Why should we plan for end-of-life?
How can we help the terminally-ill to face death?
End-of-Life Caregiving (Part One)
With life, comes death. While life is dictated by past karma, death is a process over which one seemingly has more control. Therefore, upon diagnosis of a terminal illness, it is important to prepare for end-of-life care until the final stage of life, so that a calm and peaceful passing can occur eventually.
On 12th July 16, after conducting the Eight Precepts Retreat, Venerable Ru De from Taiwan’s “Feng Shan Monastery” gave a dharma talk on the subject of “End-of-Life Caregiving”. What ensued was a very enlightening lecture on some issues pertaining to life and death, which proved helpful and provided confidence to the audience should they have to deal with the subject one day.
Venerable Ru De introduced his lecture by asking what the five blessings are, to which the audience merely looked at each other without answering. The five blessings refer to longevity, wealth, peace, good morals and a good final stage of life. With such an intriguing opening, Venerable Ru De expertly introduced the somber topic of death to the attentive audience. By peppering the lecture with humour, the audience soon broke into laughter, while at the same time gained a good understanding of the right action to take, so that they may benefit themselves and others in future.
Why should we plan for end-of-life? Venerable quoted the taking of a major examination as an example – not only does one need to prepare for it diligently, the final outcome also depends on luck and good fortune. If the topics that one had studied appeared in the exam paper and those that one did not study did not appear, this would be deemed good luck or good fortune. Similarly, it is important that we recognised the imminence of death and prepare well with good action and deeds, so that we may hope for a good final stage of life and beyond. Not only is death no longer a taboo subject, having the right view and understanding of death can provide an opportunity to prepare us for a good rebirth in future lives (i.e. rebirth into a next life that is better than the current life; the next next life that is better than the next one).
What is meant by end-of-life caregiving? Elaborating on this, Venerable compassionately made the distinction for Buddhists and non-Buddhists, so that all may benefit, as it is of utmost importance to have the right understanding. Failure to plan is planning to fail – whether one is a Buddhist or not, death is a prospect which everyone needs to face. Hence, we should be prepared in our day-to-day life for this eventuality. If we hold the attitude that there is always tomorrow, then we are only setting ourselves up for worry and regret one day. Using the analogy of life as a warehouse, what should we store in the warehouse that would be of use to us at the end stage of life? What can we do now to prepare for death which may come at any time? To be well-prepared is the key to eradicating our worries and ensure that when it’s time to go, we can face death in a calm and measured manner.
Once the right understanding has developed, how can we help the terminally-ill to face death?
Firstly, Venerable introduced a four-prong approach – guide the terminally ill person to make known his love, to give thanks, to apologize and to bid farewell. Do not hesitate to express love, thankfulness, apologies and farewells to friends and loves ones – don’t let them leave this world with any flaw or regrets.
Next, guide him to acknowledge and affirm all the deeds and actions that he has done in this life that are positive and meaningful, and do not attempt to convert his religious beliefs. If he is open to the idea, we can teach him to chant the Buddha’s name to build confidence. The people or things which he hates or covets must not appear before him at all costs, so as to allow him a calm and peaceful environment to leave this world.
Finally, the terminally-ill can practice the technique of visualisation, i.e. visualise that the suffering of all sentient beings is being turned into black smoke that enters his left nostril, then being converted into white smoke with the energy from his body, wealth and kindness – and leaving his body through his right nostril to all sentient beings. Doing so can help alleviate the pain caused by his illness. It is advisable to let him lie down on his right side during the moment of his passing, as this will minimise any disturbance and encourage virtuous thoughts!