A person living fully until they die might look a bit like a duck–calm and serene as they float along in the water but paddling like crazy when no one can see. My mind races quite a bit, trying to remember everything and get tasks done. Yesterday’s post I wrote about how people can help me but today, I am going to focus on what those who are dying and what we may need to know.
At mass today, the First Reading opened with these words: Beloved, all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another…(God) gives grace to the humble. At my Easter reconciliation, I confessed that I was running out of grace with some people. This line made me remember how I felt a mere few weeks ago. I wondered what I could say to you that might help you understand the choices we face. Here are some of my musings:
- Do what is best for you. If you are like me, receiving can be hard. Now is the time to humbly say yes to kind and gracious offers if you want to. Consider each one carefully and gratefully let yourself be spoiled. Listen to other people’s suggestions about cures and miracles but try only those that are right for you. See the people who create joy in your heart. Eat what delights you. Sleep when you need to. Spend money if you desire something. Be your own best friend and take that loving advice without over-thinking it. In Ignatian Spirituality, when discerning a major life decision, one tool is to think what you would do looking back over your life on your deathbed. Well, not to be crass, but that is your new reality. Do what serves God well and brings you peace.
- Learn to say no without much explanation. At this stage of life, as long as you are not hurtful, you can be free to smile and say no, not now, not today, no thank you, nope. Full stop. No means no and the people in your life will learn to accept this.
- Know who to trust with your tale. Brene Brown believes that people need to earn the right to hear your story. As much as I live my experience of living with cancer out loud–talking, writing, blogging, and processing it–I do not share everything with every person. Choose your circle carefully and lovingly.
- Embrace the now which is all that we can do mindfully. The past is over. I have let go of so much in these past two years: my health, my body image, my career, parts of my identity, some friendships, unhelpful thoughts, baggage I have dragged around for decades, and so on. The future has not yet unfolded. I could die in a plane crash tomorrow or as I like to say to people, fall out of bed, since it is one of the top reasons people die. I could try to guess my new expiry date or obsess about what the end will look like but to what avail? I want to stay here in the moment–seeking God’s presence and being appreciative for whatever it is that is blessing me. Sometimes the here and now is painful–whether it is our personal situation or news of someone else’s misfortune. We may want to avoid this but we cannot. We just postpone the inevitable. No, stay here and make friends with the gift of now.
- Stand fast in faith, however you comprehend that word. For me, the Holy Trinity, Ignatian Spirituality and my Catholicism play a crucial role in how I perceive what is unfolding and what gives me the grace to wake up each morning and embrace a new day. Something greater than me is at play here and I trust that Divine Presence. As the Gospel today says, Go…and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.
- Live as much as you can while you are dying. Sing, dance, make love, breathe in beauty, spend time with dear ones, laugh, bare your soul to those you love, laugh until you ache, and then weep at the thought of losing all of this before moving on to the next day. Spectacular days are also devastating ones because you will grieve the reality that those types of days on this side of heaven are numbered. Do not let that stop you from living them gloriously and gracefully.
- Serve in some way if you are possible as this is why we are created. Living beyond myself and the limits of my illness can be a challenge at times, but when I do I truly forget I am unwell. When I listen to someone else and give them some advice that helps, I feel useful. When I desire to serve God with all my heart and soul, I am alive. Find something that brings life that you can do and when the time comes that nothing else but prayer is left, then make that your humble ministry.
- Whatever you choose to do, be all in. A friend said this to me regarding my decision about chemotherapy the other day. I loved it. Have no regrets and be free of burdens. I made my decision to spend my favourite season without treatment and in my heart of hearts I know this is the best conclusion I came to, even if it means that I might have shortened my life. Having surpassed what was expected of me, each day now is a bonus to simply enjoy. I want to make some excellent memories with dear ones, spend time in the sun, visit a couple of new places in my country, and entertain whatever God places before me. Long life or short, sickness or health, as the Principle and Foundation states are not to be clung to; we must choose that for which we have been created–to praise and honour God and I think my decision does that.
- Be gentle with yourself. Some days grace and humility will seem elusive. That is ok. God knows your heart. We are still very human and that is a good thing.
- Plan the end. Looking ahead realistically and deciding what you want is a present to those who need to know. Is your will written and up-to-date? Are guardians in place for children? Do you want to be buried or cremated? Do you want a funeral? Are you downsizing already? Are you giving away treasured items to beloved ones? Are you telling the stories that need to be heard? Are you sharing the words that must be said? Have you forgiven and been forgiven? Are you creating memories that will be of comfort to those who remain? Have you provided for those you need to? Have you given permission to people to do what they must do when the end comes? Not everyone wants or needs to be with you and that is a personal choice that may need some affirmation. Is there a legacy of sorts that you desire to leave? Comfort comes in knowing that you have organized some of the final days.
God gives us sufficient grace in so many aspects. Cast all your anxiety upon the One-with-Broad-Shoulders because he cares for you. Yes, you. You are in good hands because you care in God’s hands. Believe it.
What advice would you have for a person who is facing death?
How much grace do you need to face today?
Grace-Giver, you lavish upon us all that we need for the moment, and I am ever thankful. We are in your good hands whatever shall come and that is the safest place to rest and be. May we live fully each day we are granted, keeping our eyes on you, breathing in every breath until we meet you face-to-face. Amen.