ask The Spiritual Explorer.

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