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.  

Are You Talking?

Today Roberta died. At 93. She had been “ready” for at least two years. And I will never forget at least one of her legacies.

Given my interest in the paradox of living while dying, or, dying while living, I find myself drawn to those who are more consciously doing so. Roberta was one of those.

In one sense she had a good death in that it was uncomplicated by illness and extensive hospitalization, given that she was ready to die.  She came down to meals when she felt able, dependent on her walker, noticeably losing weight and energy, living more or less independently in our senior residence. She was found dead in her apartment on March 8, 2018.

In another sense,  she did not have a good dying. I am aware that for at least two years, she had been wanting to die. In snippets of conversations I learned how she struggled to remain “useful” when she could no longer sew, quilt, or paint. She reported that in family visits, her children wouldn’t let her do anything..not cook which she liked to do, or other tasks which were easy for her. Several times over the past two years, she had announced publicly in our remaining days conversation group, “I am so ready to die. But my children aren’t interested in listening to what I have to say about that.”

Now I wonder if she or her family ever achieved the closure of a good bye—a real goodbye with lots of time to talk about life and death — the good times and the bad, and the special memories that will never fade.

Living very much on the periphery of her life, I have no idea what occurred during her last months. Perhaps she girded her loins, exercised her courage, and told her family in no uncertain terms what she wanted to talk about.

If not, I can only hope that the family denial, combined with her unexpected demise,  did not lock out the possibility of a terrific send-off which Roberta might have had a part in planning.

I will never forget Roberta, who provided me the picture of one version of dying, which included unnecessary frustration and suffering. Alongside came the unexplored and unrealized possibilities for a very good dying.  Her death was a sad, albeit clarifying, event for me.

I’m left with the reminder of two questions which it’s never too soon to deal with:  Regarding intentions, hopes and dreams for remaining days, to whom do I/you need to listen? To whom do you/I need to talk?

Thank you, Roberta, and may you rest in peace.