I was recently invited to join a book discussion group about A Year to Live by Stephen Levine. I recall checking out his book Who Dies? from the library many years ago and enjoying it, so I googled him and found this lovely interview: http://www.bodhitree.com/lectures/love.html.
His basic premise, as I understand it, is that keeping our mortality in our conscious awareness enhances and enriches the quality of our decisions and therefore our lives. I find nothing to argue with in that!
And I want to take it a step further, by suggesting what I think may be an even more powerful transformational thought-experiment:
What if I knew that you only had a year to live?
What about a month?
Here's why I find this question more interesting: Regardless of when my death occurs, I'll be outta here, off to the next place doing whatever we do there. And I could be wrong, but I feel pretty safe in assuming that whether I have finished my bucket list or not will very quickly become irrelevant to me!
But if you die tomorrow, I'm still here, dealing with my unfinished emotional business regarding you. And that can impact the quality of my life for a very long time.
My last words to you may ring in my ears. Did I communicate my love to you? Did I hold any love back? Did I appreciate you for who you were? Did I see and cherish your essence?
I won't have been perfect, of course. I will have had my moments of anger and criticism and blindness to your innocence. But did I let you know how important you were to me often enough that you were sure of it?
Those answers matter more to me after you die than they will to you. I am the one who will have to live with them. Come to think of it, those answers matter more to me even before you die. I am the one who will have to live with them!
When we keep in mind that everything and everyone around us could be gone at any moment, the quality of our own lives improves. A lot of ugliness can happen when we take each other for granted. And that's okay - we all get triggered and say/do things we aren't proud of at times. But we feel a lot happier when we don't make "taking folks for granted" a habit or a lifestyle choice. Our days feel so much more enjoyable when we cherish and appreciate each other.
I've been lucky enough to share in the death and dying process of several loved ones. And in my experience, without the contamination of regret, grief feels almost exactly the same as joy. There's a quality of sweetness to it - a poignant awareness that something unique is gone. It feels pure and tender.
And that's what I'd wish for everyone to feel after the loss of a loved one. Because it is certain that someday each of us will lose a dear companion to death -- that's out of our control. What is relatively within our control is how we spent the time we had together: What did we focus on? What did we talk about? What did we give our attention to? Did we celebrate, adore, and appreciate?
When I engage with each being who crosses my path as if today could be their last, the quality of my life improves. And as an added bonus, perhaps theirs does, too.
other posts about my experiences with death and dying: