Helping The Dying
I have had no experience with death and dying. My grandparents and a few other friends and relatives died in my lifetime but I was too young and not skillful enough to help them at the times of their deaths.
The content of this article has been sourced from the Tibetan book on Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche. This is a modern classic and introduces the Tibetan Buddhist tradition in a way which can be applied in our modern, westernized world. The chapter titled Heart Advice on Helping the Dying is itself worth 50 times the cost of the book. To obtain your copy please click on the link above.
A dying person at the time of death is in such a situation that he or she is leaving behind all that he has clung to and been familiar with all his life. Wealth, fame, prestige, family, friends, power all is being left behind. Rinpoche asks us to put ourselves in the place of the person who is dying at the time of death. He asks us to imagine ourselves on an ocean-liner or a journey to the unknown. You have no choice in the matter, the ship is already on its way out and our friends and family are on the shore to wish us goodbye. What would we want from our friends who had come to see us off in that situation? Remember you can never come back and that you have no choice ? you have to leave. With a little use of the imagination we will be in a better position to help the person at the time of death and dying.
Sogyal Rinpoche gives a lot of important advice. I have attempted to summarize some important points in this article. For more detailed help please read his book.
1. At the time of death and dying give the person room to express her feelings. Allow her to express any and all her feelings. The dying person feels fear, panic, grief, rage, in different proportions. By allowing her to express those feelings by empathizing with them we can offer immeasurable help.
2. Give the suffering person permission to die. Rinpoche speaks of persons whom he had met or heard of who were approaching death and were dying. But they were burdened by their responsibilities, by the fact that their family depended on them. Sogyal Rinpoche says that many dying persons refused to let go and suffered many weeks of suffering and agony. By giving such a person permission to die his family would make his passage much easier.
3. Establish trust and open communication; be yourself. Your job is to behave naturally and let the person open up. Use humor skillfully in such situations. This will establish better communication.
4. Do not interrupt, deny or diminish the person?s feelings. At the time of death the dying person needs to feel and express his feelings. This is the way he can be free of them and meet his end peacefully.
5. Do not intrude your spiritual beliefs. Do not try to convert or impose your spiritual beliefs on the dying person at the time of death. It will not help. On the other hand if the dying person expresses a wish to learn about your beliefs, do not hold back.
6. At the time of death the dying person may make you the target of his grief and rage. This is not unexpected. The person who is dying is in the deepest crisis of his life. Don?t take it personally if he takes out his feelings on you.
7. Do not expect too much of yourself. This is only so much that you can do. In the ultimate analysis people will die as they have lived. Do not expect miracles.
8. Technique to help you empathize. Rinpoche says that dying persons long to be touched, long to be treated as living persons and not as diseased. A great deal of consolation can be given to the very ill simply by touching their hands, looking into their eyes, gently massaging them, holding them in your arms or breathing in the same rhythm gently with them.
Rinpoche also describes 2 techniques for feelings and expressing unconditional love towards the dying at the time of death. Very often, due to past issues and sufferings, we may have feelings of guilt and anger towards the dying at the time of death. Rinpoche says that if you try to put yourself in the place of the dying person you will have a better idea of what the person needs and feels. You will then be in a position to accept the dying person unconditionally.
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