What playlist would you like to have played at your funeral? This is a question that came up in a Death Café, a forum for discussing death. Have you ever pictured your own service? Who would you want there? What atmosphere would you want? Death is inevitable. It touches everyone. It does not discriminate.
When death comes up, many people shrink away. They do not know what to say or how to act. It is acceptable to not say anything at all. Sometimes all that is needed is a hug or an open ear and yet we tend to feel guilty or awkward doing those things. Dictionary.com defines the term, “practice” as, “to perform or do habitually or usually.” As with any skill we want to acquire, improve, or master, we must practice. Public speakers practice their inflection, tone, and delivery. Runners practice to increase their speed and stamina by going for runs of varying lengths, stretching, and doing cardio workouts. Singers practice by singing chords and memorizing music. Why not practice being comfortable with grief, pain, and suffering? You can be sure that these three rascals will always accompany Death.
Let us look at the act of crying…By letting tears go, the body gets a release, a purification of feelings. If someone sees you crying, it can signify that you need comfort. It shows a vulnerability. It is humanizing. When tears are bottled up, the body’s blood pressure and heart rate increase. This results in a tightness in the chest and heavy breathing. The stress stays bottled up under the surface like a shook up can of Coca Cola.
Likewise, letting your feelings be heard by someone you trust can also aid in decreasing tension. After a less than decent interaction/experience, it is commonplace for one to remark about it to a colleague. “How dare Polly call me out in this morning’s meeting! And the nerve of that guy on his phone cutting me off on my way home!” We have all been there in some capacity. That need to validate yourself out loud is a powerful voice. Unleashing your emotions can be a healthy way to cope with everyday anxieties. As the confidant, sometimes nothing needs to be said. Holding space for someone to speak freely is a great and often overlooked service.
Then there is the gravity of a hug. Studies show there is a correlation between hugs and the chances of getting sick. People with larger support systems tend to give and receive more hugs and coincidentally show lesser symptoms of illnesses. Think of a baby. Newborns, who receive positive touch from the get-go, assimilate easier in society. Fear and pain can lead to isolation. The simple act of hugging can have effects that last a lifetime. In this season of “social distancing,” hugs have been a no-no. Families have been separated; forced apart by an invisible force. Now is a great time to look inward and take inventory of your loved ones. Do you miss hugging a parent or child goodbye? Did someone close to you receive their wings, leaving the physical world behind, along with the chance to embrace them one last time? Are there people in your life that you have been hesitant to hug prior? Maybe you yourself are not a touchy-feely individual. Let these thoughts marinate. Something you can start doing immediately is asking someone if you can give them a hug. The worst they can say is no. But if they respond with a yes, you will be happier, healthier, and less afraid, if only for a moment.
A practice in solitude, or rather taking comfort in solitude, is another tool for your death-coping arsenal. What better time to practice being alone than during a pandemic? Learning to sit with your feelings is not an easy task. It involves patience and a non-judgmental attitude. Bringing awareness to the present moment allows for great comfort. There is no worrying of the future to rob you of the present. There are no regrets to steal your here and now. Some activities for being alone include: sitting or lying down silently, lighting a candle and watching the flame, journaling your thoughts, mowing the lawn, taking a walk, reading a book, painting a picture, taking a shower/bath, brushing your hair, grooming your nails, working out and cooking. Find an activity or two to start with and start slow. Maybe you only practice your solitude for five minutes and slowly work your way up to thirty minutes or more.
The great thing is that there is no right or wrong way to go about any of these practices. There is no time limit. There is no great watchman patrolling your progress. Coming to an understanding, finding acceptance, and even celebrating death and its cohorts are a part of life and living. You cannot cheat death, but you can reduce the level of pain and suffering on yourself and those around you. Something as ordinary as creating a playlist of your favorite tunes can alleviate stress, bring comfort, and be a practice in solitude. It serves as a vessel of your spirit. And so, the question again-What songs are on your funeral's playlist?
-Written by Alli Chazen
*Kaleidoscope Soul will be hosting Death Cafes in the future. =)
For more information about Death Cafes/Find one to participate in: https://deathcafe.com/