The last hour of life

The book group that I’ve attended weekly for the past several years had a writing assignment for this week, to write about our last hour of life. We’ll gather tomorrow and share. Here’s mine:

I don’t really know when this is going to happen. I’d like to believe that it will happen in the distant future, at least 20 years in the future, maybe 30 or even more, but I don’t know. It could happen tomorrow. It could happen tonight!

I’m not ready now. I know that. I would hope that I’ve taken care of things like an up-to-date will, medical directives, last wishes, et cetera so that my family can be at peace with my passing as much as possible. I’ve put some thought into it but not completed my actions.

I would also hope that I’ve had time to come to terms with my own passing, perhaps being lucky enough to receive a terminal diagnosis of six months to live. That would be more of a shock than actually dying, I believe, finally confronting the reality of mortality in a personal way, but it also brings the gift of time to prepare.

The inevitability of death has become more real as I’ve gotten older but still is something I can only imagine while living a very healthy life. The wearing out of the body is something I feel more of, with aging’s increasing creaks and slowness (as well as the radiant equanimity that can also accompany aging and finding some inner peace), but at the present moment, my body seems very far away from shuffling off this mortal coil.

I understand that death is always just one heartbeat or breath that doesn’t come away. It’s that close. In a way, death is an ever-present companion, that other bookend of life, an unknowable-until-it-happens yet inevitable experience that accompanies every form of biological life as we know it. Life isn’t life without death.

I imagine that if I am lucid enough during my terminal waning, I would use that time reviewing my life in order to better understand it and human life in general, and I would have more appreciation for my life, both the events and just the beingness of it.

I imagine that some all-but-forgotten seemingly random memories would come to my attention. I can’t imagine what they are now but I do imagine re-experiencing them with piercing clarity.

For sure, I would become clear about my regrets and my highlights, if I wasn’t already, and then just let them go.

I would have a special concern about those closest to me and how I could help them through the process of my dying and death and their grief and recovery. I would want them to feel well-loved, recognizing that caring for a dying family member isn’t an everyday task for most of us, and I’d do what I could to ease their struggles.

I hope we can laugh a lot. Know any good death jokes?

If I didn’t have the luxury of having time to prepare for death, I would probably go through that whole process quickly in that last hour. It can happen  in just a few seconds, the life-flashing-before-your-eyes experience that many report after sudden close calls.

I don’t know that I would think much about what would come after. It’s pretty much a given that there’s a veil between this life and what comes after, if anything. Probably the veil begins to lift before life ends if there’s time to contemplate it. If I continued to exist after death, it could only be as awareness, hopefully a calm, lucid, broad awareness.

I might ask to be left alone if the people with me are upset. I don’t want to or may be unable to take care of anybody else when I’m dying, and there’s nothing they can do for me except to respect the process and be present. I was present at my father’s death and have never regretted it. It’s an honor and a gift to be there, so close to the veil. It’s a holy experience.

I do imagine that being cognizant that death approaches quickly would mean experiencing a lack of ego and just being present with what is. Losing the ego would help me transcend the pain and discomfort of the failing machine and be at peace with the present moment.

I might feel some fear, now that the great unknown journey is immanent.

I would pay attention to my breath, to my heart’s rhythm, to the gurglings of my fluids, to other autonomous bodily rhythms, and fully appreciate them. These are the movements that indicate life. When they stop, I stop.

I would pay attention to the sensations in my body. My weight surrendering to gravity. Cloth and air against my skin. Warmth and coolness. A sense of my three-dimensional shape. The touch of another.

Energy, chakras, prana, chi — I’m curious about how that works when death approaches. How might it change with death? Will “I” become pure energy after the body’s life fails? Does the life force cease when biological life ceases, or does this energy transcend biological death, as it seemed (at times) to transcend the living body in life?

I’d listen to the sounds of my environment, human and mechanical, and who knows, perhaps death has its own sound. Perhaps I’ll hear my loved ones singing, or hear one of my favorite pieces of music playing, or someone reading aloud about the clear light. But silence is sweet.

I’d see my environment, see the faces of loved ones, the shapes of humans, view the play of light and shadow. It would be nice to have a view where I can gaze at the sky and trees and earth, my beautiful everyday companions in life, to connect with the planet.

Then I’d close my eyes and just feel my heart beating in my chest, losing strength. My breath is slowing and becoming shallower, irregular.

The bonds between my awareness and my body loosen and detach.

It feels as if I am floating in a quiet, subtle bliss.


“You will lose everything. Your money, your power, your fame, your success, perhaps even your memories. Your looks will go. Loved ones will die. Your body will fall apart. Everything that seems permanent is impermanent and will be smashed. Experience will gradually, or not so gradually, strip away everything that it can strip away. Waking up means facing this reality with open eyes and no longer turning away.

“But right now, we stand on sacred and holy ground, for that which will be lost has not yet been lost, and realising this is the key to unspeakable joy. Whoever or whatever is in your life right now has not yet been taken away from you. This may sound trivial, obvious, like nothing, but really it is the key to everything, the why and how and wherefore of existence. Impermanence has already rendered everything and everyone around you so deeply holy and significant and worthy of your heartbreaking gratitude.

“Loss has already transfigured your life into an altar.” ~ Jeff Foster

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