Let’s face it, we all are experiencing a fair amount of tension and stress as we begin the new year and new decade. We all have the usual stresses at home and at work dealing with life. But we’re also facing significant changes outside our personal lives. In the U.S. we’re dealing with the impeachment of the President and concerns about what he might do to divert attention away from addressing the facts of his wrong-doing. I wrote an article last week titled “End Times: Is Humanity Doomed or Ready for a New Beginning?”
Like most people, I’ve avoided dealing with endings, but endings are a part of life and just as important as new beginnings. So, thus far, I’ve dealt with the death of my grandparents and parents as well as the unexpected death of my first great-grandchild. She was supposed to be a new beginning in our family but died of SIDS in her first year of life. I’ve also had close friends die and my wife, Carlin, underwent open-heart surgery to replace a faulty heart valve. It has taken her a full year to recover and we have had to deal with death and disability in recent years.
Although I can’t say that dealing with death and disability is fun and games, it has forced me to confront the reality of loss and the gratitude I feel for all those who have died and how precious life is to me. I’m actually beginning to see endings as something to be embraced and engaged and I offer these easy steps as a way to prepare for the inevitable endings in our lives.
1. Live every day fully as if it were your last.
It’s a cliché, that we never know when the end may come for us, but it’s a reality. I take increasing joy in knowing my time is limited and every day is a blessing. My wife and I have a new little ritual we engage every morning. We give each other a hand slap and a big smile and say in unison, “High five, we’re alive.”
2. Things will turn out fine in the end. If they haven’t turned out fine yet, it isn’t the end.
I’m reminded that whatever is going on in the world, whatever stresses are happening, I have a choice of how I think about them. Since we never really know the future, we can either live feeling depressed and discouraged, or we can stay focused on the good that we want.
3. Love is letting go of fear.
I still love re-reading the book, Love is Letting Go of Fear by Gerald G. Jampolsky, M.D and remember the many times my wife and I met with Jerry and talked at the Center for Attitudinal Healing in Marin County. The musician Carlos Santa wrote the Foreword to a recent edition saying “Love is Letting Go of Fear is the sweetest, gentlest and healing melody to my heart.”
It’s a simple truth. We can choose love or we can choose fear.
4. We’re all going to die.
I remember an experience I had with a therapist years ago when my 65-year-old mother was sick and I went to the therapist for help and support. “I’m afraid she’s going to die,” I told her in a quivery voice. “She is going to die,” the counselor told me. I was shocked and angry. I was wanting comfort and she seemed to be cold and uncaring. But she wasn’t, she was just helping me accept a reality that we all must face. Our loved ones are going to die. I’ve felt less afraid ever since.
5. Spend time with people who are facing death.
My wife, Carlin, has been a hospice volunteer for many years and has spent lots of time with people who were living in the last months of their lives. I always thought it was depressing until I spent time with Carlin’s mother Beth when she moved in with us after she had been diagnosed with cancer. The more time I spent with Beth, the more alive I felt and the greater gift it felt to be with someone approaching the end of her life. In the last days we often just looked at each other and smiled. The feeling I had was it was like “looking into the eyes of God.”
6. Get your affairs in order.
I knew I should write out a will and we talked about a Trust for our children after we were gone.
For years, we talked about it and never did it. For more years, we did a little bit, then put off finishing it. Recently, Carlin and I decided to meet weekly to get things updated and be sure everything we could do was done. I was surprised to see how satisfying it was to know that things were getting done. Not only did it make me feel good that those who survived me would have it easier if things were in order, but it felt good to me to get things together. I felt like completing a project and feeling proud. I hope I have lots more years to live, but getting things in order is no longer a burden, but increasingly a source of joy.
7. Make life simple and joyful.
I realize we accumulate a lot of “stuff” the longer we live. Some of it is actual stuff that I’m learning to give away or throw out if its no longer a source of satisfaction. But I’m also getting rid of old attitudes beliefs that no longer serve me. It’s nice to clean out the attic of my mind, take out the trash, and clean out the dusty corner.
8. Live in gratitude.
For most of my life, I thought I had a long life ahead of me. I knew I wouldn’t live forever, but I lived as though I would. I turned 76 on my last birthday in December and now I realize I’m moving into the 4th quarter. Things could end tomorrow or I could be chugging away twenty-five years from now and go into overtime. Whatever, the future is, I’m learning to feel grateful for every minute I’ve had and every minute I have until I move on to whatever comes after this life if anything. I know for sure that I’ll live on through those who love me and who have shared this life with me as I carry those I love who have passed on.
9. Give and get support.
My wife, Carlin, started a group a number of years ago called Perks of Aging. The group meets once a month and they explore thoughts, feelings, and experiences of what it’s like to get older and to face disability and eventually death. The talks range from the philosophical to practical considerations of preparing a will or looking at burial options. There’s always a lot of laughter and heartfelt sharing. The key is reaching out to give and receive support. Not everyone is ready, but I’ve been surprised by how many people want to talk about endings and how we can prepare for them.
I look forward to hearing from you. Come visit my blog and share your comments. We still have these precious moments to share together. Thank you for reading this and being part of my life.
Originally published on Men Alive
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