I have a pin on my jean jacket with a classic Grim Reaper and it says, "Born to die". As strange as this sounds, I think he is the guy who helps us get to the peaceful, accepting, beatific smile that most of us are shooting for as we prepare to make our exit.
I was speaking at a gathering recently and a man asked, "How do you help a younger person face death? It is so much harder than if they are at the end of a long, satisfying life," His question gave me pause, and I don't think I answered it very well. What I wish I would have said is something to the effect of, "That is where the Grim Reaper comes in."
I think the way to prepare to die at any age is much the same, it is to lose our attachments. Its these attachments that make it difficult to leave this place. I like to picture the Grim Reaper as a large man, like 12 feet tall. He is imposing but not scary, stern but patient and wise. I like the idea that I can curl up inside death. I am no longer in control. He is taking it one step at a time. Death is huge, all encompassing and vast.
He is beckoning with his long bony finger and there is no refusing him. First he shatters your world. He takes away your illusion that you have more time. Its so easy to forget that we are so fragile and that our time is so fleeting. By making your time short he also gives you the gift of seeing your life and priorities crystal clear. Its as if he has a giant sifter and pours your entire life through it, all the people, all the responsibilities, all the worries and shakes them out on your front lawn. There will be things that you no longer consider worthwhile to carry.
Next he takes your energy. Your physical body starts to slow and as you move more slowly you realize you have to decide what things to save your energy for. You lose your attachment to racing around and doing unnecessary things, like keeping your bathroom spotless or staying in a conversation with a narcissist.
Later he comes around and asks for the keys to your office. He takes your job and with it the part of your identity attached to it. This really slows the world down and takes the future with it. You are forced to live in the present maybe for the first time in a long time. There is a gift here too, the simplest things like a good meal, the weather, playing with the dog, your kids, drinking a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper become sublime.
Later he comes around and beckons you to handover the passcodes and usernames. Someone else is taking care of the taxes, the financial aid applications, the leaky roof, and the crab grass in the lawn. This in effect makes you a child again. Free to focus on what is starting to appear on the horizon, the next place.
He comes around next for your family members, you no longer have the energy to interact with them. You must say goodbye, but first "Please forgive me, I forgive you, Thank you and I love you." Your hearing is the last sense he will take so you can still revel in their presence but they are receding from you. This is a time when the living can feel abandoned and hurt that the person passing seems to look right thru them. This is part of the process, as the physical body dies, the spiritual body rises.
And finally he comes for your body. And with this last one he frees your soul.
This taking your life one step at a time has the ability to transform you. It gives one the opportunity to feel gratititude for the life they lived and revel in the simple things. He is benevolent because he prepares us to move on. He strips us back to our elemental nature.
I encourage you to create your own personal Grim Reaper. Maybe a kindly older woman in flowing robes, maybe an actual person from our past who will ready us for the next place. Whoever it happens to be make friends with them today. I guarantee that it will make you more fully in your death and thus more fully in your life.
I am a trained end-of-life doula. I provide guidance and support for individuals and families during the end-of-life process.