3 Lessons For The Living From Those Who Are Dying

Ultimately, we're all on the rim of the canyon. None of us knows exactly how close to the edge we are. Here are 3 tips from the dying to remember while we're still here.

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The room was silent except for the hum of the machines, the rhythmic blip of the heart monitor, and quiet cadence of my dad’s breathing. With no hope of recovery, life support was about to be terminated. I was spending a few last moments with him. I was 15.

Suddenly, I became acutely aware of my own heartbeat. It was in perfect sync with dad’s heart monitor. Stunned, I realized several profound truths.

First, I wasn’t causing my own heart to beat. That was scary.   

Second, relationship runs deep. We’re more connected than we know.

Third, life is incredibly fragile. Here one moment and gone the next.

Dad died that night.

I had experienced losses before and I’ve had many since. Each death reminds me that my time here is limited. Anything could happen, anytime, anywhere.

Death brings perspective to life in a way few things can. Living with death in mind is a precious gift we can give ourselves and those we know.

I serve as a hospice chaplain and grief counselor. My patients are on the rim of the canyon. This life is ebbing away, and they’re peering ahead to what’s next. Many have a new sense of clarity.

In honor of National Hospice Month, here are a few tips from these special rim-dwellers that will enhance your life.

Life is heavy. Travel light.

“I know I’ve made mistakes. I just can’t remember them anymore,” Sally quipped, giggling.

We make mistakes. We have regrets. We’ve been hurt, and we’ve wounded others. Guilt is a familiar companion to most of us. 

Sally let the burdens go. She was joyful. Happy. She left me wondering why we cling to stuff that can only bring us down. Life is heavy enough. Who needs extra baggage?

You can’t afford to let regret, guilt, and bitterness roam free in your heart. Instead, get good at forgiving (especially yourself). Make amends. Release what you can.

Life is heavy. Travel light. 

Dump worry. Cultivate gratitude.

“Worry is bad stuff. It’ll eat your mind,” Richard said.

Richard was in his mid-forties and suffered from ALS. His past was riddled with pain. An abusive childhood led him to alcohol, drugs, and criminal activity. He lost his parents, a child, two marriages, multiple other family members, and his health.

Yet, this man found hope.

“Worry, fear, and bitterness consumed me. ALS has taught me to be grateful. Who knows? This disease might end up being the greatest blessing of my life,” he said. 

Richard died a happier man than he had ever been. 

Worry can eat your mind. Fear will anesthetize your heart into living small. Don’t let that happen. Dump worry. Cultivate gratitude. 

Love deeply. Serve well. Begin by taking good care of you.

“You’re no good to me if you don’t take care of you,” Sam snapped.

A feisty World War II vet, Sam zipped around his assisted living facility in a scooter he had hotwired for speed. The staff repeatedly scolded him for putting other residents in danger and threatened to confiscate “Sparky.”

On Sam’s last birthday, he zipped out of his apartment on Sparky only to find a policeman with a radar gun in the hallway. 

“Pull over young man. Do you have any idea how fast you were going?” 

Sam’s laughter filled the hallway. The staff around the corner doubled over in delight. 

One day, I found Sam in his room with the lights off and the blinds closed. I pulled up a chair and sat down. After a few moments, he softly said, “Help me. I can’t do this alone.”

I answered, “None of us can. I’m here, Sam.”

None of us can do this alone. The world needs you. As you take good care of you, your ability to love and serve skyrockets. Love yourself well, and that love will spill over onto others too.

Ultimately, we’re all on the rim of the canyon. None of us knows exactly how close to the edge we are.

Travel light. Dump worry. Cultivate gratitude. Take care of yourself. Love deeply. Live with great purpose.

We need you.  

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