A Zen hospice has opened. The guest house, as it is referred to, is jointly sponsored by the University of California San Francisco Medical Center. In this modest facility designed to resemble a home as much as possible there are no patients, only guest residents.
“Rather than looking at it as people who are dying here, people are really living here until they die,” said Roy Remer, who has trained more than 50 volunteer caregivers. “There's joy, humor, sadness and sensual delights -- food is very popular. And all the messiness of relationships comes up.” https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2011/02/8455/zen-hospice-project-portrait-palliative-care
The Zen Hospice Project Guest House works for its guests because they are accepting of the inevitability of death. But what about those who, like Dylan Thomas, rage, rage against the grim reaper “do not go gentle into that good night”? Was the poet wrong?
Not necessarily. I have been a minister for nearly a half century and in that time, I’ve witnessed many ways in which a person approaches death. For some, it was a gentle good-bye, an acceptance of the inevitable, without rancor. They would have benefited even more from the serenity of a Zen house.
Others I’ve known met death as though in combat. Quietness and simple beauty would have been unnerving, as they would have understood it as surrender while all their lives they had been fighters.
The point is that like so many other things, there is no one right way to die. Some see the acceptance of death as giving up, while others see the fight to the final breath as a denial of reality.
I’ve seen people who gave in too quickly, and I’ve known those who could have found some joy instead of bitterness if they had only been willing to let go.
Few of us will have the chance to choose the way we will die. But we can make our wishes known regarding how we would like to die. There are conversations to be had with family, friends, doctors and clergy; there are advance directives, durable powers of attorney and health care proxies to be signed.
To whatever extent possible, how we die should be consistent with our deepest desires. This may mean finding a hospice with Zen sayings on tables, while for others it may be a room with a poster of a raised fist.