“Life is the coexistence of all opposite values.
Joy and sorrow, pleasure and pain, up and down, hot and cold, here and there, light and darkness, birth and death.
All experience is by contrast, and one would be meaningless without the other.”
~ Deepak Chopra
My biggest, most hysterical laughing fit this week, the kind of laughing that feels like a burbling up that is impossible to stopper, the kind that hurts the belly, that comes replete with tears and gasping breath…happened, of course, while learning how to sit with the dying.
Hospice training, as it turns out, can be a real snork-fest.
I know. I know.
But it feels different than just some type of black humour.
I have always believed that without darkness there can be no light. We learn this lesson early on with colouring books. Black outlines help us define the ‘thingness’ of the world and, even though science tells us that this idea of separateness is a big fat trick of reality, let’s just pretend it’s true; that there is a separation between this and that.
Which brings me to the laughter.
We can pretty much all agree that dying is a serious business. And this hospice training is all about compassion and learning to be present, and having empathy, and all those other good and noble, and…well, seriously good qualities.
Yet all of these caring attributes and nuances we bring to companion someone who’s dying, also provide us with the rich shading and definition to the exquisite light of being alive. And being alive sometimes feels pretty damned funny.
In short, there can be no death without life. Sorrow without joy. Grief without laughter.
I had not expected to have so much fun while learning the art of hospice. Apparently I’m not alone with this lovely surprise. I’ve talked to several other volunteers-in-training who are making similar discoveries. Someone wrote me to say, “Never thought a group formed to deal with death…would also awaken a stronger sense of the good things about life and people.”
I think the key word in that above quote is the word ‘awaken’. This work of learning how to live with the dying, and of our own imminent demise, is in turn awakening each of us.
Our society has worked very hard at pretending death doesn’t happen. We’ve hidden it away. Sanitized and institutionalized it. Handed it over to the professionals. In short, we’ve done everything we can to not actually face it.
But death is life’s outline.
Death reminds us to live.
And sometimes, the healthiest response to death – is to laugh until you cry.