Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lessons from the Dying

Dead? Part of my consciousness resisted the notion even though I was moving fast beyond the hunch that it was possible. I remained stuck in space, waffling over what to do. The light continued to draw me to it, not in a demanding way but like a gentle invitation.
“There is as much time as you need,” the voice said with such compassion that I felt completely at ease, which resulted in an outpour of emotion. I didn’t want to cry but there was no resisting. The emotions flowed from me like water from a busted dam as the realization hit home that everything I had known was now in the past, forever separated. The voice reassured me as it said, “Many souls encounter what you’re feeling now.”
I continued to sob, still wanting to hold back but knowing that wasn’t possible. The emotions were set free in a way I had never experienced, slowly morphing into a sound I’d never made before. It was no longer a weeping of only sadness but a release of fear, frustration and resentment mixed with relief, joy, even love. The sounds of all emotions combined into a melody of pure expression. Then they passed and left me as quickly as they had come.
I settled into a peaceful acceptance. I relaxed and focused more clearly on the light source, allowing the brilliant yet soft glow to draw me in.
At last I said, “I’m okay.”
“You are.”
The final thing I said before joining the light was, “I’m surprised I hadn’t thought about this more.”
Most of us don’t think much about our mortality. We don’t wake up and wonder if today might be our last. Instead we think about the things on our schedule and in the days ahead. But some people do go through their day occasionally wondering, will I die today? It’s hard for the rest of us to imagine what that must be like.
There are many people who are close to their dying days and conscious of it. Usually we think of the elderly, but this also includes children and younger adults, anyone with a condition that is ending their lifetime imminently. Whether you spend time with people who know they are experiencing final days, or if you research them and read books by hospice workers, it should be noted how often their recommendations and reflections on life contain similar themes. The consistency of their advice should be taken to heart like pearls of wisdom.
What are some lessons from the dying elderly? People who have lived full lives and are winding down typically say things like this:
  • Do what you love.
  • Life is short; appreciate the time you have.
  • Don’t work too hard or worry so much about money.
  • Relationships are everything. Make time for family and friends. Give love.
  • Be honest.
  • Forgive everyone. Forgive yourself.
  • If you owe someone an apology, give it.
  • Be happy.
It’s not surprising that many children and younger adults with life-threatening illnesses speak about similar themes:
  • Be yourself and let others be who they are.
  • Be grateful for your blessings.
  • Time is precious.
  • People matter.
  • Follow your dreams.
Hospice care expert, Dr. Lani Leary Ph.D., has worked with hundreds of patients experiencing their final days. She has found dying people do not fear death; they are more concerned about emotional abandonment, not feeling connected to loved ones or not feeling valued. Dr. Leary says dying people want these things:
  • They want us to listen. Listen openly without judgment, assumptions or comparisons. Be comfortable with silence too.
  • They want us to touch them. Dying people may feel self-conscious, even ugly or undesirable. Physical touch helps tremendously whether it’s holding their hands, embracing them or gently brushing their hair.
  • They want our love and permission to let go, that they may leave this lifetime without feeling like they quit on us, failed us somehow or abandoned us (Leary, 2011).
When you take the advice of those about to pass on and combine that with their final requests from us, it becomes a pretty good recipe for wise living. Imagine if more people in the world:
     Better You, Better Me by Jason Matthews
  • Listened without judging and let people be who they want to be.
  • Touched each other more openly, in a caring way meant to appreciate the other person.
  • Focused on improving relationships, cultivating happiness along with forgiveness for everyone.
This is easier said than done, but wouldn’t the world be a better place if more of us had this philosophy? I knew I needed to improve in these areas, which were among my first focal points in being a better version of me. The focus on the bigger picture is an ever-present theme. We’ll discuss these concepts and others throughout the chapters of this book. We’ll also cover ways to remember and apply the concepts, which have remarkable results.

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