“Now I lay me down to sleep…if I should die before I wake…”
Sound familiar? I, and I’m sure many other children, prayed this very prayer at night. Well, let me just say that one prayer used to keep me up at night in worry and fret that I WOULD NOT WAKE UP. If I should die before I wake? What!? I’d think to myself, “Why? I’m 7 years old! What would cause me to die in my sleep at this age? Ok I am not going to sleep. God, please don’t kill me tonight! I want to go to school! I want to have my sleepover Friday and watch TGIF and eat popcorn, pickles, and lollipops!” This was a reoccurring stressor at age 7.
Whether death comes at age 7 or 107, it is inevitable. Like we’ve already discussed in Death: Part 1, death is not a comfortable topic. Working with Hospice patients requires me to confront death daily. So here are a few thoughts.
When one comes into the hospital, he or she is usually asked if they have a preference on DNR (Do Not Resuscitate if a patient codes) and if he or she has a Living Will (a document to distribute material goods and settle any last wishes). Notice both the DNR and a Living Will have to do with end of life choices. Why do we wait to the “end of our lives” to think about these things?
Working with Hospice has deeply challenged me in how I want to live. My mind has pondered that DNR does not have stand for “Do Not Resuscitate” but “Do Not Regret” when life’s few breaths cease. I cannot tell you how many conversations I have had with patients who have expressed to me, “I just wish I would have made things right sooner.” Aren’t relationships more valuable that petty fights and old grudges?
I have also been dwelling on the fact that we make “living wills” for what happens after we die, but what about making a living will for actual living? A living will could be a contract with oneself about the commitments he or she wants to dedicate to in order to live without regrets. Perhaps it could read, “Get enough sleep, because life is too exciting to be tired,” or “I will make amends with those who I have hurt.” Possibly, there could be something like, “By eating healthy on a daily basis and exercising at least three times a week, I will maintain the best possible health I can.” This “living will” could be something we check daily to keep grounded in our commitment to “Do Not Regret.” Just a few thoughts.
Henri Nouwen wrote, “How, then, do we prepare ourselves for death? By living each day in the full awareness of being children of God, whose love is stronger than death. Speculations and concerns about the final days of our life are useless, but making each day into a celebration of our belovedness as sons and daughters of God will allow us to live our final days, whether short or long, as birthing days.” I suppose our first step to really living is to claim our identity as sons and daughters of our intimate Creator. To my deepest core, I sincerely believe we were created for a purpose. Life is often a struggle and can cause us much pain. But we were NOT intended to walk around lifeless as if we have already died. We cannot let our suffering determine our lives. Our wounds can be healed. Our ashes can be turned into beauty.
So my friends, how do you want to live? If today were your last day, would you make amends with anyone? When is the last time you have told your loved ones, “I appreciate you” or have expressed your gratitude for your job? So here is my challenge: make your own living will. Reconcile relationships. Seek counsel to heal those wounds that hinder you from living abundantly and with purpose.
Ok, no I’m not trying to go all Tim McGraw “Live Like You Were Dying” on you…well not really at least. How about a little Mumford & Sons from their song “Awake My Soul” to close us out?
In these bodies we will live,
in these bodies we will die
Where you invest your love,
you invest your life.
Look for a final post on death: spirituality. Coming soon.