Dying Well Means Living Well

***Almost every night I get inspired to write just before I go to bed. In fact, I can’t tell you how many blog posts I’ve thought through — every word — in my head as I lay in bed just not quite willing to make the effort to get up and type it out. Thinking I’ll surely remember all of this in the morning, only to remember none of it. Well, tonight I’m actually going to do it. And since summer vacation starts after just four more school days, meaning no more getting out of bed at 7:35 every day to get the kids out the door, I may continue to do these late nights posts just because I can. Here’s what conspired and was inspired as I got ready for bed tonight:

Dying well means living well.

As I hope and think more and more about working in palliative care, I think that in order to die well you have to have lived well.

Tonight as I walked into the bathroom, after turning the lights on just for a second in the kids’ rooms to get a look at their sleeping faces, I thought, “When did I get this old?” That quickly lead to, “What will I be like when I’m old?”

I’ve often bemoaned that I am not a senior. That I am not retired. They always say youth is wasted on the young, and I always think retirement is wasted on the old. Maybe it’s because I spent my early years with my grandparents who spent hours playing games with me and took time to make the snacks and napkins look nice on the tray on which they brought them out. But I wish I could be retired.

Unfortunately, somedays I’m incapable of even sitting down and relaxing. There’s always so much to do. So much left undone! I will be the worst senior citizen ever!

I know determing what “living well” and “dying well” means is pretty difficult. I’m sure there are many PhD dissertations on the subject (or at least there should be!).  But I know those two are linked. How can you lay down something that you’re not satisfied with? How hard is it to say goodbye to unfinished business? And, conversely, how can you not lay down with grace what you have lived with grace? For living well also means dying well.

I don’t want to be so non-chalant to say that death happens “with ease”. But I think that this thing — this death that we fight, that we try to avoid at all costs, that we don’t even like to think about (we can’t even imagine it!) — can be done well. In fact, I have seen it.

I don’t understand right now and I’m sure I never will. But I have a hunch that, strange and contradictory as it may sound, letting go of your life is easier if you’ve lived it well.

That’s all for tonight folks! Sleep well!

Posted in Life, Memories | 6 Comments

6 Responses to Dying Well Means Living Well

  1. Toni says:

    “They always say youth is wasted on the young, and I always think retirement is wasted on the old.”

    This may just reflect on the fact that people never seem satisfied with what they have and where they are!

    I think we’ve known people who did not live well, and when the time came, desperately did not want to let go, hanging on years until there was nothing left inside before the body stopped. Having said that, my mother (who I do consider has lived very well indeed) would be happy to go tomorrow, if it were possible, and we’d all let her too. It’s not always the dying well that is the issue, but instead the dying when.

    As for looking at your children, you might as well ask “when did I learn to love like this?”.

  2. I think your examples really prove my point, Toni. Maybe the language I used wasn’t perfectly accurate — the well v. when.

    But isn’t it interesting that people who didn’t live well hold on (you’d think something in them would want to just be done with it all) and those who live well are ready to go?

    Fascinating. I have a whole list of books on dying that I can’t wait to order and start reading.

  3. Toni says:

    Indeed – we aren’t disagreeing.

  4. Well, congratulations for enduring the trials and tribulations of seminary. Great post, As I turn 62 next month I have made it to your dream place, and have accepted that I too am in palliative care and have been for nine years. This morning I used my last vacation Sunday to visit a mega church that has grown from 600 to 6000 in five years. It was quite emotional for me because this church was born past all my struggles with the wineskins and the wine….and they are really serving the wine, pure Jesus. All the new bells and whistles are there, but that is no longer the draw, its the gospel framed in mission, not how can we get butts in the seats but how can we get those butts out in the world with a mission of justice, mercy and humility. Micah 6:8 is there mission statement and it is working big time.

    I kind of wept during the baptism time to hear the stories of those who grew up in church, left church and in this place found relationship. It was sad because the call to serve seniors is the call to still struggle with the wineskins of which music, proper dress for worship, does and don’ts. Your gentle reminder is that when I go back into the staid hymns and organ atmosphere I can still dispense the true wine to those who need it more as their days grow difficult. I am indeed surrounded by people who have lived well.

    Bless you both,

    Pastor Don

  5. Maureen says:

    Working with the elderly I have to say that not everyone gets their wish when it comes to dying. Both the hardened souls and the heavenly ones die easily and both the hardened souls and the heavenly ones live much longer than they want to. Some beautiful Christian people do NOT want their loved one to die easily and hang on to all sorts of hope, prolonging the inevitable. In this/my world of care, you learn to not question people’s choices, families’ choices. We (caregivers) see life from a different perspective but it’s not our decisions that form peoples’ last days and every individual/family brings their own set of circumstances to the death table. Things can be rather complicated.

    Perhaps the world of palliative care is different than my world of “end of life” care. Many, many similarities exist, but there are differences as well. We see very few “quick” deaths and probably see 90% long and prolongued deaths. The time to reach someone isn’t in their prolonged state of dying, but in the years when they “lived”. (Not that death bed blessings don’t happen, but the time when there is little/no response from the person due to a comatose state certainly reduces the odds…)

  6. Dixie says:

    This is why I can’t wait to study and experience this more. And, Maureen, we really need to sit down and have a long chat about your experiences of dying at the nursing home.

    I know my “dream job” would be to work with people and help them find resolution with their lives/pasts before their deaths, likely through a holistic approach (ie. spiritual/psychological/relational).

    It is very interesting that people’s last moments are quite often quiet, calm, peaceful moments no matter who you are. But I’m fascinated by how easy or difficult it is to let go enough to experience that peace– I know a lot of it may just be purely physical (the body shutting down, etc), but I’ve seen it (in my limited experience) or at least sensed that often there are things that make people hold on and/or struggle to let go.

    ANyway…. so much to think about. I’m just looking forward so much to learning more.

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