Recently I made a trip to the supermarket, and was delighted to be able to help an elderly couple with some of shopping’s little snags such as pulling the trolley out and reaching for higher goods. They reminded me of my parents, and I so wanted to go home with them. As we chatted, the woman said to me” “Don’t get to be 85, it isn’t fun, I am not sure I signed on for this”?
My response was “Well I think I did sign on, and it is inevitable, unless I die sooner”. And there lies the whole dilemma of ageing. How we view it, how we traverse it, and what psychological and spiritual work we need to do for this stage of life to be fulfilling for each of us.
My generation of Baby Boomers is currently caring for ageing parents and facing up to these issues. We have such a wonderful opportunity to view our world differently.
I was recently talking with a friend about the care of her ageing mother, which she is doing in her home with occasional help from other family members. The thing she said that affected her most was the overwhelming nature of the care needed for a person in the end stages of life. The vulnerability of the person is not just something that needs care but reflects deeply on the relationship between this woman and her mother and the life they have spent together. Accepting this passage of life as inevitable, can be firstly an intellectual and emotional stumbling block; simply because, “I want it to be otherwise”.
The mind somehow doesn’t want to see, or ruin, our memories of a once vibrant mother, with all her faculties in place, cooking for family gatherings, loving us and our partners, welcoming the new members of family, somehow above the petty squabbles, and vying for top dog in the family hierarchy. She just kept loving and accepting.
And here we are faced with a woman who can no longer do these things and needs our care. To bath, to dress, to have food on the plate and get to appointments in that big wide world;
To be able to have this be a time be full of wonder and joy, as well as coming to the deep emotional understanding of our own ageing process and finally death, has taken many of us to new places of understanding and a kind of liberation of who we think we are. Yes we are left with orphan status when our parents pass on. But it is much more than that.
The opportunity for a forgiving and almost innocent relationship is on offer. As the older person relinquishes the world, and has less and less interest in the things that held a focus in the past, a new more inward looking, sometimes subtle, change occurs.
It is at this time, from my experience and talking with others that the care can change from the physical to a bringing forth of the joy and innocence of “remembering”, and this may look childlike.
But it is I think the natural remembrance of where we came from in the first place. And a longing can set in for the passing on to occur. This looks to us like acceptance.
Or it can look a little like a sort of dementia, where the person has one foot in this world and one in another.
The readiness for this major event is natural.
However it can be aided by our acceptance, standing back, loving, helping and just being present.
While we miss and grieve for those who are passing or have passed, this is not about us. It isn’t about hanging on, to the physical, trying to get the status quo to remain or blanking out what we don’t want to happen. This is only fear of our own reluctance to face our own mortality, and can be looked at square on and released without much to do.
Recently I spoke about the joy of meditating with friends not just with acquaintances, and this I mentioned is particularly important with the elderly and those readying themselves to pass on.
Lastly I want to mention the role of forgiveness, which is something that often starts to happen naturally for some older people, and can be encouraged in storytelling and journaling, about their life. All lives have the wonder of history and therefore interest of ongoing generations.
But here I want to mention the forgiveness work necessary for the carer to feel free of burden, worry and anxiety about the future, and their part in the demise of the elderly. The outcome would be the acceptance of death and passing on as an occurrence of inevitability. The love with which we do this is up to us and takes using the processes of forgiveness on a daily basis. We are not separate entities but totally connected to each other on a plane of knowledge that because the elderly, having done their worldly duties, is now opening up to and being revealed in unique ways not to be missed.
It takes seeing the elderly as whole and innocent, seeing beyond the body, with the eyes of spiritual wonder to the empowering knowledge that a life well lived, whatever it has looked like is what it is, and is to be loved.
Death is a profound human experience. As someone approaches death their emotional and spiritual needs are as great if not greater than those of their bodies.
As we age and as a society we have become more obsessed with quality of life it is only natural that we start to scrutinise what constitutes a good death and how we might improve the inevitable.
Once a subject shelved at the back of our minds never to be spoken of, death increasingly concerns us.
Many who work in palliative care, hospice setting encourage people into conversation around death and dying. To help people consider fears and choices around the inevitability of dying and death.
As one hospice worker said, “We try to risk manage fires and earthquakes, but we don’t prepare for our own death.
Becoming acquainted with death and the release of the fears, trepidations and denials of this occurrence enhance our appreciation of life. The revolution in bedside ritual of the dying has bought in much to strengthen the emotional and psychological support given. Sometimes in the form of forgiveness , memoirs of a life looked back on, letters to the future generations. Gratitude and celebration of the life well lived
A new learning has entered this ritual where the person is encouraged to release and share stories. To let go of close loved ones while sharing the love that underpinned the relationships. To forgive what might appear to be unhealed complications in families, where to the person transitioning these memories are now no more than perceived hindrances.
