Death is a very personal experience, but it comes to us all. Does it matter how well you die? At death, does it matter how well you lived?
When I was younger and busy with work and family, thoughts of my own mortality didn’t intrude. After witnessing the deaths of my Mother and a close Aunt, and losing many close relatives and friends to death, I often wonder about the experience.
Now, I frequently contemplate what I want from the rest of my life and try to understand how people reconcile themselves to death.
The dying experience.
Observations made of the dying experience seem to validate that there are stages to getting through it.
A few weeks or months before death, people seem to start withdrawing from life, not wanting visitors or interactions and also start re-living memories from their past. They try to evaluate their lives and may come up with some regrets about they way they lived theirs (deathbed regrets).
A week to several weeks before death people begin to sleep more, and perhaps seem to have hallucinations – talking to people who aren’t there. Their bodies start slowing down, with lower body temperatures, reduced blood pressure and pulse, increased perspiration, labored or uneven breathing, skin color changes and the dying people stop speaking.
A few hours before death, people may get a surge of energy, sitting up or getting up, talking and being more aware, but it lasts only a few minutes. Hands and feet become mottled looking, eyes are half open and glazed over and breathing may be rapid following by periods of no breathing.
Some theorize that the dying person is really moving back and forth between death and life and is really talking to someone or something in the next life.
So, if we will go through the above process, what will we find during our life evaluation? How will we determine if we lived our life well.
What is a life well lived?
I don’t pretend to have the answer to this question. Heck, I’m seeking my own answers.
Dr. Clara Barker, who blogs for theHuffington Post, seems to think that we can find what our individual answer is by thinking about what makes us pay attention to eulogy stories of people we know. Oh, not the list of accomplishments they held, but the stuff in the eulogy that wakes up the audience and gets them to nod their heads and smile in agreement. She asks us to consider:
“How do you measure those who have lived beautifully? Is it their bank account? Their collectibles? Their charitable offerings? Is it their public acclaim? Their fame? Is it their travels? Who they knew? If you say you do not know, look back. What has touched you most deeply through the life of someone you’ve loved? Whatever it is, this is your underground criteria for happiness and whole-hearted living. If you want to live with resilience and well-being, this question is well worth considering. What attracts you does so because there is a resonance with your own unlived life. It is a nudge from that which transcends our intellect and lives in the silence of the heart.”
Some say that a well lived life means that you have made a difference, other’s put a time horizon to the difference – what did you do in your life that will matter 100 years from your death?
Patriots the world over, and throughout history, have known that everyone dies. They committed to make their death matter, to fight for the beliefs they held dear.
The New York Times published obituary samples selected from Weschester county – as people who lived well. Do you agree that these were lives well lived?
Common deathbed regrets.
Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who recorded the top five deathbed regrets (and later published a book about them). From the Guardian they are:
1. Not having the courage to live a life true to oneself, instead of the life others expected of you.
Do you have dreams you never pursued, or worse yet, have you stifled any dreams you may have had?
I think most of us do this. We are first conditioned by parents and teachers to live up to their expectations. Then we marry and want to please our spouse so we try to do what they want.
After my Dad died, Mom made the statement that now she could live the life she wanted. I think she had unfulfilled dreams or wishes (although I think her live was well lived).
2. Spending too much time at work. Missing family moments and their children’s youth was a common one from primary breadwinners.
I did stay home with my kids when they were pre-school. I enjoyed it immensely, though it was tons of work and involved a great deal of isolation from other adults! I’m trying hard to be involved at just the right level in my grandkids lives.
3. Suppressing the expression of ones feelings.
We all do it, to keep the peace, we just bite our tongue and swallow our words. But our feelings are part of who we are, by not expressing them, we are living the life others expect.
I hate conflict and have suppressed my true feelings, even in my marriage, for a long time to avoid it. I am starting to open up more now however. Some things are worth the fight. Actually, when I have opened up, it really hasn’t caused a conflict. We are still learning about each other after 40 years!
4. Not staying in touch with friends.
Relationships bring a great deal of fulfillment to the human condition. Doing something for another and having them attend to you are soul fulfilling activities. We need to feel needed!
5. Not choosing happiness.
Habits are hard to break. Sometimes we spend years building up a pattern of interaction with others around us (spouses included) that becomes hard to change. We may start pretending that we are happy, when really we weren’t and just didn’t want to make the effort to get out of our rut. Laugh and be silly, choose what makes you happy. Change the way you think about life events.
I’ve actually been pretty happy, in spite of all of the above (or maybe I’m still pretending!).
I can’t know what happens after death, and I can’t change how I have lived my life so far. I can and do control how I will live the rest of my life however. So can you.
How do you achieve a life well lived?