If your physician told you today that you had a very short time to live, how would it change your outlook on life? My time in hospice care and counseling has forever changed how I view what is “important.” A friend introduced me to an article this morning that really resonated with me; what we hear in the final discussions with the dying might surprise you.
- Be happy on the journey, be contagious. Life is hard on some days, that is true. One of the things that I notice about people with an illness, terminal or life changing, is that they are really in tune with the world around them. A cancer patient that plants an amazing garden, the CF patient that draws, the child that plays with the others even when they’re tired or hurting. They form real friendships based on listening, love and trust. Why not do that now? Spend a day writing a card of thanks or friendship to everyone you care for. No email. Infect everyone around you with love, truth, light and happiness. Really, be the light. No matter where you are today, resolve to be happy in your life, in your conversations, in your manner. Will it stop all your problems? No. Will it change your outcome? Yes! The Apostle Paul said “Rejoice, and again I say rejoice…” because you are a human being, a soul within a body, part of a cosmic and wonderful thing called God. You have no reason to truly fear – you do belong to something greater than yourself. Rejoice. Be grateful. Love. Find your faith an invest in it fully – not religion, faith.
- Truth is best. Tell the truth ~ especially to yourself ~ about your feelings, your passions, your dreams. Let those closest to you know who you are. I am reminded of a woman that spent thirty years of her life married in a state of near civility to a man that she honestly didn’t care for, because “ladies do not divorce.” No one wants to get divorced, it’s ugly, yucky and makes a horrid mess. Still, to waste all of your life holding on to a bad relationship because of social pressure? Wow. Truth is best. If you’re married be all in. Grow in it, invest in it, love each other for who and what you are. If you’re married, don’t let it be to your job or you’re shortchanging the very people that you’re trying to support. If you’re single, be truthful about how you feel…are you cultivating friends, interests, hobbies? Married or not…are you growing as a person? This is where truth is so crucial. Your job, where you live, who you are, what you do, your activity level…all of these are choices, unless your current address is an institution. Make them the great adventure that they are. Live out loud with your real face up front. Be honest with yourself and the people in your life.
- Fulfill dreams. My mother was a cadet pilot in the time of WW2, a woman flyer. She married when she was just 17, in her last year of high school. Her entire life, she wondered and longed to climb one more time behind the open cockpit of the plane she flew and complete her final training, get her license.How I wish that I could turn back the clock and help her have some of her dreams come true. You hear that a lot in counseling – the desire for a do over. Instead, lets think this through. What self defeating behaviors do you have in place that are preventing you from fulfilling your dreams? Want to climb a mountain? Start with the local ones. Talk to climbers. Learn. Want to travel Europe? Then change your budget and cut out the unnecessary…then go do it. Nothing is impossible with the right attitude and your ability. But wait. We look around at the family, the finances, the spouse and there is “no way out.” Think about those dreams. Which of them can you do with the people that you love? Have a bucket list, and the passion and attitude to create the world you want to live in.
- Work less, love more. Repeat after me: I will take vacation time, and weekends off. When I leave work, I leave work. The time that you spend with your family is important. The time that you invest in your faith is the greatest asset that you have. Your job shouldn’t get the whole of the best of you, and shouldn’t monopolize the conversation. One of the things that I love about the life I lead is watching my husband come in each workday and immediately, he’s fully present. He’s in for toe nail polish, checking out the flower seeds that Taryn has planted, doing addition “fact” cards, going for a walk. We have a standing “joke” that our real day starts with dinner – at 6 pm, every night. So when he walks in, he’s immediately immersed back into the three of us, sitting together, planning our evening and being “dad.” It wasn’t always that way, it’s deliberate.
We’ve learned over the last year that sitting with each other over a meal is really important to us. Not talking about work, or my graduate studies gives us time to hear each others dreams, laughs in the day, things that we’ve seen. It’s a bonding time. Turn off the TV, find your dining room table, make time to be a family over a real dinner. No work, no outsiders, no negatives. Catch up. No cell phones, computers ….you get the drift. We also do “dates” – Mom or Dad and daughter lunch or Brian and Alison alone. Date nights are amazing, if you let them be. They’re more romantic than when we were actually dating. Don’t discount the daughter time as fluff, either. People think it’s cute that we’ll be at a McDonald’s for lunch and Taryn will look at me thoughtfully and say in her most serious seven year old voice “So, Mom, tell me how you are today.” But that is real…she means it. She’s asking to connect, to let whatever we’re going to do for the day slip out of importance and to focus on our time together.
- Forgive, restore. So many people walk around wounded, hurt by circumstances and situations that they take with them where ever they go. John Mayer sings a song “Say What You Need to Say,” that resonates with me. The dying often know something that we “well” people don’t. You do not have forever. You may not have tomorrow. Don’t waste your precious time, life or love on regret. Say what needs to be said, like “I forgive you,” or “I was wrong.” Don’t leave people feeling like the underside of the bus, trampled under your life choices. If you have wronged, say so. If you need to extend peace, do it. It doesn’t matter how anyone else reacts…at the end of your life, you’re going to care nothing about what society thinks and a whole lot more about how true to yourself you have really been. All those “shoulds” will be out the first open window, but the mandate of the human race….to love…it will still remain. Open the pathway to have real love, people who are good friends, be part of your life. Say what you need to say to that father, mother, wife, husband, child, sibling. Be faithful to who you are, an at peace in it.
If you were told today that you had just a short time to live, which of these things would resonate most with you? For me, Taryn just went outside with her bubble wand, and it’s a beautiful warm almost summer morning. I’m going to practice what I write and laugh in the sunshine.
I will leave you with prayers for grace and peace until later…live today to the fullest.