“God, teach me to receive the sick in Thy Name. Give to my efforts success for the glory of your Holy Name. It is your work. Without you, I cannot succeed. Grant that the sick you have placed in my care may be abundantly blessed, and not one of them be lost because of any neglect on my part. Give me grace, for the sake of your sick ones and of those lives that will be influenced by them. Amen “
This was the first passage I entered in my medical memoires in 1989 when I was 16 years old taking care of a woman named Florence. Each weekend I would ride my blue Huffy ten speed to her home and gleefully wake her. Past all the medical equipment, behind raised bed rails, she smiled widely knowing she got to have one more day. “Let’s get all fancied up.” I’d say. Florence and I would spend the morning at her vanity table, primping her hair and putting her make up on. She had gone blind but trusted me when I told her how lovely she looked. Soon I would make her and her husband breakfast, but first she always wanted me to describe the pictures in her National Geographic magazines. “Tell me all about the places, every detail, so I can visit there with you today before I die.” Florence knew that she only had a few months left to live, at best, so she savored every spoken color, scent, sound and site from our journeys. We traveled to the Egyptian desert, rain forests and beaches I made up.
One morning I arrived and she was gone. Her husband drove me to the hospital and asked me to spend my shifts at her bedside. Florence did not talk or respond anymore, but I felt her still somehow aware. So I just held her hand and read to her stories about places far away, even if I had to make it up. I knew when I took the job that she had stage four terminal cancer, but I started feeling frantic and sad that she would die soon. I braced myself and started stopping by everyday after school, just to make sure she was alright one last time. She began to call and reach out into the high corners of her room to people unseen. The nurses said she was just having medication hallucinations, but I could feel the spirits there, above her, waiting to usher her across. I cried when she left her body, but remembered what she told me, “Enjoy your life today, today is the only day you have.”.
Fast forward thirty years to 2019. I have been a death doula to thousands of people since Florence. My Master’s thesis focused on the process of facilitating the death process with grace and dignity. From the Emergency Department, Intensive Care Unit, hospice or home bedside, I have assisted a sea of souls move to new realms. Many people plead with the powers to be for more time. I found it interesting that their biggest regrets were the things the didn’t dare to do, the love they didn’t give, and the life they were too afraid to live. Imaging that… afraid to die, because they were too afraid to live and love while still alive. People who bravely faced death, spoke of climatic love, fearlessness, epic beauty, forgiveness, endurance, contentment and integrated experiences.
As each new year and life phase approaches, I ask myself:
- What are my dreams?
- Are my desires in alignment with my true Self?
- Do I stand in my own way with self limiting thoughts?
- Am I prepared to take action and allow new patterns to manifest?
- What would I regret if I died much sooner than expected?
Most of us don’t know when that day will arrive. Don’t wait for life to be served on a silver platter. Go grab life by the reigns. Ride the beast. Sing that song. Twirl in a circle and fall down in the poppies. Wear that funny hat. Kiss a bug and hug a tree. Love yourself and others. Forgive yourself and others. Be of service. Try something new. Dare to live a little more.