Death as my teacher.

For as long as I can remember I have been very comfortable with death. To be clear, my own death versus other’s. My comfort with death began well before I started working in the Senior Care field in 2004. Though I can say that working with and around the elderly helps create a comfort with death but, not the personal comfort in which I am referring to.

Last week I went to the columbarium where my grandmother and great-grandmother’s ashes are housed. It was a spontaneous decision that came after 3 weeks of being ill. As I stood in front of the matriarchs of my father’s family I started thinking about mortality and the immortality of DNA. For this blog I am going to discuss my thoughts on mortality and death as it has been a teacher for me.

joe black

When I was in my twenties I was involved in a group by the name of Context International. I took a series of their courses. This was my first introduction to death as a teacher. The question that was asked of me was, “What if you died tomorrow? Have you cleaned up all of your relationships?” From that point forward I started cleaning up, what they referred to as My Side of the Street. I did all the things I thought were important. I confronted my father for molesting me, I told my husband I didn’t like his family, I told my mother where she had failed me. Being in my twenties ‘cleaning up my side of the street’ mostly looked like telling everyone else what I thought of them, and not necessarily the nice parts. The best part of my twenties was outgrowing them! As I entered my thirties I learned a different way of keeping my side of the street clean and I pretty much live with this ethical code today. How do I do it? I stay as present in my life as possible. When I have a difference of opinion with a person I think, “How important is this to me?” If it is important to me or, if the process of coming to a mutual understanding is important to me, then I approach the situation. I do my very best to approach each situation in a way that is loving, kind and mutually respectful. I want to be sure that if death comes in my next exhale that I have honored myself, my values and the people that I love. Living from the understanding that I could breathe my last breath at any moment also means that when there is something off in my world I clean it up or let it go, as quickly as possible. Having emotions linger for extended length of time does not serve me. Asking myself regularly if a situation would bother me if I was on my death bed does serve me. It helps me to filter what is truly important to me and what is not. My son was listening to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone this last week. I was impressed when Dumbledore said to Harry, “After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” JK Rowling must have a similar belief to me.

In my thirties I evaluated the choices I had made in my life and determined where I felt I wanted something more or different. I had spent all of my twenties raising children and being a man’s housewife. Upon review I knew I needed more. I started making my personal life goals. What do I want to have done before my death? What places on this planet do I want to visit before I die? Who are the people I want by my side upon my death? While looking at all of these important questions, I totally readjusted my life! I did not want to settle for a life that was expected of me, instead I got started on creating the life I dreamed of and longed for. If I am only on this planet for a short time, what do I want to achieve while I am here? This is the period of time I adopted my personal belief of life here on this planet. I invite you to view your time here from this perspective because it makes things way more fun! My view of my life on this planet is; I am here on vacation! Yep, it is that simple. I view each day as another vacation day on the planet earth! I like to imagine that I chose to be born to humans so that I could experience all that human life, on planet earth, has to offer. I believe it is an adventure that I am choosing to have. I am fully aware that at any moment my vacation may end. With this knowing I do my best to live my life exactly how I desire to live it. Think National Lampoon’s Vacation. It may not always be pretty but in the end they had a great adventure!

During my forties I worked for, with, and around the elderly. It has been a great way to learn. The one knowing I gleaned from these wise people was to do the thing or things that you long to do. I have heard stories upon stories of regret about what a person did NOT do, especially as they neared their end of life. In my experience with elders, their regrets about what they did not do appeared to outweigh the regrets around mistakes they believed they had made. Some never left their marriage when they knew it was the best thing for them, women that did not get the education they wanted because they felt obligated to have a family, men that did not travel because making money for their family and retirement were most important. These are just a few off the top of my head. Whatever the story that was told, it often ended with sadness and regret when they were discussing missed opportunities. What I learned from the people I met who were naturally closer to end of life than I am is to live life fully! Throw caution to the wind! Do what you have always longed to do! Travel. Quit your job. Start a new career. Wear crazy clothes. Eat from fine china. Tell that person (who is not married) that you are attracted to them. As long as your desires do not hurt another, go for it! You are only on this planet for a finite amount of time as the you that you are! What are your dreams? Make a list.

In conclusion, I will leave you with a quote from Michael A. Singer for you to ponder:

“You really don’t need more time before death; what you need is more depth of experience during the time you’re given”.


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