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Spirituality may be key to 'dying well,' even in a less-religious age
A recent conference in New York City helped participants learn to look at their own death through a spiritual lens. - photo by Kelsey Dallas
Longtime obituary writer Heather Lende has spent countless hours considering death. In a recent post for the "Life Handbook" section of The Huffington Post, she distilled her years of reflection into 10 pieces of advice for living, and dying, well.

Lende included "accepting death" in her list, noting that there's value in being able to confront your end without fear. "You can die purposefully, in much the same way as you can live purposefully," she wrote.

Lende admitted that "dying well" is difficult. Over the years, the effort has inspired books, articles and even a conference in New York City.

The gathering, called "The Art of Dying," featured a series of presentations from "innovators, researchers and authors in the fields of death and dying." Participants were asked to consider how their own deaths and the deaths of loved ones could "be faced with courage and awareness," according to the event website.

Melanie Chaite, a 21-year-old terminally ill college student, was one of the conference's participants. She told The Huffington Post she looked forward to addressing her fears about death and learning from acclaimed thinkers.

"People always worry about my health. To know they will grieve makes me feel like I need to help prepare them," she said. "I want to learn more about the process and the spiritual aspect."

Notably, few of the featured speakers came from traditional religious backgrounds. Instead, as Chaite's thought implies, they specialized in spiritual approaches, which sometimes overlap with religious ideas about death and heaven, but also make room for creative interpretations of what happens to people when they die.

"It used to be that this role of talking about death was solely filled by religion, but nowadays many people aren't as focused on organizational religion that gives them answers. They have inquiries," said Thomas Amelio, one of the conference organizers, to The Huffington Post. "We're not presenting anybody as having the answers."

As Psychology Today has noted, "spirituality means something different to everyone," but Amelio's comments capture one common aspect of being a spiritual person: asking big questions.

To be spiritual is to seek meaning in life events, including death, Psychology Today noted. The conference joined other events such as death cafes, where strangers come together to discuss the end of life, in this search for meaning, and presenters drew on their work in fields like neurology, music and hospice care to share perspectives on dying well.

In 2012, Pew Research Center reported that "the number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15 percent to just under 20 percent of all U.S. adults."

This shift away from organized religion opens a door for unique, spiritual approaches to be employed to mark the deaths of lost loved ones, as The Atlantic reported in August. The article highlighted the unusual practice of getting a tattoo with the ashes of the deceased.

"The farther we move away from having a type of ritual, it does seem to make the grieving and the experience of death slightly more difficult," Caleb Wilde, a Pennsylvania funeral director, told The Atlantic. "It's not that we're reinventing the wheel we're rediscovering tradition and the meaning of those traditions. There's a lot of spirituality involved."
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