The Meaning of Death: Stephen Jenkinson

StephenJenkinsonThose of us who have the privilege of working with people at the end of life are acutely aware of the tremendous amount of anxiety that surrounds the end of life. So much energy is spent in denial of death and all too often we miss the opportunity to live into our death. Stephen Jenkinson is the stuff of legend. Over the years, I have heard his name sometimes shouted with enthusiasm and often whispered tentatively as tough this guru of death processes the talisman capable of provided a way through to the end which invites serinity in the midst of anxiety.  Over the years, his books have enlightened my own anxious mind and given me the courage to enter into some fearsome journeys. 

Formerly a director of children’s grief and palliative care at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, and assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s School of Family and Community Medicine, Jenkinson now spends his time teaching, writing, and leading workshops.

Jenkinson writes:  “How we care for the dying people in our midst, and how we die when it is our turn: these together are the proving ground, the cradle and the grave both, for every conviction we have about justice and mercy, about the meaning of life, about what love should look like and what it should do. They are the sum of every political instinct we have, every dream of community we’ve nursed along and every faith we’ve been willing to have in a better day. They are where every fascination about the Other World and the Big Story live, and they are where the midnight fear of Nothing comes to call. They are where our immense technical medical wizardry and mastery is visited upon you and those you love, and where the mythic poverty of our time comes to show itself. They are surely where our love of life earns its keep, or shatters. Mostly, though, they are the place where our ability to be a people is forged, or fails. They are where our village is made or broken. They are where we are most ourselves, and most alone. Together they are The Big Tent of our time.”

The Meaning of Death is a short (6min) video that offers a taste of Jenkinson’s approach. But to learn more of Jenkinson’s remarkable way of being, be sure to follow the link below to the NFB film: Griefwalker. It is well worth watching (70min)!!!!

Griefwalker is a National Film Board of Canada feature documentary film that runs about 70min.  Filmed over a 12 year period, it shows Jenkinson in teaching sessions with doctors and nurses, in counselling sessions with dying people ad their families, and in meditative and often frank exchanges. You can view the entire film by clicking on the link below.

Griefwalker by Tim Wilson – NFB.

2 thoughts on “The Meaning of Death: Stephen Jenkinson

  1. I am reminded of William Wordsworth’s “Intimations of Immortality”:
    The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star, 60
    Hath had elsewhere its setting,
    And cometh from afar:
    Not in entire forgetfulness,
    And not in utter nakedness,
    But trailing clouds of glory do we come 65
    From God, who is our home

    It’s our cycle of birth to death … Kathleen Dowling Singh has written a remarkable book on death and dying titled “The Grace in Dying”. In it she writes: “.. we emerge out of the Ground of Being and into the physical world as a separate life-in-form, ‘trailing clouds of glory’.” Similarly, at the end of life, we return to Unity Consciousness, back to our beginning .. back to the ground of our beginning, the Ground of Being.

    I volunteer several times a week with a hospice organization. I am always amazed at how life seems to complete its transformative journey in almost all people as they approach EOL. It’s often in this final stage that the Mental Ego is fully dismantled and our egoic consciousness is returned to the nothingness from which it began.

    Is it not true that we move throughout life from individual to community …. from Undifferentiated Consciousness, full circle, to Unitive Consciousness [which is our divine home]. Or, to say it another way, …. in this transformative cycle of life, we move from being-in-the-world … to being-one-with-the-world.

    If we peal back the layers of the Gospel and look simply at the life and way of Jesus, we’ll see how his “oneness with the Father” was simply the Gospel writer’s attempt at describing the transformative journey of a remarkable human being. Jesus, above all else, becomes a model (the model??) for our own lives.

    • … please ignore the line numbers to Wordsworth’s poem (above) … which were messed-up in the auto-formatting; properly presented, the lines read:

      The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
      Hath had elsewhere its setting,
      And cometh from afar:
      Not in entire forgetfulness,
      And not in utter nakedness,
      But trailing clouds of glory do we come
      From God, who is our home

      [my apologies to William Wordsworth]

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