For families caring for a terminally ill loved one, finding a balance during this highly emotional period is often challenging. With the physical and financial dynamics come the associated emotional toll the dying process has on not only the individual who is afflicted but also those who care about them.
For those of Buddhist belief, there is a Tibetan belief process for dying which is often used as a source of emotional strength during the dying process for all involved. Believing the dissolution of our bodies is directly connected to the elements of the five elements, family members and loved ones find strength in the belief process of Buddhism. In fact, under this process, an individual who simply ceases to breathe is not considered dead, but instead, in a process of dissolution, only half way through the eight step realm.
In the first step of the Tibetan Buddhist process of dissolution, the individual, diagnosed with terminal illness, is said to begin a giving away process, also known as “earth giving way to water”. In this first process, the dying patient will often experience a natural deterioration in bones, muscles, nails, hair and will begin to lose some of their mental and physical faculties. It is during this period, oftentimes, that family members and loved ones become more emotionally involved in the dying process which only further exacerbates the complications of the dying patient. For this reason, during this first phase of dissolution, it is recommended that the terminally ill patient be exposed to as little emotional input as possible.
In the second step of dissolution, the Tibet belief process the body moves from a watering down phase into the creation of smoke, also known as “water to fire” process. This is the period when the terminally ill individual may experience an overwhelming sense of dehydration as the body begins to shut down and bodily fluids, such as lymph, saliva and blood, begin to become more sparse. During this period, family and loved ones can assist in the care of a terminally ill patient by providing ice chips and support as the swallowing mechanism becomes more difficult.
In the third stage of dissolution in the terminally ill patient, it is said the smoke and fire move into the wind. It is during this period that the essential brain functions, controlling respiration and body temperature, begin to fade often leaving the terminally ill patient to feel a sense of extreme coldness. In fact, the lack of warmth within the body creates a physiological response in which the terminally ill patient will experience coldness along the extremities but extreme warmth around the torso. Under Buddhism, it is believed this is the period in which consciousness begins to fade dramatically and, as a result, the individual should be given only positive emotional and mental influence.
As stage four approaches, we enter into the period in which Tibetan belief states wind falls into space. That is to say, this is the period in which all physiological process cease to exist; breathing ceases and physical activity, including heart beat, is no longer present. It is at this point, in Western medicine, that we classify the terminally ill patient as deceased. However, under the Tibetan Buddhist view, it is believed this is the period in which the terminally ill patient may still hold some level of subconscious activity and, as a result, should not be exposed to negative or sorrowful emotions. Instead, family members and loved ones should continue to offer encouraging and positive energy to the patient, even including light touch to promote positive influence.
Into stage five, the terminally ill patient, no longer breathing, now enters the realm of white flash. It is during this period that Tibetan belief states the individual’s various subconscious processes are dissolved; those of hunger, thirst, depression, laziness, anger, attachment, virtue and even pride. During this process, the elements of our basic subconscious are said to fade to inproductivity, leading many terminally ill patients to visualize a sort of white dripping of liquid to the heart. This process may be slow, or it may be fast, lending to the name of the phase, “white flash”.
And, finally, stages six through eight. It is during these phases that the spine connects, one final time, to the heart, known as “red flash”, and then this red light or dripping connects to the previous white flash, creating phase seven known as “near-attainment”. And, finally, in phase eight, the brightness of the dawn of death is seen by the terminally ill patient and the mind is forever disconnected from the activity and interaction with the body.
In Tibetan belief, these final four phases of the dissolution can take as long as three to four days following the cessation of respiration. For that reason, the body of the “deceased”, according to Western definition, in permitted to lie in state, undisturbed.
For family members caring for a terminally ill patient, applying these Tibetan Buddhist beliefs on the dissolution of the terminally ill patient, may work to provide a more spiritual and emotional response as the dying process occurs. Even for Christians, this process is one that is easily followed and can be connected into a mind to body experience which we will all experience at some point in our lives.