The Final Frontier: Saying Yes to Death
When we’ve discussed the “D” word before, it’s often been in the context of humor. But for one demographic, death, while potentially far from where they are in their life trajectory, is very much top of mind.
We’re speaking, of course, of the Millennials, whose digital innovation touches upon every aspect of life — including death. Last month we took a look at an app that helps patients reflect on their medical wishes and facilitate family discussions. Now some innovative young entrepreneurs are taking it a step beyond, creating death apps that guide people in planning their own passage, where even the memorial service is likely to be worthy of Instagram uploads.
Curating one’s death, no matter how far in the future, also seems like a natural extension of digital estate planning: if you’re going to make sure your Facebook and Twitter accounts are in good hands once you shuffle off this mortal coil, it’s prudent to do the same with your own passage. And in keeping with the potential humor inherent in life (and death) discussions, death apps put a positive spin on the formerly sarcastic expression, “It’s your funeral.”
Millennials point up the disquieting truth that it’s never too soon to think about one’s own death. This may actually be easier to do when it’s a vague vision in some distant decade — though even those in midlife (ahem) may have difficulty deciding to actually complete that Advance Directive sitting on their computer desktop for a few years now.
One mortician describes how, in the Middle Ages, people prepared to face death via a religious vehicle known as the Ars Moriendi, or Art of Dying: an instruction manual that taught Christians how to die a good death. She laments that there is no such manual available to us today.
How to Prepare for Your Own Death
That’s not quite accurate. A few years ago, a hospice volunteer introduced me to an exceptional resource that has kept a fairly low profile: Deathing: An Intelligent Alternative for the Final Moments of Life. Published in 1989 by Anya Foos-Graber, Deathing is the real deal on conscious departure. Her definitive guide spells out clearly how each person can prepare for an informed death.
The first part of the book presents two teaching stories, illustrating first an “unconscious” death (how most of us in Western culture experience dying) followed by a conscious one.
Part 2 is a step-by-step manual, with complete instructions and simple exercises, such as breathing, visualization, and how to direct your attention during the death transition.
We have a lot of help entering the world, with attendants such as doctors, nurses, midwives, spouses and friends ready to welcome us and tend to the birthing mother. But in Western culture there is no corresponding death ritual to support us in exiting the body we’ve inhabited.
This is a stunning work, especially comforting for people who may have no belief system or structure for facing life’s final ascent. It may be a useful tool to refer to certain reverse mortgage clients or their families, depending on your relationship with them.
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