life to Death: Harmonizing ffie Transition by Richard W. Boerstler and Helen S. Kornfeld, 1995, Rochester, VT: Health Arts Press, 240 pages. $14.95, softcover
Life to Death: Harmonizing the Tradition describes a form of meditation and deep relaxation done by two people to ease the process of illness and dying. The co-meditation also involves one person vocalizing specific sounds or phrases in synchrony with the other person's exhalations and imagery. The reported benefits of co-meditation include bringing two people together in a tangible and positive exercise, decreased physical and psychological discomfort, improved sleep, and decreased feelings of helplessness. Clients look to nurses to help them face the challenges of illness and death. Multiple studies have supported a link between gaining a perceived sense of control during a serious illness and successful adjustment and positive affect. Comeditation may help clients gain a sense of control over their life and dying process.
Modern health care has been justifiably criticized for its reductionistic practices and for the failure of the medical model to meet the needs of clients when health care needs shift from cure to palliation. There is a need for serious consideration of ancient and alternative healing techniques as well as a need to expand the repertoire of palliative care interventions. Co-meditation is an ancient practice originally developed in Tibet. The mind-body connection is a primary theme of the book. Bits and pieces of various Eastern and Western perspectives regarding death and the spirit are threaded through the chapters. Multiple case studies highlight the benefits of a holistic approach to health care.
The authors state that everyone who deals with death and dying must address the following questions:
1. What is a good death?
2. What are the fundamental needs of the dying person?
3. If your consciousness is to become part of the universe at the time of transformation, what state do you wish to be in at the moment of passage?
While not all patients and families would be comfortable participating in co-meditation, it is a simple technique that anyone could learn to do and it has the potential to be a useful intervention in select situations.
The book is limited by a lack of conceptual depth and analysis. Many topics are presented including hospice, euthanasia, patient autonomy, caregiving tips, and physical needs of the dying, but the discussion of each topic is superficial. Partial presentation of a few points on multiple topics leaves the reader guessing how choices were made regarding what to include, and the lack of critical evaluation evident throughout the book is disconcerting. Even though, as the authors mention, the outcomes of utilizing mind-body techniques may not be easily tested by quantitative research methods, a systematic, cohesive, and comprehensive analysis of the interventions would improve the credibility and acceptability of comeditation and other mind-body interventions. Still, readers interested in broadening spiritual care provided to the dying should find the co-meditation techniques and case studies informative.