3 Lessons the Dying Taught Me

3 lessons the dying taught me have stayed with me all my life. Serving as a hospice volunteer for five years has been one of my most fulfilling life assignments. During this time, I sat by the bedsides of the dying. As I comforted, consoled, and cared for them, I learned.

The dying are literally holding an hourglass, watching the sands of time slip away. Faced with weeks (or a month, if they’re lucky) they have the rare ability to review their lives in a terrifyingly honest way.

Here are some of the regrets I’ve heard dying people share:

I didn’t get to graduate.

I wish I’d spent more time throwing a ball with my son than working all those late hours.

I didn’t tell my wife how much I loved her, and now I’m running out of time.

Wish I’d followed my dream of starting a non-profit rather than giving my life away to a corporate job.

It always took my breath away, hearing these confessions. It taught me to course-correct, to give my time and energy to what matters in my life before it’s too late. It’s what I teach my grieving clients today: to make every moment of life count for something bigger than just their small agendas. Those who do so find that their lives are changed forever. They have more joy, meaning, and purpose. They wake up each morning knowing they have important work to do.

Here’s the truth: How we live is how we will die.

If we live our daily lives regretting the past and feeling cheated by life, we will die feeling empty and miserable. If we look at our past as a springboard from which we can learn and grow, and create our future with purpose, we will die leaving behind a beautiful legacy of love.

Here are three significant life lessons that came to me from the dying:

  1. Control v Letting Go. When we believe we’re in charge and need to control every aspect of our lives, we simply interrupt the flow of life. There is a bigger force at work that runs everything in the universe, including your life and mine. When we can trust the divine energy that flows through every tree, every blade of grass, and every cell of our being, we “let go” and “allow” instead of fiercely trying to control everything from how our spouse should behave to which colleges our teenager needs to apply to and how we need to compete in order to get ahead.
  2. Fear v Love. With every decision we’re called to make, we have a choice. Do we trust the voice of love or the voice of fear that speaks to us from within? The voice of fear places more faith in the power of the problem; the voice of love places more faith in the power of the solution. We’re always choosing from fear or love. Mostly we’re not even conscious of how we’re choosing. Fear keeps us playing small and stuck. Love opens us up to receive by flowing with the energy of life. What will you choose?
  3. Denial v Preparation. Most of us live in denial of death which is our ultimate destination. The dying taught me that living with their head buried in the sand didn’t stop death from showing up. In not thinking or talking about death, we become terrified of the “monster in the closet.” But if we work through our fears and prepare for what will eventually come, we’re not shocked or resistant or denying it when a situation causes us to look at death. This could be a difficult medical diagnosis or the death of a loved one.

If a loved one is at the end stage of life and you’d like some support, do reach out by scheduling a 60-minute Single Session.

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