What Dying Can Teach Us About Living
Noone leaves their house thinking “I’m going to get in a car accident and die today.” And I doubt that any of the kids who showed up for school at Parkland Elementary on February 14th thought “Today is my last day on this planet.”
But we know that death is an inevitable part of being human.
Last night I went to an engaging and wonderful talk at the new “Life and Death Wellness Center” my friend, Charlotte, an ER doctor, just opened here in our small Hawaii community.
Charlotte is a trained “death doula” and plans to offer end-of-life coaching and a variety of educational workshops and trainings focused on end-of-life care.
As Charlotte shared her story and how she’s developed a passion for working with people at the end of their lives, I kept thinking “These are issue that affect all of us.”
She spoke about end of life care, how we want to be cared for in our last days, and the process of preparing advanced directives that outline our wishes so loved ones who may need to make decisions for us someday will know what we want.
From my years of being a hospital social worker, I’ve seen up close the chaos and confusion that often happens when someone hasn’t taken the time to do these things.
We all know this intellectually: from the minute we’re born we’re also dying.
None of us truly know when we will take our last breath and it could just as easily be tomorrow vs. decades from now.
Which begs the question:
How do you want to live your life today knowing that your time here IS limited?
This is a question I ask myself each morning before my day gets underway, and a question I invite the students in my mindfulness courses to ask themselves daily as well.
It’s so easy to wake up, jump out of bed and dive into our days headfirst without really taking the time to contemplate what is most important to us and where we really want to place our attention.
Australian Hospice nurse, Bronnie Ware wrote a now famous blog post (and eventually a book by the same title) called The Five Regrets of The Dying. She outlines the five top regrets she witnessed, over and over again, in the patients she cared for who were dying:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not what others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
I know it might feel scary to envision your life coming to an end, but perhaps a first step could be to simply reflect on how you’re living right now. And then ask yourself:
Will my Future Self be happy with the choices I’m making today?
Knowing that your life will end someday, but not knowing when, can be a powerful way to help direct your attention to what matters most to you and to avoid having some of these regrets those who are dying so often report..
That book you want to write, the trip you want to take, the visit you want to make happen with old friends or family members you haven’t seen now for years… please schedule them in and make them happen.
They don't have to be big things, either. Our small, daily choices all make a difference over time.
Maybe you want to unplug more on the weekends and spend more quality time with your family and friends. Or you want to do less Netflix binge tv watching and get to bed earlier or spend that time doing something that feels more nourishing.
I encourage you to think about what has the most heart and meaning to you and start carving out time for it.
To quote one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, this is your “one wild and precious life” and the way you spend each moment, each hour, each day… it really does matter.