Inspiration from Those Who Are Dying
On April 20, my dear friend, Stacy Payne, died at the age of 42 about eleven months after discovering that cancer had invaded her body. Ten days before her death she posted on Facebook what I interpreted as her final thoughts, sharing what she learned in this lifetime. “Live your life with no Regrets. Make choices based in LOVE. Recognize the Blessings.”
Wise words. When I remember to look for the blessings in life, I find something good in everything that happens to me, even the losses, such as Stacy’s death at such a young age. I believe there is a gift in every unpleasant emotion. The sadness I feel about losing Stacy, and the pain I feel for her husband, Ethan, and their now-turned-three-year-old daughter Gigi, reminds me that none of us is guaranteed an ‘average’ lifespan.
It reminds me to tell people what I appreciate about them, and what they mean to me. I savor the moments I have with people I love, and I remind myself of the gifts I received from Stacy including her wisdom, playfulness, honesty and her dedication to learning to be happier along with a desire to help others do the same. When I remember to make my choices based on love rather than based on my fears, I get more of the life I desire. When I experience a regret, I recognize the opportunity to do something different going forward. Sometimes my regret encourages me to apologize for how my behavior impacted someone else, sometimes it leads me to take an action to prevent future regrets. Then once I have learned the lessons from a regret, I let it go.
Learning from Regrets
Recently I’ve been seeing links on Facebook to an article by Australian palliative care provider and author, Bronnie Ware, who summarized what she has learned from being with people during the last few weeks and months of their lives. There is nothing like awareness of the brevity of life to make one focus on what is most important. Here is my rendition of the regrets Bronnie identified:
- I wish I had let myself be happier.
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard, and had spent more time on what was really important to me.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
When I was in my doctoral program I focused my oral specialty examination on Healing Under the Threat of Death: Critical Illness as a Change Opportunity. I found as people were dying many gave themselves permission to do what they really wanted to, and to be who they really were. It can be a time of great change and emotional healing. I was caught by a desire for all of us to learn from the examples of those who knew they didn’t have much time and lived their remaining time fully, because we all WILL die, no matter how much our fear makes us try to deny it. Knowing this is actually a gift. Accepting the truth that I will die, and I do not know when, inspires me to live each day with an appreciation of its preciousness.
Live Like You Were Dying, a song written by Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman and popularized by Tim McGraw, shares the wisdom of a man faced by the threat of a terminal illness. Included in the chorus are the words, “I loved deeper, and I spoke sweeter, and I gave forgiveness I’d been denying.” Psychological research supports the popular wisdom that these actions lead to greater happiness in life. The song also mentions ‘bucket list’ items – sky diving and bull-riding in the song – for me it is going to and photographing beautiful places. The song reminds me to ask myself what I want to do before I die, and what can I do today to make that happen. How am I willing to deepen my relationships? Can I be kinder, more present and more forgiving?
In her book, The Fun of Dying, Roberta Grimes says the purpose of life is to learn and practice love and forgiveness. Life is also the time to enjoy the things our bodies and our senses give us the opportunity to do. Remembering that I can’t know how long I will inhabit this body reminds me to hug more, laugh more, cry more (because it means my heart is open), smell the roses and the rain on the earth, and to stop to watch the sun set or rise. I will listen to music that makes my heart swell, savor the flavors of my favorite foods in my mouth and the sensations of falling asleep and waking up. I will make time to talk with and be with people I like and I will be honest about what I’m feeling and experiencing. I will let go of my judgments of myself and others and accept our imperfections as reminders that being human means being imperfect.
Try It – Action Steps on the Path to Happiness
- If I knew this was going to be my last year of life, what would I do?
- What would I do less of?
- What would I do more of?
- How would I be truer to myself?
- Who would I want to talk to?
- What would I do that would make me happier?
Imagine that you know you are dying and ask yourself what you would regret:
- What things would I be sorry I hadn’t done?
- Can I make a plan to do those things this year?
- What is in my way, and can I let go of whatever is in the way?
Whatever is happening to you in the moment, ask yourself these questions:
- What good can I get out of what I’m experiencing right now?
- Am I savoring the precious good moments as they happen, whether it is a hug, or a sunset, or something I did well? That takes being present in the moment.
- When I am unhappy about something that is happening to me, what is the blessing?
- What is the message I need, the thing I can learn from this experience?
Now take what you have learned about yourself and what you truly want in your life and live more like your life is temporary – because it is. Every day of your life is what YOU make of it.
How happy you are is up to you. Give yourself permission to disappoint other people to stop disappointing yourself. It is your job to choose to live the life you want, and to choose being with the people who make you happiest. No matter your circumstances, even if you are facing death or have lost someone you love, you can choose to be happier. If you want to learn more about choosing happiness, please check out the Path to Happiness and try some of the strategies. I’d love to hear how it works for you, and if you want some help along the path, email me to set up a phone consultation.
I’d love to hear your reactions to these thoughts. Plus, if you happen to check out our website, this is a great time to give us feedback about what works and doesn’t work for you so we can incorporate your wisdom into the new design.
Wishing you a life you love,