Virtual Dying: Someone Always Comes for you....From the Other Side
Virtual Dying: Someone Always Come For You....From the Other Side
L.T. Force, Ph.D.
For a number of years, I have developed and teach a course on: “The Psychology of Death and Dying”. In the beginning of my 1st lecture for the semester - I tell my students: “This is not a course about dying....but rather this is a course about living”. I follow-up that statement with a quote from a former student who took the course years ago....she shared with the class: “Be not afraid!” .
These two quotes correctly capture the theme of what I want to present to my students.
There is a certain mystique regarding this course. Some of my students have had little exposure to death and the surrounding rituals of the dying process. And some of my students - have had too much exposure to death and dying in their early-years. I intentionally was cognizant of those points as I was constructing the course. I didn’t want students at the end of the semester, after completing this course, thinking: “Why should I finish this course - if I am going to die anyway?” My response: “We are all going to die - it’s part of the developmental-stages of life. That is why.... "this is not a course about dying....but rather this is a course about living”.
With those thoughts in mind....I intentionally decided to: "teach the course - backwards”. I start with a focus on the afterlife - and ask my students to read the works of Brian Weiss. Dr. Weiss’ writings are wonderful, eye-opening and thought provoking. His focus, based on his clinical practice, is on the afterlife and past-life regressions. As I tell my students, once you pick-up his books - you won’t put them down. (I highly recommend that you Google him - you won’t regret the effort).
From the readings of Dr.Weiss....I then set-up field trips throughout the semester....first to a cemetery....(a visit to mausoleums, the crematorium and grave-sites) and then to a funeral parlor (to visit the reception/viewing area, the embalming room and exposure to the (Business) of the death industry). Our next field visit is to a church and / or synagogue (to hear about the rituals, symbols and ceremonies of death). From there to a Hospice Residence and then the Hospice Organization (this is the 1st time that students become exposed to the care of individuals and families engaged in: “the dying process”). Our next field visit is at a nursing home. The last meeting of the semester course is on the nursery / birthing unit of a large medical center....(where my students are in the presence of: "babies that have ‘just arrived"....and finally, one more reading from the works of Dr. Brian Weiss....thereby, completing the cycle of: “ a beginning....a middle....and a new beginning”.
(All Field visits are completed in a dignified process).
In the afterlife we focus on what is next; on the grounds of the cemetery we focus on the preparation for burial; in the funeral parlor we focus on the preparation of the body for burial; in Hospice we address the process of dying; in the nursing home we are witness to people in the latter stage of life and in the maternity ward we are present for: "people who have just arrived" - the cycle is complete. As I tell my students, for me, there is: "a beginning, a middle and a new beginning’. I also share with them my personal belief: “no one dies alone....someone always comes for you.... from the other side”.
"This course is:not about dying....but this is a course about living!"
My own personal 1st exposure to death - was that of Msgr. Coffey, an elderly Parish Priest. When the Sisters, our 7th grade teachers, marched us into the church to attend the viewing - I was taken by surprise as we walked by the Monsignor's open casket to pay our respects. I was under the impression, as I had never seen a dead person before - he would not be lying down. but rather, he would be standing in a 'mummy - crypt like-form'. Again, this was my first exposure to death (and TV at that time - in the early 1960’s wasn’t broadcasting live-views of death and dying). My 2nd exposure of death - was that of my grandmother....aka Nana - who died in 1969 in a Hospice setting....by then I knew what to expect - and that was reinforced by TV News shows - now broadcasting daily to your dinner table....the evening news - with the heroic acts and carnage of Vietnam . My father died in 1974 - in a hospital setting at the ‘off-time’ age of 55 - and I was prepared for what to expect. I just wasn’t prepared for the suddenness of his death. It was also that same year I was completing my Undergraduate Psychology Internship in the Hospice where my grandmother died - I was surrounded by dying people. Although, these personal events exposed me to death - it was only when my Mother died in 2017, in a nursing home setting at the age of 97- that I was exposed to the “process of dying”.
I once had a client who said: “the two greatest gifts in her life were being present for the birth of her son and the death of her Father”. I didn’t understand the totality of her statement until being "present".... as my Mother “crossed the threshold....to the other side” and then six months later my Father-in-Law;
I now truly understand her point. The gift of being: ”present”.
In my Psychology of Death and Dying Course - I also address the issue and dynamics of grief, loss and grieving. As I tell my students: “we all live uniquely....we all die uniquely....and we all grieve uniquely”. Some people move through the grieving process in 6 days....some in 6 months....some in 6 years....others.... never move beyond the grieving process. Grieving is very much an individual process....and can be very - unpredictable. But here we are today....now, desensitized to death.....surrounded with technology....no longer just being exposed to the dying process via TV and Movies - no longer watching and listening to scenes - coming to us - on Black and White TV screens and transistor radios but rather a: "continual 24- hour per day....7-day a week "newsfeed" in living-color and surround-sound". Today, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, blending with technology, we are witnessing Hospital ICU Personnel holding up: video screens, tablets and cellphones providing the opportunity for dying persons with COVID - to say good-bye, virtually, to their family members and friends. How far we have come in our world.... or have we at all?
In 1996, Dr. Timothy Leary, a world renowned American Psychologist with his famous quote: “turn on, tune in, drop out” - was a strong advocate of using psychedelic drugs as a tool for psychiatry. At the end stage of his life, plagued with cancer, Dr. Leary wanted to commit suicide on the the internet - using that virtual platform to broadcast his death. People were aghast....there was no support for his intention on any front. Members of our society, at that time, couldn't comprehend any sense or value to his request. His wish was not supported....and never realized. Instead, he died gracefully.....surrounded by friends and family - with his last words: “Why? Why not? Why not?.... trying to make sense of life and death....leaving us with profound words to ponder.... as we now try to make sense of the world we find ourselves living in....trying to make sense of a 'nonsensical world' asking the same questions: “Why? Why not? Why not?'....repeating these words...."as we try to make sense of life and death" - as we have all become “COVIDITIZED!”....witnessing the daily tragedy and anguish of families saying
good-bye to stricken love-ones, virtually, from a distance....via the internet. Is there comfort to be found? We all have our own belief systems. However, driven and grounded in the belief of: "a beginning....a middle....and a new beginning" find solace in: "No one dies alone....someone always comes for you....from the other side".