On Dying

Wayne Allan Dirks

My father died 2 weeks ago.

He not only had his will, his wishes, and his belongings in order, he also had his heart and soul in order.  He was ready to accept what life brought and to accept death when it came.  He was ready to take his last breath with a prayer of gratitude on his lips.

One of my final memories was sitting on Dad’s hospital bed, holding his hand.  He was in a lot of pain, yet his mind was incredibly sharp. I asked him what he wanted to happen in his pained, weakened state.  He looked at me with the smile I had come to expect and said,  “If I die, I get to be with Jesus, and if I live, I get to stay here with Nancy…either way I win.”

In the past two weeks, I have reflected not only on the example and inspiration of my father’s life and death, but on my own life and readiness to die.  In the yoga understanding that guides so much of my journey, life is thought to be a preparation for death.  The Sages teach that death is painful for those with regrets and attachments.  Death is painful when our own greed and selfishness have us so entangled in this life that we cling helplessly to it.  Death is painful when we have not learned to live well.

Whatever tradition we are part of, the teachings are in essence the same:  learning to live well. Learning to accept and let go.  Learning to trustfully surrender and to face our fears head on.  Learning to forgive and have compassion for ourselves and others.  As we nurture these qualities in our hearts and minds, we slowly become masters of our own life and therefore, our death.  As we learn to live well, we learn to die well.

People offer us mirrors to reflect upon our own lives, eventual deaths, and the qualities we our choosing to nourish on a daily basis.  Thank you Dad for the mirror you have reflected to me.  In so many ways you showed me how to live well and how to die well.

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