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Monday, April 11, 2005

Life With Death

Thomas Moore has written the foreword for Marjorie Ryerson’s Companions for the Passage: Stories of the Intimate Privilege of Accompanying the Dying which was released by University of Michigan Press last month. According to the Press, Ryerson shares "stories of people who have been with and cared for a loved one at the moment of death." The description continues, "Some of the interviewees are religious, some not; some encouraged their loved ones to accept death, others to fight it to the end...Possessing an affirmative quality that is anything but sentimental, ultimately these stories celebrate the experience of being present at the death of a loved one."
In 2001, Moore contributed to Megory Anderson's Sacred Dying: Creating Rituals for Embracing the End of Life. At that time he wrote:
"It isn't easy to live and die meaningfully in a society that has forgotten its natural religious roots. We think we're smart and sophisticated because we have outgrown the need for ritual and prayer. We have vanquished religion intellectually and are therefore surprised when, faced with death or illness or with the dying of a loved one, we don't have the answers to the basic questions. And so we have to learn all over again, remembering our traditions, if we're lucky enough to have had them, and looking for someone to help deal with mysteries we've ignored.
Megory Anderson covers most of the difficult questions associated with the act of dying and attendant care, and her recommendations are intelligent, inventive, and mercifully humane. She can tell us not to shock a relative by holding a drumming session at the deathbed if the relative wasn't into drumming. The basic principle here is very important: Don't confuse your own needs and enthusiasms (more often, neuroses) with the needs of the dying person. Megory is someone who obviously has a background in ritual and has spent enough years at it, with sufficient attention and skepticism, to know the real thing from the merely sentimental. I always get nervous when people talk about making up rituals, but this book, I'm happy to say, is a solid guide. I've read quite a few books on dying, and one of the remarkable things that impresses me about them is how they teach me to live with care and appreciation."
Moore has described his own acquaintance with death beginning when he was five years old: Dwelling on Death Isn't Neurotic; It's Profoundly Healthy.