To me, Death is the ultimate teacher but I think a lot of people avoid even thinking about it. I also think a lot of people are not really living the life they would like to live. I'm not talking about people whose life circumstances prevent them from enjoying of "the good life". I'm talking about people who for one reason or another, in whatever circumstances they find themselves are not moving towards the life that would make them feel most alive, or even more alive. When Death rears its head, if you are not living that life, you will likely panic, grasp for straws, and suffer much more than is necessary because you still hope to live that life someday. I've made many sacrifices and taken many hits and losses in order to live closer to that life myself and I find I'm much more clear-headed about death, and less attached to life than when I was not living that life. I've been focusing on quality versus quantity of life since I can remember. This hospice movement makes total sense to me. The whole practice of T'ai-Chi for me has been one of "investing in loss" and practicing letting go of whatever it is possible to let go of. And for me at least there's nothing like unfulfilled longing to make me cling to life. And clinging to life really gets in the way of living and of making the kind of decisions that may need to be made should a terminal illness arise. And of course, the attitude of our medical system doesn't help much. It sounds, from this article at least, that the tide might be turning a bit.
I remember reading about a how a man in Connecticut pulled out a butcher knife and went crazy slashing people. Literally every single person in the cafe where this happened completely panicked and there was a stampede for the door. I thought this over and thought, you know, I've lived what I consider a good life, I've done on some level at least, everything I ever dreamed of doing, I feel pretty complete in general about my life and sure, I'd like to continue, but I'm also happy with what I've done and I don't think I'm as afraid of dying as these people seemed to be. I was living in Seattle at the time and I was teaching a very early morning T'ai-Chi class downtown at a Retirement Center. Before class, I always stopped at this one Starbuck's which was right next to place I taught. Just a couple of weeks after reading about the above mentioned incident, I was having a cup of coffee when I noticed this really angry looking homeless guy sitting by the window across the room from me. He was muttering to himself in a way that was not just nutty, it had a really dangerous edge to it. He was wearing layered baggy clothes that could easily be concealing a weapon. I found myself thinking that if he pulled something, I would scoop up the chair I was sitting in and get between him and the cashier where the only phone in the room was. (This was before ubiquitous cell phones...) I figured that even though he was big and crazy-angry, I could hold him off long enough for someone to call 9-11. It turned out not to be necessary. He calmed down and soon left, but I could feel a connection between the kind of life I was living and my willingness to die if necessary to keep more people from being harmed.
I don't mean to be facile about this. I don't know how I'd face anything until I actually do, but I feel that looking at my own death and moving consistently in the direction of a more alive life, has left me more ready for "the end" than if I had not.