It is possible to pass over with love and equanimity. The lost art of caring for the dying encompasses a holistic approach that lessens the sense of helplessness a person might feel.
Death is not the end of a series of medical events or tragic accidents but a profound human experience.
We are moving toward love and away from our collective fear and in so doing regaining the art of listening to the dying in a metaphysical sense as a well as being practical in the here and now.
The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran, On Death
“You would know the secret of death. But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heath of life? The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light. If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life. For life and death are one, even as the river and sea are one. In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond; and like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring. Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity. Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honor. Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king? Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling? For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered? Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.”
What is Death
” Death is the cessation of the connection between our Mind and our body.”
Although intellectually we all know that one day we shall die, generally we are so reluctant to think of our death that this knowledge does not touch our hearts, and we live our life as if we were going to be in this world forever.
As a result the things of this world – such as material possessions, reputation, popularity, and the pleasures of the senses – become of paramount importance, so we devote almost all our time and energy to obtaining them and engage in many negative actions for their sake. We are so preoccupied with the concerns of this life that there is little room in our mind for genuine spiritual practice. When the time of death actually arrives we discover that by having ignored death all our life we are completely unprepared.
What is death?
Death is the cessation of the connection between our Mind and our body.
Most people believe that death takes place when the heart stops beating; but this does not mean that the person has died, because his subtle Mind may still remain in his body. Death occurs when the subtle consciousness finally leaves the body. Our body is like a guesthouse and our Mind like the guest. The Mind is neither physical, nor a by-product of purely physical processes,( the Mind is not the brain) but is a formless continuum that is both a separate entity from the body and at one with the body. This paradox allows us to know the Higher Mind while living in the body. When the body disintegrates at death the Mind does not cease.
Although our superficial conscious mind (the daily chattering mind) ceases, it does so by dissolving into a deeper level of consciousness, the very subtle mind; and the continuum of the very subtle mind has no beginning and no end. It is this mind which, when we spend time and effort to understand and let go our worldly attachments, including fear, anxiety, misery and the idea that material goods and societies pressure to live with prestige will make one happy. The transition of death can be made easier through an active forgiveness of self.
Some people do it by actively gathering friends and loved ones around. Others do it by themselves. Still others do it long before the last stages life knowing that dying to grievance and arising to the life of forgiveness, daily, affords us the ease to pass over without the baggage of fear.
Peace of Mind
Peace with my heart Peace, my heart, let the time for the parting be sweet. Let it not be a death but completeness. Let love melt into memory and pain into songs. Let the flight through the sky end in the folding of the wings over the nest. Let the last touch of your hands be gentle like the flower of the night. Stand still, O Beautiful End, for a moment, and say your last words in silence. I bow to you and hold up my lamp to light you on your way. ~Rabindranath Tagore
Meditation is possibly the very way to remove fear; fear of dying, of getting old, of any of bodily preoccupations. All the great spiritual traditions have meditation as the key factor in their teaching. Meditation is a time honoured technique, one of human civilization oldest spiritual disciplines. Helping with the release of expanded consciousness and beginning the process to understanding yourself not just as a self-centred identity, separate from those around you, but as the shining light you are. Knowing yourself as connected to God or cosmic consciousness. This experience can be totally transforming. You go from thinking you are just a body competing with everyone around you, frightened that the world is treating you badly, to an experience of union and peacefulness much the same as the sages and saints. You begin to understand that death is non-existent, and you have nothing to fear. What some people see as an end is really a transition or a beginning, not a termination.
The true self cannot die, because it is the all-pervasive cosmic universal consciousness. It is because of the practise of meditation that these ideas can be experienced and the fixation on the body or small ego self is loosened. This then begins the process of understanding suffering. The identification solely with the perishable body leads to the idea of annihilation as it is without expanded experience.
You must venture into new territories in order to rid yourself of the fear of dying. Meditation is a clear way to get to know your-self as more than a body. It will take you beyond the automatic conditioned responses programmed by anxiety, desire, hatred, prejudice and social conventions to a new clarity where you will feel more appropriate and freer.
Meditation creates a kind of mental distance between you and mental activity so you can observe it. As you become more aware of the deeper aspects of yourself you start to see and feel thoughts and feelings coming into existence. And so it is easier to see these are not the essence of you.
Meditation begins to eliminate the obstacles of mind that prevent clarity of consciousness. Mindfulness not mindlessness is the hallmark of meditation. You expand awareness not eliminate it. You move beyond the limited ego self to reveal your true self which is in union with the cosmos or God and therefore is deathless.

Author's Bio: 

Margo Knox is a coach for those who have recently retired or are over 55 and looking for a new way to approach the different world of retirement with a new and deeper purpose.
her online courses "Baby Boomers with Purpose, Fullfillment,Balance, Freedom" have been popular with many