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Gratitude & Grace

What would happen if we are faced with the end of our life and we feel that we have miserably “failed” at this thing called living? We know that as we grow old we are given the gift of reflection and contemplation. What if we look back and feel that we are ashamed, that we have not really contributed, that our contribution has not amounted to much and that in fact, we were pretty awful at times…

It happens. I recently spoke to a friend whose Mother is at the end of her life and wants to die, but she has so many regrets and feelings of inadequacy that somehow she cannot let go. As a deeply committed Christian she in fact fears death and feels trapped.

How does one comfort someone you love so deeply, the Mother who gave you life, the Grandmother of your children, the one who taught you to knit beautiful socks and cook wonderful meals? How do you comfort without being patronizing, without sugar-coating and pretending that everything is just fine? How do you go to this place where you cannot imagine what it must feel like? Can you give reassurance that “all will be fine”? I don’t know.

Yesterday I heard from one of my Mentors that she has about 14 months to live. The best I could come up with was “Let’s go for tea”. Maybe this is the time to give up my sober habits and rather hit the Tequila bottle! Because I realised once again – we simply cannot fathom/comprehend/embrace our own mortality, let alone the mortality of those we love. We want to hang to them, they just have to stick around. We cannot actually imagine a time when they will not be with us.

Do we then start sprouting platitudes? Do we tell them how much we love them and how wonderful they are, how much we will miss them? How we don’t want them to go? Pray for a miracle cure? Start suggesting cannabis oil and a keto diet. No. We are completely helpless. We say the wrong things. We cringe at our inability to engage with death. Because it is an inability.

When I recently had to wait for the results of a biopsy (and was convinced I had stage four cancer) I had three days, no in fact I had billions of minutes to contemplate my own mortality. Have I done my business here? Am I ready to go? Am I prepared to go? My answer was yes, followed by a major panic. What will happen to Victor? My Parents and my sister? Who will take the dogs for a walk? Who will sort out all my shit in my study? What will happen to this and that and the other….. Will I go for chemo? How long will it take before everyone has forgotten about me? Me me me me me me.

It did make me stop and think about my footprint, the legacy that I leave, the lives I touched, the people I hurt, the things I should have done, and the things I should say. And yet, when the results came back and I was not dying, the immortality mindset came back all too quickly. Procrastination set in again, and my study still is a shitshow of chaos.

What have I learned? One of the most profound things is that we have to talk about death. We have to cut the crap and talk to our friends, our parents, and our loved ones about the fact that none of us will get out alive. And then we have to start – and yes I hate this cliche – but just begin to think how we would live today if it was our last day. What if. THINK about it, TALK about it, ACT it out.

The other realisation that hit me was that we are all doing the best we can with what we have. There are such incredibly high “standards” set for what it means to be human, let alone being a Christian/Buddhist/Muslim, being a partner/wife/husband, being a parent/grandparent, an employee, a boss, a citizen, a friend, a mindful individual. God knows the list is endless and the failures terrible.

What if we just start to be kinder to ourselves and say “he is doing the best that he can”? None of us will ever know the depth of hurt or despair of the person who stole our car, who broke into our home, who killed that Farmer. Yes, it was a horrible thing to do, but will we ever know how hurt/damaged/traumatised/abused/addicted the person was who acted out their inability to be-in-the-world?

My friend’s Mother dedicated her entire life to charity. She was married to a Dominee, raised four beautiful children, and has a host of grandchildren. She worked to make the world a better place. Now, she is caught in regrets and fear, feeling that she was not a good person and did not do enough. How does one comfort and assure her? I still don’t know the answer. I would love to tell her that she inspires me. That her legacy is the gift of teaching me about living. That I see in her our inability to contemplate our own mortality, to see that there will come a day when we will have billions of moments to think about our Being-in-the-world and that I must now wait for the biopsy results or the frail care or the stroke before I start looking deep inside myself, ask myself what I am doing here, how do I connect, and how connected I am to the Universe, to every person, plant, animal and spirit around me. In gratitude and grace.

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