05 Jul 2012
July 5, 2012

Giving Up Isn’t Failing



My stepmother Phyllis and I went to the doctors together and we did the whole thing of getting all the reports and dealing with all the emotions. Now she was a very tough New England lady. She was wonderful, grounded, tough, poker-playing, smoking, just fun. She was argumentative and tough and willful. She had this kind of stiff upper lip way of living life and so she was doing that around her death. My job wasn’t to say “hey Phyllis, you should open to this.” That wasn’t my moral right. My job was just to be there with her. And I would lay on the bed and we would hold each other and we would just talk and we would talk about death and what we thought it might be like and all, but she was still very very strong. But the pain of the cancer was very intense and over time it finally wore away her will and there came a moment shortly before, maybe four or five days before her death, when she gave up.


Now in our culture giving up is seen as failure. Everybody says keep trying, keep trying. We surround people who are dying with a certain kind of falseness that comes out of our own fear. When my mother, my natural mother was dying I remember it was back in ‘66 and she was in a hospital in Boston. I would be sitting with her and in those days I was taking a lot of psychedelics so I would usually be on something sitting with her. I would watch people coming into the room, all the relatives and doctors and nurses saying you are looking better, you are doing well and then they would go out of the room and say she won’t live the week. And I thought how bizarre that a human being is going through one of the most profound transitions in their life and they are surrounded completely by deception. Can you hear the pain of that? That nobody could be straight with them because everybody was too frightened, even the rabbi, all of them, everybody. Everybody. And she and I talked about it. She said what do you think death is? I said I don’t know. I look at you and you are my friend and it looks like you are in a building that is burning down but you are still there, and I figure when the building burns it will go and you’ll still be there. In a way we just met in that space.

So with Phyllis I was open and she could ask whatever she wanted. I didn’t say “now let me instruct you about dying” because she would not have accepted that. But then she gave up, and at the moment she surrendered it was like watching an egg breaking and some being emerged that was so radiantly beautiful and present and light and joyful. It was a being that at some deep intuitive level she knew herself to be but had never been busy being all of her adult life. And she opened to this being and she and I just basked in its radiance and she at that moment had gone into another plane of consciousness where we were completely together talking, being, but the pain and the dying process were just phenomena that were occurring. At that moment she was no longer busy dying.

~Ram Dass

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  • Dorothy

    When my husband died, there were maybe 20+ friends and family in the room, all praying for him, saying goodbye. As it was happening, we could feel that we were standing on holy ground. The portals of the next world were opening for him and it was a beautiful experience for all of us. We had all said goodbye earlier, and had let him be free to fly. Nothing I’ve ever lived through was like that. The grief and sorrow came quickly enough, but I knew that was about me, not about him.

  • http://santoshayogataos.com Robaji

    Thank you, I have also experienced this. I took care of a friend during his dying process. Much to my dismay his doctor, on visits to his practice would tell him in a voice of optimism that he was healthy, when in fact he was dying from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Even his personal trainer who had some spiritual knowledge believed he could do the mind over matter thing and over come his illness. I took many indescribable, powerful lessons from this experience and had many great discussions with Burt about his dying. I was with him the night he left his body. I lied in bed with him holding his head toward the end. The fear of losing people can do strange things to us and is daily reminder of our on physical mortality. That is why I love the message “Be Here Now”

  • cretia

    when I first became a nurse in 1990 it was in Oncology – many of those I worked with were getting ready to kick the frame. the patient would say to me “I am dying and my family won’t let me talk about it. when I try to talk about it they tell me I will be okay and get better. they end the conversation. then the family in the hall way would say to me, ‘he/she is dying. I keep telling her she will be okay but I know she is dying.’ a big part of the work I did at that time was to facilitate communication between the patient and the loved ones. later I went to work for hospice where the people I worked with were trained to assist in the communication. this was wonderful. now I work in ER and the staff do not usually have these skills even when the situation calls for it. there is still much work to be done… LOVE

  • Synthia Jones

    I got a potent lesson about this a long time ago as a caregiver. My patient was a man who lived with his wife and had not spoken for many years. She had gone off to do errands, leaving us alone in the house. From another room, I suddenly heard him cry, in a loud voice from the depths of his soul, “Let me go!!”
    I realized his wife, and all others surrounding him were holding him here, convinced that his death would be a failure.