The Courage to Live Life Before We Die.

A friend forwarded me a list from a palliative care nurse. I know it has made its rounds on social media.  That being said, I thought it was quite moving. For those who may not know, palliative care is the care given to those who are dying.  I found the list interesting from the perspective of a pastor, hospital chaplain, and spiritual director because in this capacity we journey alongside those folks who are in various stages of life including the process of dying.  I have also had people share similar regrets with other kinds of catastrophic loss - the loss of a spouse or a child or a life changing accident.

I remember one such person I shared their last few months of life with.  This person was dying of cancer.  It was in this season that he discovered what was truly important, and in a way, he lived life more fully in his last few weeks than most of his life.  He found the courage to tell his daughters how much he truly loved them, was able to forgive some people for some profound hurts, and face his fears. He came to a greater sense of peace than he had ever known.  He suffered well through the throes of death and the ravages of cancer, he was hopeful and at peace.  He died well - full of love, faith, and peace.

While this may be a little grim to discuss, it is an important reminder to us all that when all is said and done - what is truly important.  Where are we at in our life now? We can examine our own lives and perhaps be inspired with the courage to make some changes in our lives to avoid some of these regrets.   Interestingly enough, in the process, we will find a new vitality to life - that we may actually live life more fully while alive. So we might have the courage to live life well before we die!

I wish:

I had the courage to have lived a life true to myself. Many of us have learned early on in life that being ourselves is not always popular or expedient.  Many experience the sting of ridicule and rejection and have built personality disguises that we wear to fit in with others, so we are accepted.  The sad part of this is we spend so much time trying to live to meet others expectations of us, we never truly live as we wish we could - as we really are.  This may mean sacrificing dreams, passions, and interests in effort to appease the social norms of success.   To excavate your true self is a joy as it leads to a real freedom - a freedom to be who you were created to be and to live in the integrity of this.  Even those who don't like "the real you" will have to admit your courage and integrity in being true to yourself!  And by the way - those who don't like the real you probably don't like their real self!

I had of spent less time working.  No one on their deathbed says 'I wish I had spent more time at the office'!   Many men regret missing their children's youth, and their spouse’s companionship and deepening friendship.  I know so many men who have sacrificed their wife and family on the alter of work.  The irony in it all was the belief they were working so much to provide a good life for their wife and family! By making choices to live more simply, you will discover that you don’t need as much money as you think you do to live.  This takes some reflection on your goals and to untangle some thinking around identity and success.  However, this will help us create more “space” in our lives for the things that truly matter - more time to do the kinds of things you didn’t have time to do before.  What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul, his wife, his children?

I had the courage to express my feelings.  Many of us are taught from a very early age to suppress our emotions.  A lot of this is in effort to “play nice” or keep the peace.  Often times we have been hurt by rejection when we expressed how we truly felt and the fear of being rejected again often keeps our feelings locked away.  After a while of doing this, we find we are less content and less ourselves.  In some cases, this results in physical and mental illness - a result of bitterness and un-forgiveness.  

Find ways to manage your emotions in ways that are healthy.  Confrontation is not always a negative thing and when done in healthy ways situations can be resolved, unmet needs addressed, and you can live more honestly.  Either way, the issue gets dealt with; the issue is resolved, and there is reconciliation or the unhealthy relationship is jettisoned.  Look for healthy ways to express your emotions - to a faithfulful forgiving friend, through writing, art or some other healthy outlet.

Share your positive emotions as well.   Learn to express sincere gratitude.  Tell your children you are proud of them and look for every opportunity to express your love - with touch, with words and by serving.  This is tough because we become vulnerable when we share our deep feelings but the people closest to you need to hear it, and your heart needs to express it!

I valued friendships more. It is easy in the frantic pace of life to be too busy for friends.  I am talking about more than acquaintances but genuine friendships. The kind of friendship that is forged over a long period of time - faithful, forgiving friends.   Healthy friendships are a place of mutual sharing of life - the good, bad and ugly where you can find support and be a support.  It is cultivating a fidelity of relationship that produces a richness of relationship.  Be deliberate.  Find a few faithful, forgiving friends to cultivate fun, life-giving relationships and make sure the primary friendship is with your spouse.

I had let myself be happier.   Many people are captive to their circumstances, and few realize that in many ways, to be happy is really a choice.  It is the choice to look for the silver lining, make lemonade when life hands you lemons, to look for opportunities for growth, to overcome and not let adversity define you.  Nice cliche’s but very true none the less.   The reality is life is hard, and sometimes there are some very unfortunate and unfair things that happen.  Choosing to make the best of the situation, looking for positive spinoff will set the tone for your life.  This in itself will make the difference between being a victim and an overcomer!

Fear of change also inhibited people from really experiencing life by making positive life changes.  Often the fear of change itself will keep us stuck.  The thoughtful confrontation of our fears can help us gain a new perspective and open us to new possibilities.   Look for healthy advocates in your life who will tell you the truth and encourage you to take healthy steps forward!

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