Live Well So You Can Die Well

I want to die in the same manner that I am learning to live—with gratitude and a sense of wonder and awe.

Wednesday night I got a message that one of my oldest and dearest friends had a stroke. I’ve been a good friend with Jimmy and his wife Katie for over 30 years. I lived with them for a short spell in their home in New Jersey, I baby-sat their 4 children and I’ve vacationed with them numerous times over the years.

The guy that everyone relies on

When I think about Jimmy I think of a rock—Jimmy is the guy that everyone relies on. Whenever anyone is in trouble or needs advice or needs their water heater replaced they call Jimmy and he has an answer.

And now, Jimmy is in a hospital in northern New Jersey and he can’t feel his left side. He can’t see out of his left eye and his left leg buckles when he tries to stand on it. He can move his limbs but he has no motor control and he’s looking at months of physical therapy to learn how to walk, button his pants, or tie his shoes. This is our rock now, this is Jimmy today—the guy we all relied on to make things work, to help us with our problems and feed us pizza and talk about the Yankees.

Today as I was riding home from work I realized I was feeling sad about Jimmy—not sad because I don’t think he’ll recover and not sad because I am worried about him. What saddened me is the idea that even with all the love of his huge family, Jimmy is, as we all are, alone in his experience.

Are you prepared?

I don’t know if Jimmy ever thought to prepare himself for an experience like a stroke or some other serious and debilitating illness. I don’t know how Jimmy lives in his own heart under such difficulty. I don’t know how Jimmy will cope with being weak and slightly broken. I don’t know how Jimmy will be asking for help with his basic needs. I hope he is peaceful and I hope he finds refuge in the quiet of his heart while living in the pandemonium that comes with being in a hospital and for the arduous months ahead.

And this led me to what I want to focus on for the rest of my life. I want to live consciously and be ready to face illness and death. I want to be emotionally, mentally and spiritually prepared so that when my stroke or heart attack or whatever it is that starts killing me occurs, I am okay. I want my inner peace to be reliable enough so that it supports me when I need it. I want my heart to be open to the reality that I am going to die and I want to be accepting of whatever comes. I want to be humble enough to ask for help and I want to love myself in my frailty and weakness.

I want my cabinets to be tidy and I want my paperwork to be in order. I want my family and friends to know exactly where they stand and I want the people I love to know that I love them. I want my clients and my associates to know my gratitude and respect.

Inner sanctuary of love

I want to be able to imagine myself mostly paralyzed or in great pain in a noisy, brightly lit and badly painted hospital room and I want to look at this image of myself with compassion and steadiness. I want my inner sanctuary of love to be strong enough that I can retreat there while the doctors are standing over me shaking their heads and saying there is nothing more they can do. I want to know that I lived my life well and I loved all of you to my best ability. I want no regrets—I want only gratitude and a sense of a job well done, a life well lived. I want to squeeze every last drop out of being alive and I want the last drops to taste just as sweet as they do today.

I want my friends and family to know that I’m thinking about them today and I don’t want to leave them a huge mess to clean up after I’m gone. I want to make sure the directions about my details are clear and succinct and I want to leave small gifts and tokens of my love for my dearest friends. I want to die as I am learning to live—with gratitude, a sense of wonder and awe and this great feeling of safety and kindness that I found inside myself when I attended the most recent Live Conscious Retreat.

I want to spend more time with myself

I want to play more and travel to places I’ve always dreamed of visiting. I want to spend less time indoors and more time under trees and next to water. I want to spend more time getting to know me and less time worrying what you think about me. I find myself drawn to meditation at least 2 to 3 times a day, because when I meditate I am inside myself, exploring my heart, my mind, my body and its myriad of sensations.

I want to know what a safe romantic relationship feels like and I want to explore myself and my future partner(s) with wonder, curiosity, passion and kindness. I want to discover who I am in every circumstance and be able to softly assert myself instead of shouting from the rooftop or whispering from behind closed doors. I want to care less about your opinions and interpretations and discover my own. I want to know the depth of my own kindness and compassion and I want to be familiar with all my emotions and express myself maturely and responsibly. On the top of my list of learning to live is learning to love. I want to love well—you, me, us, god, humanity and all creations. I want to die knowing I loved well—and to do that I have to live by loving well now.

I believe I can die well

I think I can do it, I think I can live well if I live consciously. And I believe I can die well if I apply myself and continue to live intentionally. I think maybe the best way to appreciate life is to live with the awareness of death. I don’t dwell on my death, but I don’t let it get more than an arm’s length away. Death helps me stay awake.

There is another Live Conscious Retreat coming, what do you need to do before you die?

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4 Responses to Live Well So You Can Die Well

  1. sam October 5, 2014 at 12:29 pm #

    My Mom just died very very suddenly. We have no idea what any of her wishes were on anything. Trying to remember snippets of wishes expressed in casual conversations over the years is all we have to go by. Please, anyone who does not have final requests documented, do so!
    I have discovered in this journey so far from the clerk of the court where she lived, that her wishes could have been scratched out on a piece of legal paper & notarized with 2 witnesses if she couldn’t afford an atty. I have also discovered that it’s a good idea to make sure a non-relative has a copy of such a thing in case someone finds it & tosses it while things are chaotic. Also, paperless statements make it hard to know who your bank, insurance and any other service that you pay is, or to figure out what you have where so please leave a file of who you do business with or of passwords – something for those who love you to use to take care of all the final things that must be done in addition to deep grief.
    Yes, there is a way to die well.

  2. s katharine rivers October 5, 2014 at 12:38 pm #

    Dear Sam,
    I’m sorry for your loss and I thank you for taking the time to write. I appreciate where you are coming from and I hope that you and others will heed your advice. I find that when I take care of myself today I am prepared for tomorrow and part of today is knowing I’m going to die. I don’t want my dying or my living to be a hassle for anyone, so again, thank you for your comments and I wish you the absolute best.
    S Katharine

  3. Elyn Aviva October 13, 2014 at 1:05 pm #

    Thank you for reminding me. For spelling it out. For posting it like a post-it on the bathroom mirror. Live with gratitude and fullness. Be present. Be grateful. Send blessings. We all die. And don’t leave a mess for the survivors!

  4. s katharine rivers October 13, 2014 at 1:32 pm #

    Dear Elyn,

    Thanks for reading! And for posting your comment. I delight myself reading your response. Many thanks and blessings.
    S. Katharine

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