This article has been inspired by my Dad who passed away on September 29th following a long and courageous battle with pancreatic cancer. Truth be known, the last few months have challenged me as I’ve never been challenged before. I grappled with feelings of powerlessness, grief and stress, as my ego attempted to control the uncontrollable. Supporting my Dad on his journey also stirred feelings around my own mortality.
However, to witness my Dad’s peaceful passing, at home, surrounded by his family was profound, a true gift. It has changed me and the ripple effects will stay with me for the rest of my life. My experience of spending time with my Dad in the last weeks of his life also reminded me of what’s truly important.
So often when someone dies we hear phrases like ‘life’s too short,’ ‘it puts things in perspective,’ ‘it reminds you of what’s really important.’ The ‘it’ of course being death. We’ve all experienced bereavement and loss and the passing of a loved one reminds us of how precious life is and how ultimately our health is our wealth. Of all the things I’ve been reminded of in recent weeks, appreciation for life and gratitude for my own health and well-being is top of the list.
I saw my Dad’s life diminish as his illness progressed. I was only too aware of his ‘lasts.’ The last time he drove his car, the last time he sat at the dinner table, the last time he was outside, the last time he could dress himself, the last time he was out of the bed. The last time he talked. I certainly don’t take these everyday activities for granted anymore.
If you knew you couldn’t experience it anymore, how much would you give to be able to go outside and feel the wind and rain on your face, enjoy a family meal, a walk in a garden, or to even be stuck in traffic? We can so easily scuttle from A to B with our minds either mulling over the past, or worrying about the future, whilst the gift of the present moment is passing us by.
For the last few months, my Dad was our sole focus. Everything else fell away, work commitments, current affairs, the general busyness of life. All that was left was tenderness, caring and love. As I said in the eulogy at my Dad’s funeral, life is really about relationships and the love you give and the love you allow yourself to receive. We become immortal when those left behind think of us and hold us in a special place in their hearts.
Possessions from a new pair of shoes, handbags, cars, gadgets whilst they might bring enjoyment are not worth one iota when death enters the room. It’s the people you can turn to and the people who will support you that are the true treasures in life.
The old adage ‘there are no pockets in a shroud’ is true. Death shows us that we are all heading towards the same destination. This is a humbling thought that reminds us that it’s what we do on the journey that matters.
If you knew your time on Earth was finite, everything you do, where you focused your time and energy would be steeped in meaning and significance. What would you focus on? Who would you spend more time with? What would you say that perhaps otherwise wouldn’t be said? We would live life more intensely. Worries, grudges, perceived slights, mistakes we’ve made, past choices we regret would be discarded. We’d take more chances, savouring each new day.
In my Dad’s final days we observed his breathing closely. How many more breaths? Will this breath be his last? We may not like to think about it, but for all of us, there will come a time when we will breathe out, but not breathe in again. What do you want to do with the remaining breaths you have?
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about a basic coaching exercise I first came across many years ago. Imagine you are approaching the end of your days, having lived a fulfilled and happy life. You speak to the generations that follow you about everything you are most proud of and the wisdom you have gained. This exercise helps us to focus on what’s really important and the advice we give is really what we need to hear and act on right now.
I hope you enjoyed this post and if the themes I shared resonated with you then do listen to my new podcast episode where I reflect in more detail on what I learned during this time leading up to my dad’s death.
Now that we are unfortunately back in lockdown if you would like some handrails to help you through this period then do read my article Managing our Fears where I share some tips to help you.
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Until next time take care and stay safe.