You’re going to die someday. I’m going to die someday. We know this — and yet, we’re afraid to talk about death.
Margaret Meloni has confronted death multiple times and, by turning to her Buddhist faith, she learned to make peace with the unknown. And as she studied and learned more about death, she found herself inspired to help others cope with it, too. Listen in as Azul Terronez talks to Margaret about, life, death, Buddhism, and writing about this important journey.
Why Talk About Death?
There was once a period of time when Margaret was dealing with the death of several family members. She remembers thinking, even in her own grief, that she wished she could tell people around her to calm down — that while it was hard, it would be okay.
This need to reach out to others, to try to make them feel better, marked the start of her journey.
But she realized that she didn’t have enough energy to help everyone she met in need, and so she wrote her first book, “Carpooling with Death: How Living with Death Will Make You Stronger, Wiser and Fearless,” in an effort to encourage people to be open to conversations about death, rather than run away from them.
Some people haven’t experienced the death of someone close to them, Margaret said, or if they have, it might have been a beloved family pet. She says that we “shouldn’t disregard the power of those experiences” — that they, too, contribute to the discussion.
Margaret likens conversations about death to the power of water. If you let the water out fully, it will go rushing out, but if you let it out a little at a time, then it will be more manageable to control. This preparation and readiness for death are important. By deliberately talking about it now, we won’t be as caught off guard, or as afraid, when it enters our lives.
Her newest book, “Sitting With Death: Buddhist Insights to Help You Face Your Fears and Live a Peaceful Life,” brings other Buddhists into the discussion around death and grief, and helps you begin your own discussions around death.
Where Does the Joy Come From in Death?
In Western culture, we like to protect ourselves from death. We don’t allow dead bodies to be seen, so we remove them quietly and hide them away — whereas other cultures sit with their dead, or have other practices that respect the body of the deceased.
When we think of death, Margaret teaches us to have an appreciation of time as a limited resource. This is where joy comes into our lives. We appreciate more of what we have now and the time we have with our friends and families.
When we appreciate this time, we learn to use it well. And when we lose someone we love, it reminds us of the special relationship we had. We had some time together. We had that person in our lives to enjoy and love.
There is also joy in the surprises that life brings. Often, you don’t know what gift or experience will come your way until it’s happening.
“When we think we can’t go on, but when we are open to going on, the joy is in what happens next,” she said.
How to Prepare for Death — and Talk About It
We never know when we will be faced with the death of a loved one — but some degree of readiness will always help.
Learn what kind of resources you may need and be open to asking for help during the grieving process. Some people won’t know how to support you, so it’s important to reach out for what you need. Also, speaking from her own experiences and through helping others, Margaret said to anticipate unexpected responses to death, some that may differ from yours.
The topic of death is uncomfortable for most people to deal with, let alone talk about and help others through. With both of her books, Margaret has owned her expertise — first by dipping her toe into the waters of death as a subject and, now, by fully submerging, immersing herself as a guide to help others feel more comfortable with death.
This work can often be very grim, but Margaret has learned to make peace with it, as well as several lessons along the way:
- You can find joy in death as a part of our lives. It is not something to fear.
- We need to stop having an attachment to the outcome of when death might come. Death will come when it’s meant to.
- Having an awareness of death can help you lead a happier life.
The first step in showing up every day is to be open to the idea of the finality of death, Margaret said — because that will allow you to be more open to other elements of life, including “the little deaths.” These are the endings and transitions in life that can be disappointing, she said, and when we practice working through them, we are better prepared to face death itself.