How the Awareness of Death is the Greatest Teacher of Life
Suzanne B. O’Brien here,
I have been saying for a long time that people at the end of life can teach us everything about living if we would only listen to them. As a young hospice nurse, I was blown away by how much more enriched my life became after I started to work with those at the end of theirs. All the conventional things I had been told that make a “good life” were debunked by the wisdom shared by those reflecting on what the actual meaning of fulfillment was to them now that their story was nearing its end. Throughout my years of working at the bedside, what struck me the most was the common things that end of life patients would share with me. No matter what religion, culture, or socioeconomic status, there were common universal themes that they spoke of.
I want to share with you the Top 4 Things I Learned About Life by Working with those who were Dying.
Top 4 Things I Learned About Life by Working with those who were Dying
1. Connection: Greater than anything I have ever experienced was the deep connection of caring for another person and their families at such an intense time in their lives. The immediate human bond formed with people I just met was so strong. End of life patients will often say things like, “Now I understand that we are all connected to one unconditional loving energy.”When you are privileged to be part of caring for someone at the end of life, you feel this energy and it changes you forever.
2. Compassion: End of Life touches us all. No one is exempt from it. Death does not care who you are or what you have, it does not care what you look like or what god(s) you pray to. It is the equalizer that binds us all in our humanity. Compassion for the person going through their end of life phases and holding up their loved ones as they say goodbye is one of the greatest gifts that we can give to one another.
3. Gratitude: I had never felt gratitude for every single thing in my life until I started working with End of Life patients. Your perception of just about everything changes and you feel a new level of gratitude as you realize you still have the ability right now to do things and have experiences that others cannot. Little things like being able to go to the gym or have lunch with an elderly relative is reborn in the awareness of death as privileges we get to enjoy that one day will no longer be available to us. Always be grateful for today and what it has to offer.
4. Living Presently: It does not get any more real than the end of life. We tend to become realigned with the present moment when someone is told they have limited time left in their life. We show more genuine appreciation for the things we have, we say “I love you” more frequently and with deeper conviction, and most importantly – we forgive. We are faced with the reality that one day this journey will no longer be the way it is today and that the beauty of life, the true power of love, is living presently and being engaged with this very moment and those who are in it with us.
Human beings have been dying for thousands of years, yet it is only in the last 100 that we have pretended death is optional, started outsourcing our elderly and made death the ultimate failure and enemy. I often think about how this dysfunctional relationship society has with something that is 100% guaranteed for us all is having on the already fragmented and struggling world we live in today. Have we removed the greatest teacher we have on how to live?
Consider opening your heart and mind to befriend death and let it once again remind you of how lucky we are to have this life and all of its experiences. By compassionately connecting to one another and living each day presently and with a deep sense of gratitude, we can bring back a loving world for each and every one of us.
P.S. The next Free Doulagivers 90 Minute Level 1 End of Life Doula Live Webinar Training will be March 19th, 2020 at 7pm ET!