I guess I would say, as I have before in a blogpost tribute to a friend who died not long ago that death can be a very powerful teacher for the rest of us who are still living. What do our lives mean? Does meaning matter in our lives? Each of us answers that question in our own way. I would like to defer to an expert here – Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel l who discusses this in the article “What Death Should Teach Us About Life and Living.” One of the themes raised in Rabbi Heschel’s article is looking at death as gratitude for existence – how do we cultivate “heaven on earth?” He suggests that
the meaning of existence is to reconcile liberty with service, the passing with the lasting, to weave the threads of temporality into the fabric of eternity. The deepest wisdom man can attain is to know that his destiny is to aid, to serve. We have to conquer in order to succumb; we have to acquire in order to give away; we have to triumph in order to be overwhelmed. Man has to understand in order to believe, to know in order to accept. The aspiration is to obtain; the perfection is to dispense. This is the meaning of death: the ultimate self-dedication to the divine. Death so understood will not be distorted by the craving for immortality, for this act of giving away is reciprocity on man’s part for God’s gift of life. For the pious man it is a privilege to die.
Now that we are all here, in the present – what does “today” mean to you? This Ted video is breathtaking, it has Louie Schwartzberg’s time lapse photography of flowers, clouds and a story as well. The story is about how we answer the question: What is a good day? His suggestion is to open your heart to all the gifts of life that this world is right now, go out and see them, let the gifts flow through you and bless others with your smile of gratitude and the presence of your open heart. Watch it here
I thank Joan Therese for sending this link to me. The most exquisite pearl from this necklace? Learn to respond as if today was both the first day and the very last day of your life. Willa Cather’s quote comes to mind here: “I shall not die of a cold. I shall die of having lived.” If we die of having lived, can we not choose what to value, what to hold dear? An Albert Schweitzer quote comes to mind: “the tragedy of life is what dies inside a man while he lives.”
So – how is it that we can live now, so that when our time comes (or we are with our dear ones and it is their time to leave) we can gracefully look back and say our farewells? “We’re all here to do what we’re all here to do.” The Matrix Reloaded 2003. Each of us must discover that for ourselves. This usually isn’t easy and it can take some time, but don’t wait until retirement to start this exercise – start small and do a little bit every day. A little bit of what exactly?
Did you know that gratitude is the only “get rich quick scheme that really works?” That’s a quote of Ben Stein’s from the book “Thanks” by Robert Emmons. This gratitude thing is also a two-way street, according to Zig Ziglar: “the more you recognize and express gratitude for the things you have, the more things you will have to express gratitude for.”
And speaking of being grateful for each day, here is a beautiful video about Lou Cunningham about her experience with coming to grips with her impending death and her experience with hospice. Watch it here I particularly liked her portrayal of hospice nurses and support staff as midwives to the dying. This is a term I have used before and I think it is very appropriate. My favorite quote that she shared was from Ralph Waldo Emerson “all I have seen teaches me to trust the creator for all I have not seen.” Acceptance of how things are often involves trust – trusting in the face of our uncertain future.
I couldn’t write this kind of a post without quoting Dr.Seuss! “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
This issue of the Health Care Chaplaincy e-newsletter is about compassionate end of life care for all patients and features bioethicist Stephen Post, Ph.D., author of The Hidden Gifts of Helping: How the Power of Giving, Compassion, and Hope Can Get Us Through Hard Times, which is about the transformative power of doing good (transformative for the doer). I wouldn’t want to leave out another favorite quote about gratitude – G.K. Chesterton’s “act with kindness, but do not expect gratitude.”
Being With Nature –
Along the theme of being in nature and cultivating the sense of wonder and gratitude as Schwartzberg’s Ted video, I found this recent article in Scientific American intriguing “How Hospital Gardens Help Patients Heal”
I’ll add more to this list in coming posts. . . So if you really want to get hands-on with this kind of thing, like I suggested in an earlier post Write Your Own Obituary, you may want to read Carolyn McClanahan’s 3/23/12 article in Forbes Magazine, the last of a four part series on end of life planning. What she has to say about three funerals she went to in a short space of time is instructive: if you have an illness which allows you to plan for your funeral and service or celebration of life following your passing, do the planning to ensure it is something that will be part of the final chapter, a closing to your book of life, that only you can write. May we all be able to live our lives “on purpose” and find the courage to ask, to be, and to reach out into community.
©Barbara Cashman, LLC www.DenverElderLaw.org