As we enter 2016, which in numerology is a #9 year (2+0+1+6), it signifies completion. In my work, one manifestation of completion is death. And we have already heard about 3-4 popular icons who have died this past week. For me, I am aware of at least 12-13 people who have exited our planet already in these first 15 days of the month.
In reading or hearing about those who have died, one thing continues to strike me and that is the frequency of the words ‘fight’ and ‘battle’ when describing an illness, and the words ‘passed’ and ‘lost’ when describing a death. Words carry energy and power and if we are ever to move toward accepting death and dying as part of the natural human life cycle, we need to pay attention to our language.
Just look at most obituaries or death notices in the paper or on-line sharing the news that someone has died and what do you see? — “So and so lost his/her battle with whatever disease” or “so and so fought a good fight with whatever disease.”
To fight or to battle signifies that there is a winner and a loser. When we are talking about someone with an illness losing their battle or fight with it, then are we saying the individual is a loser and death is the winner?
In actuality, if we use those words, then death is always the winner because that is the inevitable outcome for all of us. Death is part of life and to deny this and somehow think we can overcome it or beat it, is unrealistic and creates a lot of pain and heartache.
These words written by Heather McManamy, a 36 year old mom from Wisconsin who died this week, in a hilarious letter to her family say it beautifully: “And don’t say I lost to cancer. Because cancer may have taken almost everything from me, but it never took my love or my hope or my joy. It wasn’t a “battle” it was just life.” Heather’s husband posted her entire letter on Facebook and it went viral being shared over 5000 times.
It is due to fear of death that we want to prolong our living regardless of how difficult or painful the process is. This fight mentality serves us when we are in physical danger. However, it doesn’t serve us when a natural life process is happening. Dying is not tragic, not failure, not defeat.
Now I’m not saying to lay down and be passive regarding your medical care for cancer or other life-limiting illness. No, not at all. Take in the information that is needed to make the decisions and choices that are in alignment with who you are. What I am saying is, how can you work with what is presented to you and not see it as an enemy to be destroyed? How different might we feel if we viewed our situation as a co-creative partner which has valuable information to share with us — maybe a lesson in loving more deeply, in forgiveness, in radical self-care, in reaching out for connection, or any number of things. Something to ponder…
And now the words ‘passed’ or ‘lost’ — for example “my husband passed last night” or “I lost my wife” Passed what, a test? Did you find your wife or is she still lost? Again, language carries energy and not acknowledging that someone has died or is dying allows one to continue to be in denial of the natural process which occurs at the end of our life. Sugar coating the truth is not healthy or helpful.
We are so conditioned to use these words that they come out of our mouths unconsciously without thinking. And my invitation to all of us is to be more mindful and pay attention to our words. Saying the words dying or died is pretty direct and to the point. There is a connotation there of finality because in fact death is final — a final departure from this life, from this body.
Let’s look at this for a moment from another perspective. Do we say that we lost our plant or that our plant passed? No, we say, our plant died. Do we say our plant fought a good fight against the invasive fungus (or whatever plants get)? No, we simply say our plant died.
So, how are we any different than the rest of the living, breathing plants, animals, and other species that inhabit this planet when it comes to the end of our incarnation. We aren’t. Everything has a life cycle of being born, growing, and then dying. Some cycles are shorter or longer than others, but the process is the same. And we need to begin acknowledging this.
I know what I’ve said here may strike a nerve with some people. And that is ok with me because that means I’m beginning to shine a light into an area that has been dark for so long. It is not easy but it is necessary if we are to change the culture of fear in talking about death and dying. And we can begin by paying attention to the language we use.