Helping the dying
HELPING THE DYING
I have had no experience with death and dying. My grandparents
and a few other friends and relatives died in my lifetime but I
was too young and not skillful enough to help them at the times
of their deaths.
The content of this article has been sourced from the Tibetan
book on Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche. This is a modern
classic and introduces the Tibetan Buddhist tradition in a way
which can be applied in our modern, westernized world. The
chapter titled Heart Advice on Helping the Dying is itself worth
50 times the cost of the book. To obtain your copy please click
on the link above.
A dying person at the time of death is in such a situation that
he or she is leaving behind all that he has clung to and been
familiar with all his life. Wealth, fame, prestige, family,
friends, power all is being left behind. Rinpoche asks us to put
ourselves in the place of the person who is dying at the time of
death. He asks us to imagine ourselves on an ocean-liner or a
journey to the unknown. You have no choice in the matter, the
ship is already on its way out and our friends and family are on
the shore to wish us goodbye. What would we want from our
friends who had come to see us off in that situation? Remember
you can never come back and that you have no choice - you have
to leave. With a little use of the imagination we will be in a
better position to help the person at the time of death and
Sogyal Rinpoche gives a lot of important advice. I have
attempted to summarize some important points in this article.
For more detailed help please read his book.
1.At the time of death and dying give the person room to express
her feelings. Allow her to express any and all her feelings. The
dying person feels fear, panic, grief, rage, in different
proportions. By allowing her to express those feelings by
empathizing with them we can offer immeasurable help.
2.Give the suffering person permission to die. Rinpoche speaks
of persons whom he had met or heard of who were approaching
death and were dying. But they were burdened by their
responsibilities, by the fact that their family depended on
them. Sogyal Rinpoche says that many dying persons refused to
let go and suffered many weeks of suffering and agony. By giving
such a person permission to die his family would make his
passage much easier.
3.Establish trust and open communication; be yourself. Your job
is to behave naturally and let the person open up. Use humor
skillfully in such situations. This will establish better
4.Do not interrupt, deny or diminish the person's feelings. At
the time of death the dying person needs to feel and express his
feelings. This is the way he can be free of them and meet his
5.Do not intrude your spiritual beliefs. Do not try to convert
or impose your spiritual beliefs on the dying person at the time
of death. It will not help. On the other hand if the dying
person expresses a wish to learn about your beliefs, do not hold
6.At the time of death the dying person may make you the target
of his grief and rage. This is not unexpected. The person who is
dying is in the deepest crisis of his life. Don't take it
personally if he takes out his feelings on you.
7.Do not expect too much of yourself. This is only so much that
you can do. In the ultimate analysis people will die as they
have lived. Do not expect miracles.
8.Technique to help you empathize. Rinpoche says that dying
persons long to be touched, long to be treated as living persons
and not as diseased. A great deal of consolation can be given to
the very ill simply by touching their hands, looking into their
eyes, gently massaging them, holding them in your arms or
breathing in the same rhythm gently with them.
Rinpoche also describes 2 techniques for feelings and expressing
unconditional love towards the dying at the time of death. Very
often, due to past issues and sufferings, we may have feelings
of guilt and anger towards the dying at the time of death.
Rinpoche says that if you try to put yourself in the place of
the dying person you will have a better idea of what the person
needs and feels. You will then be in a position to accept the
dying person unconditionally.
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