This is the last evening we will dedicate to death and dying, at least until Michael returns.
I did not prepare a dharma talk, but I will say a couple of things:
Death is happening around us all the time. We live in a culture that somehow has made death seem distant and foreign. We seem to conceptualize death and life as being opposites, when in fact we are all dying a little bit every day. And also, new life couldn’t happen if death didn’t happen. We couldn’t eat if other sentient beings didn’t die.
Death has a form, many forms really…like a sacrament…but it is nevertheless a change that we all go through. Every culture and tradition, and even animals, have their own ways of processing death. Recent studies have demonstrated that crows have funerals. Anyone who has spent any time with a corpse can see and feel and touch the truth that the life once within that body—that form—has changed. We don’t know to what and we don’t need to concern ourselves with that. In Buddhism we practice with the dissolution of the body. We practice recognizing its impermanence. Part of that practice can be looking at what form we want our own dissolution and death to take.
The evening is dedicated to advanced directives: thinking about what you would want your loved ones to know and do in the event that you are unable to speak or communicate your wishes.
Michael asked me to photocopy this package for each of you. It is a really excellent package and I would encourage you to read it all the way through. You may decide that you want to share it with your loved ones or make extra copies that they can also fill out. In that case you could write your answers on a separate sheet of paper until after you’ve made another copy or two.
Instructions for doing this exercise
We are going to work our way through these forms. (pages 20 to 25)
Please take your time and really think through the questions being asked. There is no need to get everything finished in this one session.
Be really honest. Don’t answer these questions as if you were some better version of yourself. Let go of any ideas about how you should feel and get in touch with how you really feel. And if what you really feel is that you want to be preserved cryogenically and resurrected 500 years from now put that down.
Fill the forms out according to what you want now. There is a pretty good chance that what you want may change as you change and life around you changes. Don’t try to anticipate the future. Fill this out as if you were going to get hit by a bus tomorrow. But please don’t get hit by a bus tomorrow.
Try not to think about this exercise in the abstract: If you find that you can’t really get into it, notice that and consider a thought experiment. Consider that when you get home there is a call on the answering machine from the doctor, indicating that the routine blood work you had done has come back with some very disturbing results and they want you to come into the office asap. If thought experiments freak you out…don’t do it.
Lastly, think about this task as a form of service and caring to the people you love. Because that is what it is.