in death

He saw a good way to look at his situation and committed to faking that perspective, hoping that his genuine self might eventually catch up. Miller refused, for example, to let himself believe that his life was extra difficult now, only uniquely difficult, as all lives are. He resolved to think of his suffering as simply a “variation on a theme we all deal with — to be human is really hard,” he says. His life had never felt easy, even as a privileged, able-bodied suburban boy with two adoring parents, but he never felt entitled to any angst; he saw unhappiness as an illegitimate intrusion into the carefree reality he was supposed to inhabit. And don’t we all do that, he realized. Don’t we all treat suffering as a disruption to existence, instead of an inevitable part of it?

Once an outlier, Zen Hospice has come to embody a growing nationwide effort to reclaim the end of life as a human experience instead of primarily a medical one. The goal, as Miller likes to put it, is to “de-pathologize death.”

The volunteers are ordinary people: retired Macy’s executives, social workers, bakers, underemployed millennials or kibitzing empty-nesters. Many are practicing Buddhists. Many are not. (Miller isn’t.) But Buddhism informs their training. There’s an emphasis on accepting suffering, on not getting tripped up by one’s own discomfort around it. “You train people not to run away from hard things, not to run away from the suffering of others,” Miller explained. This liberates residents to feel whatever they’re going to feel in their final days, even to fall apart.

The truth was, Zen Hospice had done something almost miraculous: It had allowed Sloan and those who loved him to live a succession of relatively ordinary, relatively satisfying present moments together, until Sloan’s share of present moments ran out.

-Jon Mooallem ‘One Man’s Quest to Change the Way We Die‘ The New York Times Magazine

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