Information on Conscious Dying

Buddhist Chaplain Steve Spiro Shares Some Resources

Steve Spiro

Steve Spiro

Steven Spiro is a Buddhist Chaplain in the Zen Peacemaker Order and a core member of SnowFlower Sangha in Madison, Wisconsin. He offers companionship and spiritual support of the dying and their loved ones, Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. Here are some of the resources he has compiled which are useful in helping people face death more consciously.

Spiro says, "Many people find it useful to consider the questions in this Advance Directive for Conscious Dying. It is not a legal document. It is a way for us to look directly into our own mortality, to envision how we might die, and to serve as a platform for creating conversations about death and dying. It can be a practical document, or a profound emotional and spiritual exercise. lf you choose to complete it, it can be useful to share your completed directive with someone you trust."

Hear Steven's interview with Sara Nics in Death: The Last Moment. You can download the Advance Directive for Conscious Dying as a PDF here. It includes the following questions:

The People

  1. Who do you most wish to be with you? These are in your inner circle.
  2. Are there any people you do not wish to have present?
  3. Name those you’d like to personally contact by phone, internet, or other means regarding your situation and condition.
  4. What message you would like to be sent out to friends and family upon your death?
  5. Would you prefer to have others present with you as much as possible, as little as possible, or somewhere in between?
  6. When your time of death comes, would you prefer to be alone, or with company? Would you like someone to conduct vigil for you so you are not alone?
  7. Would you like to appoint a person or persons to be the facilitators for your spiritual care?
  8. Are there any relationships to which you want to bring to resolution through forgiveness, honesty, embracing, or other means?
  9. List those to whom you would like to express your blessings, advice, gratitude, love, etc., in person, or by other means.

The Setting

  1. Describe the physical setting in which you’d prefer to die.
  2. Describe the details in the room. These may include lighting, decorations, photographs, artwork, incense, flowers, furnishings, etc.
  3. Are there special garments, jewelry, blankets, wraps, and the like which you would like yourself and/or others to wear?

The Content

  1. List readings, poetry, scripture, prayers, which would be helpful for you. These can be read live, or be pre-recorded and played as needed.
  2. List some of your favorite songs, chants, and music which could be performed live for you or be prerecorded to be played as needed.
  3. List other activities which could be useful to you, such as massage, energy work, visualizations, communion, movements, postures, art-making, and so on.
  4. What is your desire as far as the optimal level of pain medication for you? To what degree are you willing to sacrifice comfort for awareness? At what point do you want pain medication if it begins to interfere with your level of consciousness?
  5. How strictly do you want your wishes to be adhered to by your loved ones? Do you want them to do exactly as you say, even if they may feel uncomfortable? Do you want your loved ones to do what brings them the most peace, or somewhere in between?

Your Intentions

  1. Describe your views on death and dying. What would you like your loved ones to know about your life and death? You could write this as a message to your survivors.

If you're interested in books with a Buddhist perspective on death, some of my favorites are: Being with Dying, Who Dies?, Healing into Life and Death, A Year to Live,Living in the Light of DeathThe Tibetan Book of Living and DyingNo Death, No FearThe Tibetan Book of the Dead, When Things Fall Apart, and At Home with Dying.

There are many meditations on letting go and preparing for death. Here's a link to a meditation called "This Body Is Not Me," and Steven has shared one that you can listen to below. He says, "This is a guided meditation designed to enable you to experience the universal nature of birth, death, and impermanence. Please find a peaceful place and time to listen, where you can be relaxed and alert."

Return to Resources Pages | Return to Death Series Page