Back in 2010, Dr. Martha Calihan, M.D.’s husband of 30 years began to die. Being combination wife, physician and founder of Five Stones Healing Arts and Wellness Center, she did the only thing she could do – she meticulously and compassionately described what that was like. “I wrote [the book A Death Lived] because it needed to be written,” she told us.
“I would not be naturally inclined to share something that personal, but my experience as both wife of a dying man and physician gave me a unique perspective on the experience that certainly was important to share. Our experience was that Charles by his actions, so lived his death, which is why that is what the book is named. It just screamed to be shared,” she added.
Her first thought was that, “if I can help any other person or family going through the experience or who will eventually go through the experience realize the benefits and value of having the conversations which lead to the making and sharing of the decisions that need to be made when someone is dying, then that’s a win.”
What made the journey special and important on that front was the honesty with which Charles faced his death and dealt with the kinds of decisions that medical people use to govern their own actions. Dr. Calihan had been included in many such decisions in her family medical practice, but what came as a surprise to her in experiencing the loss of her own soul mate was, “that it would be a deeply sacred and profound experience, and ultimately, a gift far beyond anything I could have imagined,” she writes in the book’s prologue. “I deeply believe that one of Charles’ purposes in this life was to teach as many of us as would listen, how to die.”
The detail she provides, including the things that she felt and what she and her family discussed, are a critically important tool in helping any family cope with a similar process. Moreover, it’s an invaluable read for any physicians who face death in their practices. Rather than treating their patients’ dying as a failure of medicine, they should accept the fact that it is an inevitable part of life and become channels of learning how to make this process more positive, she asserts. “Death is the most common and least understood event in our lives, but we know that the dying process can be a powerful, beautiful and spiritually rich experience,” she writes.
And finally, A Death Lived is important as both a love story and testimony that death isn’t the end. We won’t bury the lede here – we can use the word “positive” about the process of dying not only because Dr. Calihan does, but because she says that when Charles expired, “I saw Charles’ spirit leave his body.... I felt an instant, deep sense of peace and absolute certainty about what I had seen.”
She knew then not only that the body and the spirit are separate, but, “that the ultimate force is love. It’s the only thing that matters. When you die, you can’t take your possessions with you, you can’t take your body with you. After your spirit leaves, all that lasts in the love that you shared.”
Thanks, Dr. Calihan, for not only giving us a prescription on how to die, but on how to love as well. Order it here: https://www.fivestoneswellness.com/adeathlived.