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Five Lessons I Learned About Living From The Dying
April 23, 2015
There are a lot of people who don't want to talk about it, don't want to hear about it and certainly don't want to consciously apply the thought to themselves. Different cultures throughout history have had varying beliefs, rites and practices when it came to dealing with the death of loved ones and themselves - some of those rites and practices were greatly ceremonial, some were deeply spiritual, some were more pragmatic and others were what we would term today as barbaric. Society, culture, religion and family all play a role in our beliefs surrounding death. While all these beliefs, rights and practices have been passed down generation through generation, with each generation molding them to suit societal and belief changes, there has been a huge hole in that generational passed down knowledge: what can we learn from our loved ones who have died? Like it or not, face it or not, acknowledge it or not - it's coming to each of us. Why wouldn't we want to be as prepared as we can be for this inevitable life event? Why wouldn't we want to know, from others who have faced it, what we can do now that can help us when it's our turn to die? Through my own personal experiences with death and from my work in hospice I have learned some very enlightening, meaningful and common things we should all know.
1. LOVED ONES AND RELATIONSHIPS MEAN EVERYTHING
Other people really do matter. It's not all about you and never has been. All of us come into this world having a deep need to be loved and to love others in return: It's at the core of being human and what we were truly born to be. Love. If every time we interacted with someone we tried to recognize our own need to be loved, and the other persons need to receive love, we would have the relationships we need so desperately to experience. It is through loving relationships that we continue to live after we die - when we touch others heart we know that we will not be forgotten or remembered poorly. We also pass the torch of love on so that those we have loved can love others in return - and this passing of the torch goes on generation to generation and person to person. When we withhold our love, or put expectations and demands on another before they can experience our love wholly, it is us who will have the regret - holding on to grudges, expectation or judgments are the most regrettable things you can do for you. It is also the people we have loved who come to be with us when we are dying; who hold our hand and assure us of our love and theirs and this is one of the greatest comforts we can have when we are facing death.
2. IT'S NOT ABOUT WHAT YOU DID SO MUCH AS HOW YOU DID IT
Some of us will reach the end of our lives having made a big impact in some sector of economics, business or societal functioning but most of us won't. We will all have worked, played, struggled, relaxed, persevered, and tried. We all have different life paths and different ideals but no matter what we perceive as success, at the end of our lives we will use a different yard stick to measure that success than the one we used most of our lives. It won't be as much about how much we earned, how big our house is, how many things we own or how much success we had in our work because guess what? You really cant take any of that with you. What will matter, and what will be very important to you in your final days, is how much you did all those things with integrity, honesty and compassion. Those three things are at the core of who you are, and who you have been throughout your life, as a person - and who you've been as a person will matter a great deal to you - more than financial, business or material success every did.
3.YOUR EGO IS EASILY FORGOTTEN WHEN FACED WITH DEATH
Ego - it's that little guy on your shoulder reminding you how justified you are in holding a grudge, how wrong others have done you, how much more you need and deserve, and how you don't measure up. Ego reminds you that if others would just act, say, behave and do what you want them to then your world would be perfect. Ego also tells you that the world revolves around you and that you should never forget old wounds, old slights, old grievances or any perceived imperfections in others. Ego has a pretty big job in your life and he seems to be a constant companion until we are faced with immanent death. For some reason it is so easy to let go of that life companion when we know we are going to die. I believe one of the reasons for this is because we come to the realization that everyone really was doing the best they knew how and malice towards you probably wasn't the main intent; that it wasn't about you but about the pain and hurt others are carrying, and that all that really matters is love - the rest is just impractical and hurtful baggage we have carried around and it has only ever served one purpose: to keep us separated and feeling unworthy of experiencing that love fully here on earth. When we die we all want to be in a loving state with everyone, including ourselves, because we don't want to carry false pretences, hurts, angers, grudges or grievances with us when we leave.
4. LIVING THROUGH LIFE IS NOT THE SAME AS REALLY LIVING LIFE
We can all be guilty of spending hours in front of the TV, looking down at our phones instead of into the eyes of the people were with, ignoring the beauty around us and saying we're bored, feeling that life is tough instead of believing we're lucky to be here, or wanting more instead of appreciating what we have. Close your eyes for a minute and breathe in as slowly as you comfortable can through your nose, hold your breath as long as you comfortable can, and then exhale through your mouth slowly before you open your eyes. You know what you just did? You experienced the blessing of being able to breathe and you consciously experienced that breath in the moment. That is one of the difference between those who are living through life and those who are really living life. Being present and consciously aware of the moments you have makes you look back with gratitude and peace instead of panic and regret. I can't stress this enough - no matter what is happening around you if you consciously decide to experience your life in the now you will have peace when you look back at your life. But to really live life you must also take impossible chances, laugh from your inside out, cry from your souls depth, love from the bottom of your heart and express it often, hug tightly and never let go first, say what you mean and never let loving and kind words go unsaid, appreciate what you have and don't crave what you don't, and most importantly like yourself enough to stop berating, criticizing, comparing and judging yourself all the time. Don't just sit behind the wheel and put your life on auto-pilot, grab the wheel with both hands and be the driver of your journey consciously steering it where you want it to go.
5. IT'S NOT THAT IT'S SO HARD TO DIE AS MUCH AS IT'S REALLY REALLY HARD TO SAY GOODBYE
Almost everyone who is in their final hours of life comes to a peace and acceptance around dying but it is the thought of saying goodbye forever that's really. really hard. It's the thought of not being here for new births, life milestones, important life events, and the thought of missing just being with those we love that tears us apart and gives us the most agony. We just can't imagine missing all those people and all those events. It is likely that the people we are leaving behind are going to suffer more when we are because we're not here to experience life with them, but the realization that this life is temporary and does not last forever should be our daily motivator. And I mean MOTIVATOR in capital letters. It will be so much easier to say goodbye and let go if we have lived all those things and events with awareness, understanding and full presence of heart and mind - because then we can say to ourselves "I have truly lived my life and I have lived it well".
Bonnie Cappon is a counsellor, life coach and reiki practitioner who lives in B.C. Canada. You can follow her on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ClarityQuestCounselling, on twitter at clarity_quest. To find out more or request counselling sessions visit her website at clarityquestcounselling.com