Contemplating Death and Death Phobia

I recently discovered the work of Stephen Jenkinson. Jenkinson authored a book called Die Wise and was the subject of the documentary Griefwalker. He spent years working in palliative care, even directing a program at a large hospital in Toronto, Canada. 

Smitten with the words he wove together, effectively enticing me to consider my own death in order to more fully contemplate and appreciate my own life, I read this to my class on Friday. 

A culture addicted to security, comfort and ‘be all you want to be’ makes no time in its public or private life for sorrow or uncertainty or the end of things. To a culture like our own, grief is mostly medicated or resolved, and our hearts elbow our lives out of the way in their headlong search for safe landings and getting their needs met. But what would our culture look like and how would our children think of us fifty years from now, if we began to honour and teach grief as a skill, as vital to our personal and cultural and spiritual life as the skill of loving. 
— Stephen Jenkinson

I finished the introduction to Die Wise and immediately searched on YouTube for video of him, eager for knowing his voice and the cadence to more easily read the book. When words haven't been combined in unique ways, it can feel like reading a different language. 

In my search I found the Griefwalker documentary, an hour-long sonnet to the way we can enrich our thinking about our end. 

Everything Jenkinson says throws the pain management and 'stay comfortable' mantra of palliative care and hospice into question. And, frustratingly for many, in a similar way to the Feldenkrais Method, Jenkinson gives no recipe for what we do when we are suffering or a loved one is suffering or we are simply considering our end. 

He challenges the patient-centered approach of giving all the decisions to the person who is dying, questioning the wisdom of assuming the newly diagnosed person has suddenly acquired all the skills necessary to plan an enriched ending to life. I heard him suggest death should be at the center of any conversation about endings. We should plan for it, prepare for it, like we would a banquet or a sixtieth birthday or a wedding. 

If you're as intrigued as I was and am, you can find many more talks on YouTube. This one has many nuggets worth considering that the documentary couldn't cover. 

You can begin your self-studies with this material and use your keen eye for attention by observing your posture as you read these words or watch the video. Your posture likely holds a portion of the story. Let it speak.