I frequently encounter individuals who say to me, “Your articles are really great. In fact, I often send copies of them to my children or friends when I think they’re applicable. Some of them, of course, don’t apply. Those I understand are written for others, so I discard them.” In every instance, I appreciate the compliment. At the same time, I believe that, on too many occasions, the articles that are cast aside or that you feel don’t apply, are those that apply the most but are the most difficult to face.
I tell you this because the content of today’s article is probably something that few of you want to deal with. But, please, read it, even if you’re initially inclined to set it aside, because it applies to and will affect every one of you. Therefore, you and every member of your family need to confront it, head on. Why? Because, one day, each of you will have to face the fact that you aren’t here forever. When or if that time occurs, you will, out of necessity, have to deal with it. It will be a great deal easier, however, if you think about it, discuss it and make plans for it now, rather than later. It needn’t and shouldn’t be a morbid or depressing topic that you avoid or deny. Nor, am I suggesting that it preoccupy you. Instead, it should be seen as a reality that will eventually emotionally, physically and financially affect you, those you love and those who love you.
Consequently, I would have you view the last stage of your life or a loved one’s life as an emotional journey that can be either heaven or hell, depending on how much thought, preparation and acceptance you have given to it. The first step, recognize that no one promised that you were given your life forever. The sadness is that, particularly when you’re young, you behave in a manner that suggests you’re immortal and think you have time to waste. But, need I say, that isn’t the case? If you’re still reading this article, you are well aware of that fact. Thus, when old age creeps up on you and you begin to question where all the years went, you have to sit down with yourself and your family and recognize there are preparations you can make, particularly emotional ones, that can make the last stage of your life one you can still live with joy, excitement and challenge.
Without that realization, your life will be relegated to denial, hidden fears regarding the future which you don’t express, or lamenting the past and being preoccupied with illnesses that you might have avoided if you had laughed, slept, exercised, read and traveled more and eaten better, or smoked or drank less.
Making believe death won’t happen, or thinking it’s something that only occurs to someone else, is a tragic mistake. However, facing your mortality, talking about it, planning for it and helping others to deal with it in advance will, in the long run, help you and them, now and in the future. It will affect whether the last phase of your life or that of your loved ones consists of waiting to die, or living life to its fullest until it’s time to die.
Having said that, let’s take a look at the primary reason so many of you refuse to deal with this eventuality. It’s fear. You’re frightened of death. You haven’t accepted that life is short-lived. Because of that, you waste too much of your life concerned with trivialities and denying reality, instead of altering what you can change and accepting what you can’t.
There is a saying that, “When you lose a child, you’re angry. When you lose a parent, you’re sad. When you lose a contemporary, you’re scared.” It’s not something to be ashamed of or to be reluctant to share with others, because that saying applies to all of us. Dr. Beryl Lawn, in 2009, lost a close friend and colleague. Looking for a way to express his feelings, he wrote the following poem.
A friend encountered death today,
who, thus, confronted me.
I hadn’t thought his presence yet
so near to me to see.
And yet, my sorrow’s not for her
she’s now at peace, you see.
But, rather, for my own close glimpse
of my mortality.
Please recognize that it’s okay to be frightened. You have every right to be. But, if you talk about it, acknowledge and accept it, then death becomes a part of life and, instead of wasting days, months, years fearing it, you come to value life and to live every moment appreciatively. You’re thankful for the brief time you have here on earth and for the opportunity to love and share your life with others. It may be hard to believe, but there are countless testimonies from individuals with chronic diseases, who were told they only had a short time to live, who said, “Knowing I was going to die didn’t make me sad. It made my life more meaningful. I came to value and make the most of every minute I had left. My major regret was I hadn’t lived my life that way before then. Ironically, the last years were the best of my life, because they caused me to live right up till the moment I have to die.”
Confronting your mortality will, undoubtedly, be a new, very frightening experience. Nevertheless, face it you must, unless you want to waste whatever time you or your loved one has left, fearful of the future, instead of joyful over your present. It is a choice that can make the last stage in your life a meaningful, loving experience. It gives you the opportunity to mend broken relations, to heal old wounds and to leave others with fond, loving memories of the time they shared with you. It will also help them to accept the fact that their life isn’t forever, but that every day is important, every relationship needs tending and every heart needs acknowledging. It is a beautiful gift to leave others. It says that you lived your life well, without regrets and with the knowledge that you made a difference.