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End of Life Issues

Death And Dying: A New Perspective

From my session at the “Living from the Light” workshop
Marina del Rey, CA October 20-21, 2007

The most common finding after a NDE is that people are no longer afraid of death. They may fear the loss of independence and the possibility of pain and loss of roles that go along with an impending death, but NDErs don’t generally fear death itself. Because of that change in perspective, many NDErs naturally gravitate toward hospice and/or grief counseling. Sometimes this occurs in a formal way through a profession, sometimes it occurs as a volunteer, sometimes it occurs more informally than that through questions asked by family, friends and perhaps even strangers. Sometimes we might like to offer some words of wisdom, but aren’t sure how they will be received.

This session today will give us an opportunity to look at the ways that we use our NDEs to ease other people’s concerns about their own death. When do we share? How do we share? When have we shared unwisely? Do we find it difficult to understand fear of death when we have so little fear of death ourselves?

Does our homesickness for Heaven interfere with our involvement in life? If we know that everything (even the “screw-ups”) benefits our soul’s growth, are we less likely to intervene in difficult situations?


  • How do you go about sharing your views of death and the afterlife?
  • How does your lack of fear of death influence your life?
  • If you are involved in hospice work, do you know if your hospice colleagues have had NDEs or a Spiritually Transformative Experience (STE)? How might you broach the subject with them?
  • If you are involved in hospice work, are conversations about NDEs common occurrences? If not, how might you change the environment?

My Own Thoughts

When I am preparing a presentation, I often set my intention to have dreams about what would be most useful to the participants of the upcoming session. When I did my “dream session” for this presentation, I was presented with a very clear vignette of a group who wanted to find the perfect shoe that would fit each one of them. They started off with a medium sized shoe, but had to go bigger and bigger in order to accommodate everyone. Finally, they ended with a very large shoe that fit almost no one. To me, the meaning was clear. When it comes to using our NDE on behalf of people who are dying or grieving, one size clearly doesn’t fit all. I smiled to myself as I thought that we might as well call this session, “One size doesn’t fit all!”

It seems to me that we are at a time where learning from deep listening and deep sharing is what will move wisdom and compassion forward and so I come to this session with that in mind. When I first tried to decide what to say to you today about sharing our new perspectives with people who are dying and with people who are in bereavement, I realized that I have no pat answers. When I thought back on my own experiences of being with people at that time in their lives, I realized that I really just sit with them and let them lead the way with their own musings. My deep listening and being present with them wherever they are seems to bring them comfort. They know that they are not alone and that they will not go somewhere in their minds that I am not prepared to go with them without judgment. Sometimes—not always—after I have listened for a long time, they will ask me what I think about death and I will tell them that my attitudes toward death are colored by my childhood NDE. I really don’t fear death because I believe that I will return to that place of perfect peace and oneness that was a part of my NDE. It was the most powerful and beautiful experience of my life that has been a touchstone for me throughout my life. I may also share that most of the several million people living today who had a NDE and survived resuscitation have no fear of death either. I will leave it at that unless they ask more questions. I’m prepared to answer anything they might want to know about NDEs, but I absolutely refrain from lecturing or proselytizing. A person who is dying is at their most vulnerable and I don’t want them to feel trapped with a person talking at them and not with them.

That is truly how I share my NDE with people who are dying. It seemed almost too simple to share with you today until I was guided to a chapter in Sogyal Rinpoche’s book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, where he gave just that advice in his chapter on “Heart Advice for being with the Dying.” He encouraged readers to be fully present with people and to let the dying person lead the way. He discouraged any lectures or proselytizing. Reading that chapter reminded me of a panel discussion we once held at our local hospital in Durango about how to help people with cancer. The most powerful speaker was a man with cancer who said that he simply wanted people to let him be himself, to let him be where he was and to not try to make him see their point of view. He was particularly annoyed by platitudes. He wanted to be truly listened to without hidden agendas. I think that is something for all of us to keep well in mind; even with the best of intentions and with the most inspirational of messages, the moment still has to be right. And we have to give ourselves a break and recognize that we will miss some ripe moments and jump in other times when the moment is not ripe.

I don’t treat being with bereaved people much differently. Again, I listen deeply and come to where they are with the intent to be open hearted and to lead them ever so gently toward achieving some peace in their pain. I am always aware that many people see deceased relatives and that that can be a source of comfort to them if they don’t think that it is merely an illusion, so I look for hints that that might have happened and then ask more questions. At some point, I often say that many people have an experience of their loved one after death that is very comforting. If they don’t pick up on it, I let it drop. I use silence in a productive way. Too often we fill the air with words when the silence would allow us to drop to a deeper level if we were only willing to take a breath instead of speaking a word.

Perhaps the most useful outcome from our NDEs with regard to being with the dying and the bereaved is our own enhanced sensitivity and compassion. It is wonderful that we have no fear of death, but that new perspective won’t be heard unless we first use our enhanced sensitivity and compassion to be truly present with the person.

The only way to be present with other people is to take the time to be present with ourselves. That is true whether or not we have had a NDE. If we are rushed or have hidden agendas, we can’t really listen to another person. I encourage each of us to have practices that lead us to our own place of stillness in part so that we can be that still pool for others, but mostly so that we can be that still pool for ourselves. Centering prayer, meditation, yoga, and tai chi are all ways to be in stillness and I strongly encourage a daily practice. Your own centered presence is the best way to tell people about NDEs and then you can add the details if they ask. This is my perspective on sharing my NDE with other people. Yours may be quite different. After all, one size doesn’t fit all!


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