Death is something that many of us may have been called to reflect upon in the last year. We have all been living through the impact of the Covid pandemic. As a nurse both myself and my colleagues have had to confront the fear of having direct exposure to the virus at a time when governments are advising everyone else to keep well away from anyone who may be infected.
The virus has caused many people to lose loved ones and it has been a trigger for a lot of us to reflect on what our health means to us and to face the real risk to health and potentially life. In the last year as well as caring for the dying I have also experienced the death of a friend, family member and faced fears about health concerns for other close members of my family. If there is anything that I have learnt through this it is just how fragile life really is.
As everything around us looks and feels so solid it’s easy to fall into the illusion of permanence. People used to say that the only guarantees in life are death and taxes, however as some pop stars and major corporations have demonstrated paying taxes can be avoided for some, but death is something that will come for us all. No one is getting out of this world alive!
DEATH AND HEALTHCARE
Often in healthcare there is an expectation for a ‘magic bullet’, the drug or treatment that will cure all. It almost seems like some expect modern medicine will enable life to go on and on. Whilst there have been some wondrous advancements in health care, there is no magic bullet and many of the interventions that may temporarily prolong life often do so at the expense of quality of life.
A large part of the reason I was drawn to work in palliative care is because of the holistic approach that is taken in this area, with emphasis placed on emotional, social and spiritual needs of a person, as well as the physical.
Some of the key aims of palliative care are:
⦁ To affirm life but regard dying as a normal process.
⦁ To neither hasten nor postpone death.
⦁ To provide support to enable patients to live as actively as possible until death.
As a palliative care nurse I deal with death on a daily basis. I feel it is a great privilege to be able to support people and their families through the dying process. I believe that there is great value in reflecting upon and remembering the transient nature of life. Whilst death is a subject that brings up fears for many, particularly in our western societies, contemplating death and impermanence can help us to live more fully in the present. Remembering that we will die helps us to maintain an awareness of the preciousness of life.
The practice of impermanence is a cornerstone of Buddhist teachings. To feel the pain of impermanence and loss can be a profoundly beautiful reminder of what it means to exist. In Tibetan Buddhism the monks painstakingly create beautiful sand mandalas and afterwards the mandala is swept away. The destruction of the mandala serves as a reminder of the impermanence of life.
WHAT DOES THE TAROT HAVE TO SAY?
Of course whenever I ponder any major topic I always feel called to explore what can be learnt through the wisdom of the Tarot. Key 13 in the Tarot is the Death card. In contemporary interpretations of Tarot the Death card is about change and transformation, with death itself being the ultimate transformation.
The image on the card shows Death riding in on a white horse. Beneath the horses hooves is a dead king. Before Death is a dying woman and child and a bishop, who is praying for his life. The message here is clear, Death is a great social equaliser, striking kings and commoners alike. In the background of the card, between the two pillars there is a rising sun. The dawning of a new day represents rebirth. When this card appears in a Tarot reading it usually represents the end of a cycle in the seekers life and therefore the beginning of a new.
Life consists of cycles and change, as we see demonstrated in the seasons throughout the year. All that has form will pass and change. The phrase ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ conveys that humans are made of dust and will return to dust after death. Each death brings new life, on a very literal level our bodies will decay and become food for new life, joining us with nature. I find the message of rebirth to be quite a positive one. As it shows us that really there is only life, but it is always changing.
MAKING FRIENDS WITH DEATH
The shamanic cultures talk about using death as an ally. Ultimately death is about change and undoubtedly change can be challenging, yet change is what brings about our evolution and allows new life to come into being. Perhaps we can learn to look upon death with more friendly eyes. We can treasure the gift of life. Reflecting upon the transient nature of life, ‘that this too shall pass’ can help us to get through the difficult times and to cherish the good times.
I hope for us all to live long, happy, healthy and fulfilling lives; yet asking yourself the question of what you would do if this was your last day, or your last year can be a very powerful question for helping you to realise your priorities.
If you’re interested in a Tarot reading or life coaching session with The Healing Witch then please get in touch.
“Energy can neither be created nor destroyed; energy can only be transferred or changed from one form to another.” Émilie du Châtelet