Last week I had the opportunity to engage in a conversation about death. Contrary to what you might think, this conversation was neither gloomy nor threatening. In fact, through our exploration of the possibility of death, everyone in the conversation would agree that we were given a new zest for life!
My desire to look into the notion of dying was not self-generated. It was more, thrust upon me, by three distinct experiences surrounding death all of which showed up within a very brief period of time.
- The first was the death of a dear friend.
- The second came through a life transformed by the writing of their own eulogy.
- The third, was brought about by my husband's visit to the doctor.
Farewell to Laura
It began a few Sunday's ago when the phone rang. Being in the middle of dinner, and being a Sunday (who ever wants to talk to me on a Sunday?) I let it ring. Then my cell rang. Now, clear that someone was trying to get a hold of me, when the phone rang again I picked up on the first ring.
On the other end of the line I heard the hysterical, grief stricken voice of one of my closest friends as she told me the unfathomable. Laura, was dead.
The day before Laura apparently wasn't feeling well, they took her to the emergency room, she didn't come out. She was 37.
The first response was the overwhelming compassion and prayers for her husband and family whose lives would be inexorably changed. In the next moment I checked my heart, was there anything left unsaid?
Relieved I found that, while I would have liked one more conversation to say good bye, there was nothing left in the air between us but love and friendship.
My next response was a thought about life and how fleeting it is, and a wondering about what really matters. I thought about the challenges in my own life, the way I spend my time and my own fears. If I knew I would be dead tomorrow, what of it would really matter?
So often my clients share the all too familiar concern of living in fear of other's opinions or the prospect of taking a risk and being seen as a fool. But really, once you die, what does any of that matter? The only opinions that would retain even remote significance would be those of the people that loved you.
And besides, what mess could you possibly make and what foolishness would be so scandalous that people would hold onto it beyond your passing from this world?
Then came the memorial service. One of Laura's great contributions was her passion for bringing people together so that they could share community and collaborate to make the world a better place. While I did not make the trip to Arizona for the service, I heard from all who attended that her celebration was a testament to the woman she was and the gift she was to the world.
There was a labyrinth walk, a guided visualization, sharing and sharing and sharing, and all of this in a hidden garden with humming birds and dragon flies filling the air. The angels came to Laura's funeral and everybody could feel it. Everything from her community's overwhelming outpouring of love, to the delightful photos covering the walls evidenced a well-lived life.
Someday I Will Die... I think I'll Row Across The Ocean
The following week I had the joy of accompanying my husband to the international summit for climate change. He was impacted deeply by being one of 450 people who got to listen to some of the best educators and speakers in the world on climate change.
Among the throng of noble laureates and world-renowned conservationists, nothing impacted Jeff like the relative unknown, Roz Savage, a perky 5'4' Brit. Roz was brought in as a "special treat" for the group.
Roz shared of her early success as a management consultant. She had all the things that most of us strive for - a beautiful home, a great car, professional success. She was set!
But like so many, despite all her prestige and her stuff, she wasn't happy. In a quest to get a better understanding of her lack of fulfillment Roz wrote her obituary, a verbal representation of what she would like to have said upon her death.
No sooner had the words hit the paper, Roz realized that the life she was leading had no chance of producing the obituary she had written. And so she did what anyone would when squarely faced with the potential of an unfulfilled life. She quit her job and began rowing across oceans for the planet.
This very moment, Roz is a few weeks into a 100 day solo trip from Hawaii towards Australia and her commitment to living a well-lived life is inspiring people all around the world.
Facing Death, Choosing Life
The final death contemplation hit rather close to home. My husband, having suffered some new biological issues, went to the doctor and was promptly scheduled for a look at his insides (fun! fun!) I was not worried for him, but the concern etched on his face told me that he was, and when I saw him in a hospital gown, coming out of sedation I became very clear that it was not a sight I wanted to see again for a very long time.
Despite some of the more entertaining impacts of his procedure, like the adorable way he told me that his time on the table under anesthetic was the closest thing he could imagine to being turned into the Borg (he told me this story no less that 4 times, each time as though it was his first because of the short term memory loss from the anesthetic. So cute!)
The more profound result was that with the alleviation of his concerns came a new lease on life. He was full of possibility, the sky was the limit and there was no obstacle too big to living the life he imagined!
In the face of possible death (he had convinced himself he had pancreatic cancer) he came out the other side ready to live no matter what.
And so these brushes with death opened the door for some meaningful conversation about life and I wanted to give you the opportunity to get more life from your life by contemplating your death.
Let's get more life in your life.
1) If you died tomorrow....
My friend Laura's passing demonstrated the very real possibility that we may not be here tomorrow. So many of us live in the hopes that someday life will work out and then we will start really living. Someday, when I meet the guy, or I make more money, or I lose 10 lbs, but the thing is that life may not wait for that. And so, I want you to consider...
Q: If you were to die tomorrow, Is there anything that you are avoiding, resisting or hesitating on in life that you could begin to do right now? Is there any conversation, activity, or life-dream that you have been holding off on that you would be willing to go after if you knew that this moment was all you had?
Take a moment, write down your answers.
2) Write your obituary....
Roz demonstrated what can happen when you take time to ask yourself if the life you are living is the one for which you want to be remembered.
Q: If they were all standing around your casket singing the praises of your life, who you were and what you brought to the world, what would you want them to say?
Once you have it all written down the next question to ask yourself is....
Q: Are you currently on that path to that life? If not, what action could you take today, this week, or this year to begin that journey?
3) With two years to live...
My husband, found new passion and courage for his life after being told he was in fact not going to die anytime soon. He awoke with a new commitment to living the life that is in his heart to live.
Q: If you were told you had 2 years to live, would you spend your days the way you are today? Who would you have around you? How would you spend your time? Are there any major changes you would make in your life? How could you get more of these things into your life right now?
4) Start living like today is all you've got!
Q: Review your answers and identify what insights and what actions are coming to the surface? How could you begin to live more now? What are you willing to commit to so that the life you are living is one you that you will be proud of and satisfied with in your death?
When the Life-Maker Mastermind (graduate Make Your Life folks) contemplated the questions above, so many beautiful insights rose to the surface. They were faced with the opportunity to love more, to act now, to read more books and take more walks. I am excited to hear what it creates for you.
Enjoy exploring the questions and we would love to hear your insights on the Coach Joelle blog - Comment on blog
"Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone"
- Pablo Picasso
Nice one Pablo! We will all meet our end sometime, the question is, will the story you recount in your final breaths be a sad tale filled with futile words of regret or that of beautiful, inspiring and well lived life?
It is always your choice.
To your life!