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Posted: December 10, 2004

Spiritual Caregiving

Grace in the Moment

(Editor?s Note: Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, media and web editors of Spirituality & Health magazine, provide two book reviews of note for caregivers.)


Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying

By Ram Dass

(Riverhead Books 06/01 Paperback, $13.13)

Ram Dass's 1971 book Be Here Now introduced millions of Americans to Eastern religions and philosophy. For nearly three decades, this beloved teacher traveled the globe with his messages about living in the present, creating a life of service, and aging gracefully. Then in February 1997 he was rocked by a stroke that left him in a wheelchair, partially paralyzed and requiring round-the-clock care.

Early on in this great work of love, Ram Das notes: "What a gift the stroke has given me, to finally learn that I don't have to renounce my humanity in order to be spiritual ? that I can be both witness and participant, both eternal spirit and aging body. . . . At nearly seventy, surrounded by people who care for and love me, I'm still learning to be here now." The author sees this book as a map into the country of aging, changing, and dying.

These are not new interests for Ram Dass. He has deliberately put himself near people who are dying and, at countless workshops, he has taught a curriculum for conscious aging as an antidote to American culture's uneasiness with the long-lived. "Wisdom is one of the few things in human life that does not diminish with age," he writes. Ram Dass shows how regular spiritual practice can help us deal with "the usual suspects that cause us trouble when we grow older," including the fear of losing our minds, loneliness, powerlessness, loss of purpose, and depression.

In the last stages of life we have plenty of opportunities to draw closer to God through being rather than doing, by gracefully accepting our dependency on others, and by quieting our egos as we grow in equanimity and peace. "One of the best parts of aging is entering the 'don't know,' learning to be someone who can rest comfortably in uncertainty." Ram Dass' brush with death enabled him to see how important it is to view it as a great mystery and an opportunity for transformation.

This inspiring and very wise book is, above all, a profound meditation upon healing. "Curing means bringing you back to what you were ? but if 'what you were' wasn't closer to God, then you haven't been healed. I haven't been cured of my stroke, but I have definitely been healed by it. Healing moves us closer to the One, and if you're the One then you're whole." Savor the words of this spiritual scout who has done us an inestimable favor by sniffing out the territory that lies ahead for all of us.


Sacred Dying: Creating Rituals for Embracing the End of Life

By Megory Anderson

(Marlowe & Company 04/04 Hardcover $15.95)

"People need and want to die with a clear conscience, with a feeling that the burdens of this life are past, and with a knowledge that their wishes will be granted," writes Megory Anderson, a theologian, educator, and liturgist who runs the nonprofit Sacred Dying Foundation in San Francisco. In this accessible and practical resource, the author shares rituals she's designed over the years to help individuals in the process of dying. Thomas Moore has written a thoughtful foreword.

Many members of the Baby Boom generation have created special rituals for their marriages and the births of their children. Now they are looking to bring the same kinds of spiritual dimensions to the time surrounding the dying of a loved one. Anderson provides plenty of ideas beginning with the creation of a sacred space for the person who is about to cross over to the other side. She suggests incorporating religious symbols that might have meaning for the individual. She then discusses the importance of cleansing the place; containing the space; diffusing outside noises; and incorporating smells, music and prayers.

Two of the richest chapters are on rituals to release emotional grief and rituals to comfort the body. In the first, Anderson reveals the need for the dying person to let go of burdens of anger, guilt, and unfinished business. In the second, she shows the healing beauty of touch. Sitting vigil is an honor that demands reverence and openness to what arises in the moment. The dying person's wishes are always paramount.

Sacred Dying also includes chapters on dying alone, ending life support, and the period after death until the funeral. Anderson concludes with appropriate readings, prayers, poems, songs, and texts for use in the rituals.

This article originally appeared in Spirituality & Health magazine, For subscriptions call 1-800-876-8202 or see Editor Stephen Kiesling and his staff contribute weekly columns, features and articles published every Friday as "Spiritual Caregiving" at Contact staff directly via email at

© 2004 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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