by Barnes Boffey, Ed.; Director of Training, Aloha Foundation (www.alohafoundation.org)
When I was 26 years old, I began an intentional relationship which has been one of the most important I have ever had. It gets more significant every day. I was teaching a college class and the issue of death came up. I decided to create a short thoughtful experience for my students, so I asked them to write down the answer to the question, “How do you feel about death?” on an index card. On the other side I asked them to answer the question: “How would you like to feel about death?”
My answer to the second question was “I’d like to be as unafraid of where I am going after my death as I am of where I came from before my birth.” I was actually quite happy with my answer, but the more profound thing that happened at that moment was that I realized at a deeper level that I should start interacting with the thoughts and emotions and realities of death quite early in my life, for as the saying goes, “There are only two sure things in life, Death and Taxes.
Over the years I have gotten a wide variety of reactions to my desire to incorporate my relationship with death into my everyday life, but now that I am 70, I am so very grateful that I did. I am well ahead of so many people my age who have been pushing this relationship away for years. I feel like my relationship with death has gone through the ups and downs of any long term relationship. I have been angry, sad, scared, denying, accepting and serene. My long-term relationship with death has given me the opportunity to work out many of my fears and questions, some which take years to resolve, and I am left at this time of my life with a sense of serenity and acceptance which I know could not have been created in a short-term last minute relationship.
I have envisioned my own death, I have written several obituaries as though I had died in that particular year, and I have imagined my own memorial service (who will come? who will stay? who will I be glad is there? who will I wish had stayed home? What will be said? What would I like to be said?). I have talked with my children about my death until they are much more easy talking about it, and I have asked others what their thoughts are about probably the most important issue of our lives over 70, the process of aging and death.
Imagine the edge you would have if you took any of life’s issues and explored it thoughtfully and emotionally for 45 years. This is no different, it just involves a subject most people are unwilling to talk about: it America’s great taboo. The results of my relationship with death over the year are reaping great rewards in this time of my life, but it has also been a blessing all along the way.