What will outlive you?

My mother always said:  “When things get tough, go out for a run!”  I’ve found that advice—issued regularly from my physical educator parent—to have been of benefit. She probably doesn’t know how much these words, and the release they prompted, have helped over the years to neutralize and bring clarity to whatever I was suffering at the moment.  In later years, however, I had to balance her advice with my own lived wisdom, “When things get tough, it’s also deeply healing to shed your tears.”

Another important legacy from my mother : “I’m never going to leave to my six children the mess I was left at my parents’ death.”   And she was true to her word.  It was a magnificent legacy. At her passing, we had almost nothing to do except mourn and celebrate.  She had started her preparations 20 years prior, communicating each of  them fully, and executing every one of them with precision.   The specifics were found in her desk drawer, neatly placed in the folder marked AT MY DEATH.

And so, recently,  when a much younger client said to me as we closed out our formal relationship, “Your words are in my head,”  I smiled.  Although I didn’t ask what words, I was guessing that as this person’s life challenges persist, she might recall me saying, “Self care is an act of courage” and make some different choices. I found myself enjoying the possibility that some of my own most potent life lessons, morphing into encouragements for others, might have been permanently transferred as useful and ongoing guidance. 

As our default legacy, we can’t help leaving beyond who we are, for better or worse.  It’s a given and we typically don’t think about it.

Beyond the givens, I found myself wondering what other legacies we might choose to pass on if we determined to do more than just leave everything to chance.

What gifts to future generations might be appreciated, even if they required time and effort?    How about the words and stories of our growing up years?  A memoir which only you can create, in writing or video, might help your children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, better understand and. appreciate their heritage?

Each life is part of a generational continuum.

What words or models from your antecedents still empower you?

What of your presence, your values and your words, will outlive you?

Living the Paradox

Can we allow two separate and apparently opposite truths to co-exist?  And talk about it?  

Here’s my favorite! I AM LIVING AND I AM DYING. Nearing my eighties, the enriching co-existence of these two realities is what I am choosing for myself, and promoting for others. The way I see it, we can “live” fully until our very last breath.  And, day after day, we can notice and accommodate our declining capacities.  Living and dying are two co-existing realities.

Unfortunately, many are unwilling to give any attention to the dying part. They assume we have no say in our “dying”.  They fear that spending time contemplating the necessary choices in order to die without regrets will contaminate the possibility for full throated living.

Denial and  avoidance?  Do so at your own risk.

When we reach 55, if not before, it becomes pretty clear that we have already lived more years than we have left to live. We are in fact, inhabiting our “remaining years”.  I become sad when I encounter those who are visibly terror stricken when invited to contemplate their own end of life. Personally, I find it comforting to take time to review my purpose and the many possibilities for the years that remain to me.  I want a good life, AND a good death.  AND I want to be conscious as I fulfill my intentions for both. Guarantees?  Of course not!

The peaceful life that I envision for my last 10 or 12 or however many years, includes being happy with my life, AND, preparing not to leave a mess for those who survive me.  That latter one requires some heartfelt conversations with self and with siblings and friends.   At the very least, everyone over 18 must have a health care proxy who can advocate for their wishes in case they cannot. That particular essential does not require a lawyer, but it does require making it happen with those you trust. 

I’m absolutely committed to doing more of what I love to do, and routinely evaluating how that’s going. Relationships and interests and activities, once sources of delight, do run their course. And there’s no blame or shame in releasing what no longer contributes to happiness. New friendships and activities arrive when space opens for them. Usually most miraculously.

I’m also absolutely committed to leave no mess for my survivors.  As a “solo ager”  with no spouse, no children and no family caretaker in the line-up, I feel all the more compelled to plan and tie up my loose ends because…. who else will do it?

Do I actually want to die?  Some days “yes” and and some days “no”.  Now 78, I have to admit that tears often accompany the tedium of putting my affairs in order, most recently distributing my jewelry.  AND, accomplishing the tasks which fulfill my own wishes to leave no mess behind, also gives me great peace. 

I am coming and I am going all at the same time.

I admit it.  Very simply, my own intentions to allow the joy of living to co-exist with proactive anticipation of my death is compelling.  And it is enriching my remaining days.  

Jump into this paradox and have some fun! Let these years be the very best time of your life.

Permission: Your precious resource

Life gets more fun when you give yourself permission to first ENTERTAIN your own ideas about what you want in life,  and then maybe even FIND THE COURAGE to do something about them.  Despite uncertainties about the outcome. 

For years, I’ve been following the life trajectory of Jason,  a 23+ish lifeguard at the YMCA pool I frequent.  He recently graduated from Westfield with a degree that allows him to teach in the public schools.  I always wondered why he seemed to always have so little enthusiasm for his chosen major, and felt in my bones that this guy wasn’t cut out for that role, at least in a public school classroom.

The other day I learned that he had graduated. So, I inquired about his hopes, and his search process for landing a teaching job.

“I’ve changed my mind.” he said. “I’m going over to STCC and get certified in auto mechanics.”  His mood had significantly shifted to exuberant.  He always loved working on cars and couldn’t wait. 

I have only guesses as to why he had previously ignored his true love as a career calling. Maybe the auto mechanic was deemed to have less “prestige” than the role of teacher, in his eyes, or in the eyes of his parents.  Whatever the reason, he now gave himself permission to certify himself for something he loved.

I was thrilled!

The over 60 crowd who are dealing with their own “what next?” dilemmas might well do the same. Listen to the whispers of your soul. Give yourself permission to play in the realm of your own longings, no matter what they are. Invite your self-censor to take a back seat in the conversation.

For everyone of any age who is engaging in deliberations about their next stage of life, please access the resource you already own:   GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION to imagine a future that gives you joy and FIND THE COURAGE to do something about it.