Thought of the Day. Maybe it’s the senseless violence of the last few days. Maybe it’s realizing my dance with cancer will end. Maybe it’s becoming tired of dealing with so many unimportant things. Regardless of the cause, I decided today is a good day to prepare for my death.

No, I’m not in any terminal state, nor do I have a gut feeling my life is in its final chapter–although at almost seventy years of age, it is. I ask myself as I project into the future if I want my plate as full when I’m dying as it is now. The answer is a resounding NO!

We rarely ask this question until there’s not enough time to do anything about it. In my hospice service and counseling of caregivers, I watched people struggle with this question when time and emotional energy could have been spent preparing to die or helping a loved on the journey.

But what should you and I be doing now? The answer given by many authors is to “let go” of what isn’t important in life. A good start, but when someone says, “Okay, what isn’t important?” the purveyor of that wise thought often scratches his head.

So let me list six of many things I think are important to let go of, at least I hope it will be for me.

Simplify

We live in a world where “more” is glorified. More money, more sex, more possessions, more acknowledgment, etc. The search for “more,” is endless. There’s a caricature in Buddhist mythology of a creature called the “hungry ghost,” with an enormous belly, an insatiable appetite, and a mouth the size of a pinhole. He can never get enough. Don’t continue being a hungry ghost.

Let Go of Anger

Anger is one of the most useless emotions, robbing us of the ability to deal with life. It snuffs out our other emotions and pulls us back to past events we can’t do anything about. If you can’t let go of anger, at least try to understand what caused the unskillful acts generating the emotion. Not quite as good as letting go of it, but better than being consumed with the behavior’s injustice.

Let Go of Expecting Others to Act Within Our Belief Systems and Vise Versa

We often evaluate behaviors of others within our belief systems (e.g., “I wouldn’t do that if I were her.” And our behaviors are evaluated within belief systems we may not accept. Neither makes sense and can only lead to disappointment.

Let Go of Fantasy and Accept Reality

We often look at what is and hope it isn’t. We hope a situation isn’t quite as dire as it appears; the illness is a short aberration; the ingratitude shown us doesn’t reflect what the person feels. The playwright Jean Anouilh said “I like reality. It tastes like bread.”

Clean Your Plate

People approaching death have a need to clean their plate of unfinished business: giving thanks, asking forgiveness, forgiving unskillful acts, expressing love, and tying up loose ends. Start today, and you’ll be more at ease when you’re leaving.

Withdraw When Nothing Else Works

A reasonable person may ask, “But what if I can’t do one or more of the above?” The simplest answer is to withdraw. Withdrawal isn’t running away or giving up, but rather adapting to a situation we can’t control. We tend to persist in many painful pursuits whether it’s writing the great American novel, wooing someone who will never be impressed by our personality or someone minimizing our heroic efforts. Let go of what you can’t change and adapt.

4 Responses

  1. Ken

    Great suggestions, Stan. Mortality is ever before my eyes and my priorities shift accordingly. This Saturday I’m facilitating a men’s workshop on “Transitioning into Death”. What an amazing group of men to have the courage to explore this very personal, vulnerable, intimate issue.

    Reply
  2. Becki Hawkins

    Great article!! I witnessed so much with my Hospice patients! They taught me to live ‘ready as can be’ everyday. I do not fear death. But I’m in no hurry to leave yet either. Bless you for the many ways you are blessing others!!

    Becki

    Reply

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About The Author

I am an author of eight books in four languages. LESSONS FOR THE LIVING: STORIES OF FORGIVENESS, GRATITUDE AND COURAGE AT THE END OF LIFE is my memoir of being a bedside hospice volunteer for six years while battling prostate cancer. My next book, LEANING INTO SHARP POINTS: PRACTICAL GUIDANCE AND NURTURING SUPPORT FOR CAREGIVERS will be published in March, 2012 by New World Library and focus on caregiving for loved ones who have a progressive or terminal illness.