“Those who learned to know death, rather than to fear and fight it, become our teachers about life.” ~ Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross ~
Our journey of life and death is inextricably woven from the moment we are born. And yet the thought of facing our own mortality often instills feelings of fear and trepidation.
Judy Lief, a Buddhist teacher, author of Making Friends with Death, editor of numerous books on Buddhist meditation and psychology, and a speaker for eNaropa’s upcoming workshop on Compassionate Care, shares her belief in the benefits of taking a holistic approach to end-of-life care.
Judy’s path to becoming a teacher and spiritual advisor of holistic end-of-life care came about when she had the privilege of collaborating with Florence Wald, a founding mother of the Hospice movement in the United States and former head of the Yale School of Nursing, on several conferences and workshops on caring for the sick and dying. Judy also became involved in the Madison-Deane Initiative in Vermont, which produced an award-winning film, “Pioneers of Hospice”, chronicling the development of the hospice movement through discussions with pioneers such as Elisabeth Kṻbler Ross, Balfour Mount, Dame Cicely Saunders, and Florence Wald.
Judy is a strong proponent of taking a holistic approach to dying, which encompasses care not only for the dying individual but also for families, caregivers and others who are affected by the process. Judy recognizes that there are many negative misconceptions about palliative care and hospice, which many think of as a place where people go to die. On the contrary, Judy points out that hospice and palliative care, which are very closely associated, provide the highest possible quality of life at a very important stage of life.
Hospice and palliative caregivers bring a wealth of knowledge and experience that can relieve a lot of the fear that comes from dealing with an unfamiliar and often frightening process.
The dying process is not a formulaic one. There is no right or wrong way to deal with dying. In her practice, Judy often finds that taking the simplest approach works best when helping people come to terms with letting go of their loved ones, their physical bodies and other connections to life as they know it. She emphasizes the importance of putting aside judgement when guiding dying individuals on their transition from life to death.
Working with the sick and dying can be an empowering, richly rewarding and moving experience. It is a reminder of our own mortality, and it encourages us to reflect on how we choose to lead our lives and what we truly value.
Judy Lief is a Buddhist teacher who trained under the Tibetan meditation master Ven. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. She is the author of Making Friends with Death: A Buddhist Guide to Encountering Mortality. Judy is a founding faculty member of the Courageous Women, Fearless Living Cancer Retreat, held annually at the Shambhala Mountain Center. Ms. Lief has been active in the movement to bring a more mindful, contemplative approach to end of life care for over thirty years.