As a culture, we prepare and think very carefully about birth and how to bring a child into the world. There are a number of options we can choose that include a home birth, water birth, the Bradley method, the Lamaze method – the choices are endless. But most importantly, parents get to make the choice that is the best fit for their comfort, physical makeup and belief systems.
On the other hand, our culture offers very little alternatives for how we face and embrace the death of a loved one or of our own. As a result, Unity Center for Spiritual Growth (Unity), 54 River Road in Windham, is presently offering a seven-week series to educate people on the opportunity to be involved with death in an intimate and personal way.
“The medical system, the funeral industry and our own denial of death all have impacted our ability to take death into our own hands and hearts,” stated Rev. Pat Bessey of Unity. “This course is designed with the idea of opening the door to a relationship with death and dying and to understand how it could profoundly change the way we live.”
The idea to offer this educational series came as a result of a personal experience of Jody Fein. Fein had shared some of the details with Rev. Bessey and Bessy believed it would be a good learning experience for others.
Fein’s husband of many years recently passed away from lymphoma. “He was diagnosed 15 years ago, and he didn’t let the diagnosis stop him from living fully,” explained Fein. “He approached his death as he approached his life – with presence, curiosity and courage.”
We all can comprehend the concept of living life fully – but what does dying fully look like? As his death approached, Fein stated that her husband was moved from the hospital to Gosnell Memorial Hospice House. “It was such a good option for us because it allowed our family to be with him at all times.”
Fein stated that some people may not know that one can pass away at home – and even spend time with body after the person passes, giving the family time to say goodbye on their own terms. People may not know that they can attend a cremation as part of the experience. The important thing is, there are just as many personal options one can make during the death process as in birth.
One of the many books that inspired Fein after the death of her husband, and while she faced her own mortality during a bout with breast cancer, was “Being with Dying” by Joan Halifax.
According to Goodreads.com, Halifax’s work is a source of wisdom for all those who are charged with a dying person's care, who are facing their own death, or who are wishing to explore and contemplate the transformative power of the dying process.
The website states, “Halifax offers lessons from dying people and caregivers, as well as guided meditations to help readers contemplate death without fear, develop a commitment to helping others, and transform suffering and resistance into courage. She says, "Why wait until we are actually dying to explore what it may mean to die with awareness?" A world-renowned pioneer in care of the dying, Joan Halifax founded the Project on Being with Dying, which helps dying people to face death with courage…”
Although the workshop has begun, there are three more sessions open to the public. The first one will be on Thursday, October 24 with the showing of the film, “Holding Our Own and Embracing the End of Life”. A second film will be held on Wednesday, October 30, “POV – A Family Undertaking”. Lastly, a panel of experts will be available for questions, answers and discussions on Thursday, November 14. All three events will be held from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Unity. There is a suggested donation of $5.
To learn more, visit the Unity Website at https://unitygreaterportland.org/ or call the church at 207-893-1233.
This workshop is made possible in part by a grant from the Maine Humanities Council.