Be present. Be prepared. Be clear.
Since publishing a memoir about my dad’s end of life, I received an outpouring of support from others who experienced the loss of loved ones in their own lives. Many sent heart-felt comments and poignantly precious memories. Some sent books they wrote as part of their own journey with grief. I am deeply touched and honored to receive the offerings of each new connection.
Some weeks, I’ve received so many such word-gifts that I feel like the “Keeper of the Stories.” This distinction draws me to a new purpose: compiling perspectives that inform others who support the dying, grieving or bereaved. That work calls me into action each day and will soon be brought to fruition in another book.
Meanwhile, here and now, I’d like to share three themes extracted from these heart-led stories about the choices we make and the peace we seek as we prepare for the end of life (and for the fullness of all our days).
1. There is no time like the present. I mean this statement in every way you can learn from it.
Now is the best time to get ready for what will come later, whether you are ill or perfectly well, young, middle-aged or of a ripe old age. Living in a state of readiness brings peace of mind.
• Are you ready for anything?
• Handling your most important stuff?
• Living your greatest dreams and purposes?
• Leaving a loving legacy for others?
Another meaning is that of being present. There is no time, truly, other than this “now” moment. The past is gone, the future unlivable and unforeseeable. Let go of past and future thoughts in order to truly experience each present moment and know the peace that being present brings. Be present for yourself. Be present for others. The present is a gift to live and treasure.
2. Be prepared to be at peace. Preparation and peace mean different things to different people. What does that statement mean to you?
For some, it means putting your physical house in order, perhaps marking or listing each item of importance with the name of its intended recipient, a very tidy gift to leave your family. You may choose to carefully distribute your finances as the gifts you have in mind for each person and each purposeful cause you hold dear. Perhaps you will leave a legacy letter to convey an inheritance of intentions, ideas and ideals.
You may wish to “go within” to prepare, accepting that life comes to an end, inevitably, and being ready in every possible way to meet that day with a joyful spirit and a grateful heart.
It may mean taking a leading role as a spiritual anchor for other grieving hearts. Sometimes the dying one is most capable of this gift of spirit; other times another is most adept and at peace with the prospect of dying and death.
Perhaps you or others do not embrace a spiritual aspect of death at all. Are you prepared to accept that? Letting go of expectations may bring greater peace.
You may want to “right the wrongs” in your life, to say what has never been said, or to leave it in writing if the words come too hard to your lips. You may want to invite family members and friends to speak their own truths, to ask their respective questions and to find greater peace in that process. Feeling “complete” is a way of getting prepared to be at peace.
3. Be clear about the kind of death and dying experience you prefer. Being unprepared and undocumented will lead to medical interventions and life-prolonging procedures you may not want.
• Are you ready to think about dying and speak of it with your loved ones?
• Do you have succinct and explicit living wills and advance directives in place?
If so, make sure all who may be involved at the end of your life — family members, spiritual advisors and health care professionals — clearly understand your wishes. Give them copies of your signed documents and update them as your preferences change. New options and specific choices may align better with your personally evolving journey.
To take an active role in assuring there is dignity and peace in the dying process:
• Ask for what you need and want.
• Ask what others need and want.
• Give and offer.
• Take and receive.
Death and dying are part of life; by definition, they are the final chapter. You play an important role in your life story’s end, and you may choose that role with care. These are just a few of the ways that people I know enhanced their personal peace with forethought and planning in end-of-life decision-making.
Be present. Be prepared. Be clear. I am thankful for the ideas others share with me. I hope you’ll also share them and find them of benefit.
Blessings and Peace,
Julie Saeger Nierenberg