Michael and I have spent the past five days sitting with his mom as she slowly makes the final journey of her life. We have had the support of her family, friends, and hospice along the way. So many people who love her, who have shown up to sit and care.
When Judie was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in December, we all agreed to see how we could help her stay with us, in our home. Thankfully we have been able to have her at home for the past ten months and she is dying in her own room with all the important people in her family surrounding and supporting her. And I didn’t know what a gift the experience would be for me.
This road is filled with lessons. I’m learning that important lessons about living come from the experience of sitting with dying. Learning about critical values like love, human frailty, compassion, courage, forgiveness, and about the value of time. These are all things I know about, but I am experiencing them in new ways as I sit here in the presence of the completing circle. I sit in awe and I feel how blessed I am to be allowed to help care for the end of another person’s life. At the end, I am working to be focused on being fully present, in this moment, and this moment, and then in the next.
There is something that can happen, if you allow it, when you care for another person as they die. You can fall in love with them in new ways, and you can fall in love with life.
I have a unique opportunity to foreshadow my own life, see my own end and look at the places I am wasting time or energy on things that don’t serve me or those around me. Places where I might be focused on the small stuff, the unimportant, the meaningless, holding onto resentments, or judgments, or bitterness toward myself or others. I cannot keep love and judgment in the same space in my mind or heart and continue to stay present.
Knowing that you cannot give what you do not have. You cannot be what you are not willing to become. You have to become love to give love.
Sitting quietly in the presence of an ending life offers us a look at places that are scary, but these are places we will all be looking at eventually. Developing peace through this experience requires us to look at ourselves and reflect, looking at the thoughts or beliefs that are helping or challenging the ones that are hurting. Death asks us to explore where our attachments to stories, beliefs, and ideas might be leading us onto a fearful lonely path. Dying allows us to become courageous in the face our fears.
Life goals are wonderful, they give us direction. But, life is far more mysterious and deeply meaningful than solely completing a series of goals. Life is about experiencing both the ups and the downs. Finding joy in the moments. We have the opportunity to recognizing the connection between us all, as we spin along on this shared spaceship, being born, having a life and then passing on into the next experience. We share this reality with every other living thing on this planet, to include the planet. Learning to rejoice in life’s mystery. We can miss our purpose if we are focused only on things like making money, or all the stuff we want, or sitting in judgment of others. In the end, the only things that bring joy are the meaningful relationships you create, the people you love and the people who love you back. The ones who will help to feed you, feed your soul, rub your back, wash you, and help you comfortably move through the rough places that come into each of our lives.
Sometimes we sit waiting for our lives to begin. But life is not a dress rehearsal. Life is happening even if you’re waiting, life is happening all around you.
My biggest challenge is in recognizing the illusion of “control” that I still want to have in my life. Challenging this illusion and allowing myself to be fully present, in the moment. Trusting that I will get what I need to be a better human being. Being in touch with my own soul, and working on the lightness. My biggest insight is that life is an adventure towards surrendering. In every moment letting go of expectations, of anger, and remembering that each of us are all on the learning journey together. And, that insight has been huge for me. Surrendering. Breathing. Surrendering again. I see how difficult the surrendering has been in Judie’s ending life. For her, for us, letting go and letting love. In these last moments, none of us can take care of ourselves alone. At the end, we need others, we require care, and we all must let go.
I am sitting with my own internal struggle as the train continues forward and there are no more stops or choices along the way. No more doors to open, save one. And our family has talked about how surreal it is when you come to the end of life. For me this blessing has been important: reminding me to be aware of love, making choices that matter and mean something in my life, because I too will come to the end of my own journey and I want to be able to embrace it as my next adventure instead of my last.