Art of Dying Volume One | Page 67

I find it so illuminating to sit with people who are dying and to listen to their stories . They are viewing life from the perspective of its end and sharing insights about what really matters to them from that vantage point . I realize that it is a perspective most of us aren ' t aware of . We don ' t consider that when we ' re taking our last breath , we may look at life totally differently from how we ' re seeing life now . It is also powerful to observe the spiritual transformations that take place at the end of life . So many people open up spiritually in ways that they have never done before .
Whenever I am asked to see a patient , I know I am supposed to be there . It is never just a job . I always feel that I am a student , on a mission ; and I am being sent to learn something from the patients I visit . But I also have something to give them . We share in this learning .
A hospice patient lives with the truth , ' I am now dying ’ and ' I have a limited time on this planet .’ I now remind myself that ‘ today could be my last day ; I may not have more time than this .’ This truth helps me focus on what really matters instead of getting caught up with trivial distractions . Every day I make sure that I am practicing unconditional love and forgiveness ; and that I am living in the present moment . Sustaining awareness that life is fleeting and that we don ' t know how much time we have , changes everything . I ' m no longer fooled by deceptive ideas of what life is about .
At first I was surprised by the prevalence of laughter ; of a family ’ s ability to talk lightly of the past ; and the shared humor of day to day life . I wasn ' t expecting that at all . I expected everyone to be steeped in sadness as I had been since my Dad ' s death .
I witness a lot of people working with forgiveness . They want to be done with the past , but they know they first need to forgive and to be forgiven . They are dying and they want to let everything go . Through them I realize that if I start working on forgiveness now , I won ' t face such a big task at the end of my life .
One patient was very proud and independent , refusing everything that his family offered him . He didn ' t want special meals , he didn ' t want to be taken for a walk , and said no to everything anyone tried to do . When we were alone , he said that his biggest concern was becoming a burden . But what I had observed was how desperately his family needed to show him their love . I told him that one of the greatest gifts he could give was to accept their help . I assured him that he was not a burden and that he and his family shared a unique opportunity to express their love for one another . He instantly changed his attitude and lovingly accepted their kindness . I observed the huge difference this made . Family members and friends always say that their lives are changed through caring for a dying loved one . I thanked him for helping me learn . I have since shared this wisdom with other patients , helping them through similar situations .
Often patients have said to me , " I feel like I didn ' t accomplish enough in my life . I didn ' t do anything for anyone else . I didn ' t make a difference in the world . I was selfish ." I ’ ve had the opportunity to say , " Let me tell you what you have done for me , what you have given by allowing me to be a part of this process you ' re going through .” This is a profound and beautiful opportunity to say , “ You don ' t have to do anything : you ’ re lying in your bed , you ' re ill , you ' re weak . By simply being who you are , you are giving something to life , to others , the world .”