Speaking of matches, in this corner we have Amy Wallace, author, counselor and fearless death inquisitor. She's taking on death.
A: I grew up in the Boston area, graduating from Wellesley College way back when, but never really loving New England. When a friend suggested I check out the San Francisco Bay Area at the age of 24, I packed up my Pinto, spent a month wandering the country, arrived in the Bay Area and have lived here happily ever since. I began exploring death and people’s relationship to it while at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (now Sofia University) getting my Masters in Counseling Psychology. After 3 years as a psychotherapist intern, I realized that being a full-time therapist was not quite the path for me and went back to working to pay the bills. Thank goodness for years of experience in sales and those transferrable counseling skills! The research and exploration for my book on the fear of death started me down a path that has really become my passion: to empower people (including myself) to have a more powerful relationship to death and to die as consciously and fearlessly as possible, with as few regrets and unfinished business as possible. I’m even beginning to study to become a death – or soul – midwife . . . someone who accompanies the dying, hopefully in such a way as to enhance what I have come to consider one of the most important aspects of our lives: how we die. You can check out her book by clicking on the word here.
Amy Talks to Death
Amy: It feels weird to say “Welcome, Death” . . . I have a fear that, if I call your name, talk about you, or have the audacity to welcome and interview you, you’ll decide to “take” me! Is that crazy?
Death: Well, yes, in a way. There’s a lot I’d like to share about myself, my part in life, why people’s fears are unfounded, and how things really work. That superstition you speak of – that if a human talks about me, I’ll come and get them – that’s so silly! Think about it. You talk hypothetically every day about many things (winning the lottery, for example); does that make them happen? No! In fact, the more you know about anything or anyone you fear, the less you fear them . . . true?
A: Yes, I can see that. But a lot of us are just too scared to face what we’re scared of!
D: I promise you: your talking with me or anybody reading this interview has nothing to do with when they will die, so let’s take that off the table, shall we? On the other hand, it could have a lot to do with how they die, and even how they live.
A: What is one very important thing that you wish people knew about you?
D: That I’m actually part of life. Without death, there wouldn’t be any life – it would be just one infinite expanse (which is, by the way, who we really are, but that’s another conversation). I’m not the enemy, not punishment, not the end, not the opposite of life . . . if anything, I’m the opposite of birth. Birth was like the death of your life in the womb, yes? But obviously it was also the beginning of this life, so it wasn’t The End in that sense. Death is the end of this life, the “womb” you’re currently growing in, but it isn’t The End. I can’t say exactly what comes after death because it’s going to be different for everybody, just as life is.
Think of my role as a kind of milestone, like entering puberty, turning 21, getting your first job, finding your first love . . . like a graduation! You may have some fear about any of these, but you go toward them and you know you’ll continue. Why is that?
A: We don’t resist them. In fact, we look forward to them because we believe getting there will bring us things or attributes we never had before.
A: Exactly, what?! Are you implying that death will bring us things we never had before (that we want)?
D: Well, let’s just imagine for a moment that I am. What kinds of things might death – or an awareness of death – bring, that being unaware, afraid, or in denial of death tends to not bring?
A: Hmmm . . . well, a sharper appreciation of life, for one thing. A different perspective on things we tend to get all hung up about – the dramas of life – a better understanding of what’s really important and what’s not. But by then it’s too late!
D: Yes, and how sad. How could that be prevented?
A: Trick question – of course you want me to say that talking about death and being aware of our mortality all along the way could help prevent that.
D: So – since you know that I’m not going to trick or punish you or “take you away” for exploring this – let’s do a thought experiment . . . I invite you to imagine, right now, that you are dying. Go ahead, you’re safe. You don’t have to make up the circumstances or the timeframe, but just imagine that – right now – you are dying. What’s the first thing that comes up?
A: Did I leave the iron on?! Just kidding – a little nervous, I guess. First thing that comes up is concern for my family and friends . . . that they’re having to see me die. That they’ll miss me. That they’re afraid I’m scared or in pain.
Then sadness . . . sadness for the things I wanted to do but put off because of fear or because I thought I could always do them “later”; sadness that I worked so hard and sometimes missed moments with my family because I thought work was so important . . . or because of fear or pride or stubbornness. Okay – you’re not my therapist, I don’t want to get too personal.
D: Why not? I’m a big milestone in your life, and I’m giving you a “pass” to explore this without having to go through actually dying. Go ahead and take it! As hard as it may feel right now, how hard do you think it will be to face these questions for the first time when you are dying?
A: I don’t really even want to imagine that . . . but that’s the problem, isn’t it? We don’t want to imagine it. Can I tell you that I don’t even have a will yet? Or anything written down about what kind of medical care I would want or what to do with my body? Most of my friends don’t have these things either, and we’re all in our 50’s and 60’s!
D: Right – this is sadly very common among humans, because you’ve tried to keep me out of your consciousness. But fearing me doesn’t stop me from being part of your life . . . it only stops you from living fully and from being as prepared for and open to the moment as you could be. It can be a magical moment, you know, when people have done what they needed and wanted to do before then. You can actually relax, surrender, let go and be at peace, and your loved ones can, too, because you’ve talked about it and they know you’re complete with your life.
Amy Wallace, M.A,. Counseling Psychology, is the author of Fear of Death: It’s About Life, Actually. Let’s Talk About It – find links to paperback, Kindle, iPad and other electronic formats, as well as other resources about death, on her website: www.aboutlifeactually.com.