Life is an incredibly powerful thing; it gives us so much and can also remove so much in an instant. I live a very full life and sometimes I wonder if that isn’t because I have some kind of attention deficit? I get bored easily and change constantly. My heart is constantly full of things I feel I need and must do-every minute of every day. I tend to take life by the horns and just go a lot of the time, which has both its positives and its negatives. I am the eternal optimist, yet often find myself struggling with anxiety and depression. Because of this I have been able to really reflect on what is important, how to spend time wisely now and how to transition at the end of life that makes the most sense to myself, my clients and our communities.
I am from the western world, and as such have grown up with the value that youth is everything, and death is so terrible we are not to even regard it as a thing. I understand a lot of this is for self preservation and consumerism as it is much easier to focus on light happy optimistic things such as youth, parties, the newest music drop and glowing skin. But deep down I have had this sinking feeling that we are our own worst enemy by refusing to acknowledge that aging and death is actually kind of normal, expected and doesn’t need to be considered all doom and gloom.
The downside of life.
The downside of life is that it is not always easy. It can be messy and for much of our lives increasingly unclear. We are constantly bombarded with a steady stream of what we should be and do, how we should look and act, what we should spend our lives fighting to attain. We suffer immeasurably through loss, guilt, shame and manipulation. We drown in anxiety and depression and wander around wondering why everything is just so terrible. We go through divorces and abuse, jobs filled with those that struggle to be nice or even have values and morals. We know we should be doing things that fill us with purpose but wind up feeling confused, lost and heavy as we fill our boots with the promises and intentions of others.
The downside of death.
From my experience in nursing, the downside of death tends to be the fear of dying, the fear of crippling pain, the fear that is our bodies degrading in front of our very eyes. The fear of running out of time to be and do and accomplish big titles and big paychecks. We fear watching someone we love waste away and be in pain, we fear losing someone we love so dear. We fear not having the opportunity to say the words we so dearly wish to say, and the love we so desperately need to feel-leaving us. We fear the struggle we face once those we love have left us, the depression or anxiety that may follow, the change that will inevitably occur after they are gone.
We very much view death as sort of the absolute worst thing in the entire world which causes me to wonder- is this because we aren’t living? Do we fear living as much as we fear death?
I had a skin cancer scare a few years ago. The dermatologist told me just by watching me describe a mole, that I had less than 6 months to live- period. He told me to get my affairs in order before even doing a biopsy. At the time I happened to be in a very stressful job, and a very stressful period of transition with a past partner and had spent a lot of time silently wishing, hoping and praying for death to come. Oddly I found myself a little shocked to have a specialist in the medical profession tell me that basically I got my wish.
This was a very sobering moment for me. All the things I had been wishing, hoping and praying for in mostly secret were becoming real-and that is when I realized I did not want to die. I wanted a better life. I wanted more time; more time with my son who had just entered kindergarten, more time to go to the places and do the things that made my heart happy. More time to laugh and carry on, to sit on beaches and play in warm waves. I wanted less of the crap and more of the good.
I say I spent time mostly in secret wishing for the end because I know no one likes talking about these most uncomfortable topics, especially in this society in the age of the perfect online profile that is happy and sheltered behind a radiantly glowing filter of beauty and light. Yes, I saw a counsellor and used very wisely my then employers Employee Assistance Program. Most people saw me as a happy go lucky, everything is possible, put together person when really, I was silently praying to have a sudden life ending heart attack in my sleep. I did not feel comfortable speaking about it openly, I did not want to be a burden or bring others down which is basically one of the hallmarks of depression and the warm blanket of stigma that surrounds it.
The upside of life.
The upside of life is not a short answer although it is a simple one. There is just so much beauty and opportunity around us. The upside of all the many challenges is that they are all there by design to kick us back on to the path that is best for us, the path we need, the path that fills us with the most purpose and accomplishment. I think back on some of my failed jobs which I thought were so important at the time and see clearer how slicing osso bucco at a butcher in Australia probably wasn’t the be all and end all of my talents and aspirations. I only lasted 3 days there, but it was a full three. The upside of life is experiencing so many wonderful humans, so many genuine connections, so many beautiful places. The upside is having the ability to seek out the things we desire most and enjoy a huge bowl of our favorite gelato on a hot day in the Caribbean.
The upside of death.
I don’t think death needs to be viewed as a negative event. If anything, it could be seen as inevitable gratitude for a life well lived. It is the moment to let go and be as free as we have ever been, to be as happy, full and connected as we ever will be. Death is a chance for us to move on and let go from everything. To have a new experience and to be surrounded by what many in the spiritual deem “ultimate truth”. Life is a cycle, one for which we have trouble trying to control or even step out of. Death at the end of a chronic illness could be seen as a blessing, a way of no longer being in pain, a way of finally being able to exist without disease. Perhaps the purpose of death is to remind us to live well, in every moment. To learn kindness for oneself and others, to learn forgiveness and to let go of the shame that keeps us chasing after those people, places and things that do not fill us with gratitude, love and laughter. Perhaps we could learn to embrace death as a blessing for a life well lived, as a motivator to focus and concentrate on the things we love to do, and less on the things that feel like sandpaper on the skin. To stop chasing jobs, careers, people and places that do not serve us and instead focus on those that do.
Death is one of the most natural things in all of life, there is literally no other choice. Even being cryogenically frozen like some does not guarantee eternal life, nor does waiting for Tom Cruise to pick you up in an intergalactic vessel. Perhaps death is like a page being turned, on to the next chapter, the next adventure, the next quest for learning.
To live well is to hone those activities and pursuits that gives us that sense of freedom and vivaciousness. To move our bodies and eat good food, to contribute to a community that is working towards becoming more alive, so that when the transition time comes, we are more ready to turn the page. To find a way to figure out what our passion is by acknowledging what it is not, to go to the places and meet the right people and do the things that breathes new life into our souls.
To die well is knowing you are supported, that you are cared for, that nothing is truly ending. To know your family is supported, that you are surrounded by love, that you have lived a truly full and wonderful life. Transitioning in life, no matter the age or stage is never easy, but it can be made easier by surrounding ourselves with the right kind of people. We are these kind of people. Placed here to make life and death as natural, as supportive and as kind as possible.
No part of life needs to be lonely and unmanageable.
Connect with the author to find out about private Yoga Instruction, Nursing services and support for Mental Health issues such as depression, anxiety, loneliness, grief and loss.
The end of Life needn’t be overwhelming. For Death Doula support for end of life transitioning for clients and their families, please contact us for tailor made support services.
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Kimberley Dickinson is a Nurse, Author, Private Yoga Instructor, Mental Health supporter and Death Doula. For more information on her lifespan inclusive services and skills please connect with her on www.athomewellness.wordpress.com For inspiration, travel adventures and lifestyle content www.theonelifemovement.com
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