It is funny how some of our traditions in cultures make no sense in the context of others. When we celebrate accomplishments, proclaim our love or success we typically do this as publicly as possible. We buy a cap and gown for a commencement to walk across the stage to declare our brilliance. We spend days choosing the perfect church and reception venue for declaring our love. We carefully choose the right evergreen to hang lights and celebrate a first christmas in a new home with family and friends.
All of these important events become more significant than the other. Every event coming with its own sense of relevance in our life. Given all of this celebration planning, why is it so difficult for us to share one of the most important rites of passage we experience? We are afraid to even say the words, our rite of passage in death.
While most people feel that when someones dies there is loss, once we can look beyond the loss, the passage of dying can be as wonderful as every other one of our rites of passage. When we die, the end is really a new beginning. The beginning of a perfect external life. Openly sharing your feelings about dying, planning the journey for your last few days on earth is as important as planning for your first News Years Eve Party. It is like celebrating the end of one year while beginning the next.
You might be thinking what all reflection on death and dying is all about. I am not dying, but have been focused on death ever since I saw the movie, The Theory of Everything this weekend. This extraordinary story is about one of the worlds greatest living minds and renowned astrophysicists, Stephan Hawking, who is romantically in love with a fellow Cambridge student Jane Wilde. This young man was once a healthy 21 year-old who is diagnosed with motor neuron disease. It is an incurable disease that randomly affects voluntary muscles until they weaken to the point of non-function. This man’s complicated life challenges our thinking and the science behind many of the worlds wonders. His story is based on hope and the belief that life is worth living no matter what challenges are thrown your direction.
He teaches us that all people have the ability to learn, grown and change. No matter what challenges your existence, a mental illness, motor neuron disease, trauma or physical disability, you are in control of your future. You hold the power to effectively change your life. Through passion you can charter your journey and direct how you experience life’s opportunities. Stephan Hawkins demonstrates this through his triumph as a husband, a father and a scholar.
The significance of Stephen Hawking’s life resonates as an example for all of us. There are several emotions that have been swirling around my head for the past several days. In his story there was an intersection where his wife decided whether he should live or die. While in the spirit of hope, inspiration and her experience she made the best possible decision. She did the best she could with the circumstances she had at hand. Stephan was unable to participate in this end of life decision at that junction in his life.
I was most sad because he had no decision in his rite of passage for death. While the decision that his wife made might have been the perfect choice, he or we should have influence on our rite of passage to death in the same why we exercise our right to vote.
During the last 72 hours I obsessively been thinking how important it is to get a plan about how you want to be treated if you are unable to speak or make decisions for yourself. An easy task that you can do all alone in the comfort of your own space. There is no need to negotiate, or need for attorney’s or doctors, you can simple write your own plan, get two witnesses and sign the document yourself to ensure that your preferences are honored.
Once we complete this plan, we should feel open to talk about it. Share it, celebrate it, through a party. Toast the agents of the plan who will be challenged to carefully, gently implement your strategy. If we can stand up and declare our love for someone committing to spend our life, walk across the stage and except our diploma or share our first experiences of our life publicly, we should be able to celebrate the plan for the end of our lives. It only took me an hour to make a plan for the end of my life.
I say have a party with all those important in our life. Pop open a bottle of champagne to celebrate your plan for how you want the end of your life to roll.