From the Publisher
"Peppered with useful and startling meditations as well as wise reminders, this is a thoughtful approach to a difficult aspect of living."— NAPRA Review
"Filled with meaningful examples of real people facing real problems. It provides us with the essential guideposts for embarking on the journey of life and the journey beyond."— Journal of Hospice and Palliative Nursing
"A manual on how to die, how to relate to dying and death, how to open up to the stages beyond death. Lief's book is also a weave of stories, insights, advice, Buddhism and humor."— Shambhala Sun
"Whether you will die tomorrow or fifty years from now, you need to read this book."—Bernie Glassman
"A seasoned caregiver who walks the neophyte through the extending of one's self to another, Lief presents the issues and common difficulties at hand. She emphasizes the importance of attention to details, but centers on knowing what each patient wants for her or his situation. This defines effective compassion."—Florence Wald, M.N., F.A.A.N., a founder of the first hospice in the United States
"Lief conveys the profound core of the teachings of Buddhism so that anyone can hear and understand. She shows us that in the end, it is kindness, compassion, and mindful attention that matter, and teaches us the simple skill of just being—in all its rawness, love, and pain—with those who are dying."—Marilyn Webb, author of The Good Death: The New American Search to Reshape the End of Life
Read an Excerpt
1: A One-Shot Deal
just keeps moving along, and in a blink, it is gone. It is continually
changing. Because of that, we may feel as if we are always playing catch-up.
Just as we begin to figure out how to deal with one stage of our life, we are
on to the next. We might think, "If only I could go back and do that
again"—but we can't.
life is a journey that begins with birth and ends with death, and once we begin
that journey, we are on our way, nonstop. There are no breathers, no time-outs.
It is a one-shot deal. So we should relate to our life now, while we still
can—but to do so, we must also learn to relate to our death.
is this journey all about? No one can tell us. It is up to us to find out for
ourselves. If we recognize that we are on a journey, one that we share with all
living beings, we can look into that journey and learn from it. But most of the
time, we are so caught up with everyday hassles that we lose track of our life.
It is too threatening to look at the big picture, so we hole up in our concerns
of the moment. We are afraid to look beyond that; instead, we keep busy and
avoid the whole issue. Meanwhile, our life is slipping away.
the most part, we are not aware of actually living a life. Instead, the whole
thing goes by in a blur. We lose touch with the preciousness and mystery of the
cycle of life and death and our connection with others. It is easy to take life
for granted, as though we had all the time in the world. But in cutting
ourselves off from the reality of death, we lose any sense of urgency, and life
has less value. It does not feel quite real, as though we were in an endless
rehearsal for a play that never opens. We cannot quite commit to our life as a
journey that has already begun and only happens once.
journey is well underway already, and soon it will be over. The starting point
is birth and the end is death, and we are in the middle somewhere, between our
birth and our death, faced with the question of how to relate to the whole
thing. We find ourselves in the midst of life, and fundamentally, we have no
clue how we got here or where we are going. That is the context, it is our
path, we cannot change it. And how we walk on that path is now up to us. It is
entirely up to us.
children, we may have asked, "Mommy, where did I come from?" If our
mommy tried to answer us, we may have learned a little about the birds and the
bees and about our parents and grandparents. But fundamentally that question
has no answer. Our existence can only be traced back so far. Eventually we hit
the mysterious border separating our life from whatever came before; and
looking ahead, to the time of our death, we encounter a similar boundary.
a personal awareness of death begins by cultivating an appreciation of our life
as a whole. With this as our basic view, as we go about our business, whatever
we do takes place within the context of that entire journey. So cultivating an
awareness of death is at the same time cultivating an awareness of life. We are
reconnecting with the experience of
living a life.
do we work with this journey of life and death? The starting point—the only
option, really—is to begin in the middle of things, where we are right now. We
can learn to appreciate our journey, knowing that it will not last. Although we
have not been here forever and we will not be here forever, right now we have
something to work with.
Birth, Death, and Life
a few moments to sit quietly.
back on your life to the point at which it first began, when you first
appeared. When did you appear? Where were you before that? Where did you come
from? Contemplate the mystery of birth.
go forward in your life to the point at which it ends and you are no longer
here. What will happen to you then? Where will you go? How is it possible for
your life to end and you no longer to exist? Contemplate the mystery of death.
on your life now, sandwiched between your birth and your death and utterly
unique. Where are you now? What is
about? Contemplate the mystery of life.