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Natural Awakenings Tucson

The Art of Conscious Dying

Oct 30, 2021 09:00AM ● By Katta Mapes
Even some vampires in the movies lament that they cannot die. Immortality isn’t so wonderful when their loved ones die throughout the centuries while they live on. Since all of us non-vampires share the same fate of dying, many of us actually get to make a choice to die consciously, or not.
Ann Rich, a nursing manager at Villa Maria Care Center, in Tucson, chose to work with older populations because she feels a sense of honor in being with people near the end of their lives. She says, “The person you see at this time in life, this is not who they are—who they have been and what they have done earlier in their lives.” She wants to add something to enrich them near the end of their lives.
To Rich, conscious dying encompasses different things for different people. It all has to do with the choices people make about how they will spend those last months, days or minutes of their lives. Some choices in conscious dying are medical, some social-emotional and some spiritual.
Medical conscious choices include
stopping all treatments, except pain care—or even stopping pain care to be more present with loved ones. An example is someone who decides to stop dialysis even though it may mean a shorter life, just to not have to deal with this cumbersome treatment.
Conscious choices of a social-emotional nature might include finding lost relatives in order to connect with them before dying or making amends with loved ones. Often, hospice social workers or counselors will facilitate these processes. By resolving this unfinished business, people feel relieved and able to die at peace with themselves and others. Rich says that people want to connect with their dogs or cats one last time, if they are not dying at home. Sometimes they may want to go outside to breathe fresh air one more time.
She has seen the gamut of emotional responses to dying. Here the various stages of the grieving process apply as much to the person dying as they will to their loved ones after they die. In this case, they grieve the loss of their life as they know it. Inherent in this journey are feelings of anger, denial, loneliness, guilt and depression. Sometimes the dying are so afraid of death that they will not sleep due to worry about whether or not they will wake up. Much of this process hinges on a person’s spiritual and/or religious beliefs. Others are very ready to die peacefully. Rich thinks that dying can be harder for those who do not have a strong support system or belief system to sustain them.
Spiritual and religious conscious choices come to bear when the dying rely on their spiritual and religious community for support and when they clarify their beliefs about dying and the afterlife. We could actually call this state of being the “afterdeath”. These beliefs are often formed from experiences and information about death and dying. Author and guru Ram Dass wrote that he sees death—the moment of death—as a ceremony.
Chuck Swedrock is our local connection to the International Association of Near-Death Studies (IANDS). His efforts in creating and maintaining this organization offers a wealth of information about people who have had near-death experiences where they were clinically dead, then returned to life. These transformational experiences usually affect their lives from that point on. The IANDS website,, gives a deep dive into stories of how people have moved from fear to love in their dying and living again.
Wilcox resident Markley Streeper died and returned to life after a severe horseback riding accident. She recalls that in that near-death state, she felt great peace and love. She also saw her deceased father, who asked, “What are you doing here?” She said, “I don’t know.” Streeper survived and returned to life shortly thereafter. Now, she does not fear death.
Another local resource is Dr. Gary E. Schwartz of the University of Arizona Laboratory for Advances in Consciousness and Health. He and a team of electrical engineers, software specialists and others continue to conduct a series of scientific studies that definitively demonstrate that life continues after physical death. Schwartz’s colleague, Dr. Mark Pitstick, provides seekers more information about what happens when we die, in his newsletter at
Believing that we continue to exist after our physical body can help to shape not only our beliefs about death, but also help make conscious choices about how we live. One might think that the only ones of us who can die consciously are those who know that they are dying. When someone dies suddenly, they are not likely to be able to die consciously—unless they have reflected on their death before they go and choose to live according to spiritual principles that may prepare them for the transition from life to their new state of being without fear.

Katta Mapes is a freelance writer, book author and dowser who is dedicated to promoting social, emotional and spiritual well-being for all. She co-authored The Big Picture of Life with Drs. Mark Pitstick and Gary E. Schwartz. Connect at [email protected] (hablo español).
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