Life Lessons From the Dying

I’ve had the fortunate experience of being close by to witness several people passing.  I’m sure it seems off to think of this as a positive experience.  However, the reason I am grateful to have been in the presence of the dying is because it reminds me to not take for granted the time I have on this planet to live.

A few days ago, my grandfather passed on.  As our family gathered together to basically “stand by” as he peacefully passed on into his next phase, I was not overwhelmed with sadness.  He was almost 90. He had enjoyed raising three children, had 6 grandchildren, and 4 great grandchildren. He was well taken care of by his 1 daughter and 2 sons, as well as round the clock nurses in the later years of his life. He had frequent family visitors and any request of food or general experience was granted to him nearly immediately. From my outside perspective, he looked to have left this planet likely in much better shape than when he arrived. Being born into an era where he would experience the Great Depression, two World Wars, the Cold War, drastic changes in technology that would be nearly impossible for him to keep up with, presidents being assassinated and much more than many of us can imagine. 

On a recent visit to see my grandfather, he told me stories of the blue crabs he would pick out of the Tampa Bay as a boy, or the crates of oranges he would get from the local market and enjoy with his younger sister. His life was simple; he had it good. Growing up with my grandpa, I watched him sit for hours on end outside smoking cigars or watching birds outside, he raised birds as well. He loved plants especially orchids and he liked to fish. He was clearly passionate about nature and I am grateful I inherited that trait. He was a man of few words - something I did not inherit! When I would see him sitting outside in his chair staring off into space I would ask him “what are you doing?” and he would always have the same answer “thinking.” The thinking part I also inherited:

Here is the list of regrets from the dying as compiled by a palliative care nurse in 2013.  She took to polling people as they passed on so that the living could learn from them. Brilliant!

1.     I never pursued my dreams and aspirations.

I love that this is #1 because in my opinion, not following your dreams is a slow death to your soul.  We were all born with a purpose no matter how big or small we think it is.  Not paying attention to it and following our dreams is not living.  Dream Big!!

2.     I worked too much and never made time for my family.

Let’s please all make a collective effort to NOT do this.  Money isn’t everything. When we are gone we will not care about the possessions we have but we will relish the experiences and the people that are there holding our hands in our last days. Connect. Love. Cherish.

3.     I should have made more time for my friends.

My friends are my family.  If I call you a friend, I consider you my family.  So, ditto to #2.

4.     I should have said ‘I love you’ a lot more.

I personally know this one can be tough. Saying, “I love you” can produce feelings of vulnerability, worries of rejection and “what if” the recipient doesn’t love me back.  Well, who cares really?! All that matters is that you love and that you say it.  If someone else doesn’t want to love you back that is on them, not you.  Shout it out from the rooftop if you have to…just do it.  To be vulnerable is to be seen and when people see you, they can connect.  Connections help you out with #2 and #3 so no, love, love and let the people you love know it.

5.     I should have spoken my mind instead of holding back and resenting things.

Holding thoughts inside your head is like being in a mental jail. Let it out. “Say what you need to say” in the words of John Mayer. Resentment is toxic, nasty stuff. Whether you write it, sing it, dance it or act it, just express your thoughts and release them. Chances are once you get your thoughts out, they will be met with feelings of gratitude and understanding. And if not…again, not your issue today because we are practicing living.  If someone else chooses a different path, so be it.

6.     I should have been the bigger person and resolved my problems.

Let me say from personal experience, it truly is better to be happy than to be right.  I saw a quote recently that said, “If you are afraid of being lonely, don't try to be right.” Enough said.

7.     I wish I had children.

In today’s world people are getting married later and putting off having children for career advancement or convenience. I know this is not the case with everyone because I personally cannot have children. However, I can see how this can certainly be a regret. It is important to remember that children can be adopted or even “supported” by means of non-profits that help out children in need for various reasons. Having children in our life can be achieved in a variety of ways.  The overall point here is that when you are elderly and leaving the planet, you want to know you aren’t alone and are leaving a legacy.  I vow to make sure I do that even if I don’t have children of my own.

8.     I should have saved more money for my retirement.

This is important, especially because with modern medical advancements we are living longer.  Balance is key here. Saving out of fear is not living; doing anything out of fear is not the best course of action.  Instead be smart with your money, while also benefiting from experiences. 

9.     Not having the courage to live truthfully.

I have very little tolerance for non- authentic living. In fact, a good friend of mine just wrote a blog on being real. You can read it here:

10.  Happiness is a choice, I wish I knew that earlier.

Yes!! Yes!! How empowering to know we can all choose to be happy.  We are not victims in this life. Happiness is not a result, or an achievement, or a person, or prosperity, or power, or anything other than something we decide.  Happiness happens when we say so!

At 37, I feel grateful to still have two living grandparents to learn from and continue to gain wisdom from their successes and failures. I am also eager to continue to weave the above lessons into my daily practices. I hope you will too.