Perspective Is Your Choice

Woman Standing by a Deathbed null by Sir David Wilkie 1785-1841

Bronnie Ware, a palliative care nurse, who worked exclusively with the terminally ill wrote a book titled “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing Regrets of the Dying”. For many years she was with patients during the last three to twelve weeks of their life and from her experiences came a list of the regrets people make most frequently on their deathbed:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

In the article Ms. Ware was especially emphatic about most not realizing that happiness is a choice until it was almost too late. Fear of change was the number one reason patients cited for pretending to themselves and others they were happy. At the same time most secretly longed to laugh more and better and to simply have more silliness in their life.

With gratitude for the chance encounter with Ms. Ware’s article (thank you to my friend Katie for bringing it to my attention), I commit to laugh easier and be silly more often. With that in mind, the rest of the week is going to be a lot more fun that the first half (and it was pretty darn good!).

The same view you look at every day,
the same life, can become something brand new
by focusing on its gifts rather than the negative aspects.
Perspective is your own choice and the best way to shift
that perspective is through gratitude, by acknowledging
and appreciating the positives.
Bronnie Ware

Mac and The Banger (repost)

It’s been a year  later since I posted this originally. I’m thinking about the friends who inspired it (one of them passed about this time a few years ago).


While not a first-hand personal experience, I have had friends who knew they were in the last few months of their life and had them share some of the wisdom facing death brought them. To a person the near end of days brought a kinder and a gentler nature.

My friends who were faced with a soon to come reality of dying seemed to love more deeply and express how they felt more openly. Things mattered little and people were about all they cared about. Their primary regrets I recall them sharing were not doing things they had wanted to do, working/chasing money too much and not spending more time with people they loved.

No one close to me wrote down their thoughts as death drew near, but what is just below I believe expresses what they left behind in their own way.

Give yourself permission to take a moment to really look at yourself & where you are.

Create some room for those voices in your head to speak their mind, & then try to hear them.

Be fearless with change – it might be the best thing you ever did.

Let go those things that aren’t a reflection of who you want to be & who you really are.

Be what you were meant to be in all its crazy shapes and guises – why wait?

Love who you have been, who you are now & who you are going to be – it’s all you.

Move in a direction that enhances, empowers and deepens your life.

It turns out that no one can imagine what’s really coming in our lives. We can plan, and do what we enjoy, but we can’t expect our plans to work out. Some of them might, while most probably won’t. Inventions and ideas will appear, and events will occur, that we could never foresee. That’s neither bad nor good, but it is real.

From a last post by Derek K Miller of Vancouver, Canada on May 4, 2011, shortly before his death from cancer.

Two friends now gone taught me a great deal about living by how they acted facing death. Tears well up as I think about Mac and Bill (better know as “The Banger”) and how much I love them still, even in their absence, and how grateful I am my life was blessed with their presence.

Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying.
Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of every day.
Do it! I say. Whatever you want to do, do it now!
There are only so many tomorrows.”
Pope Paul VI


The Remains of a Life Lived Well

Estate salePurely on a whim during my drive to work Friday I stopped at a house where an estate sale was going on. It was the 25% off on the direction signs that caught my eye. I did find a few treasures: two books, an unused light dimmer, an old sepia-tone photograph and a comforter with a musical notes motif I plan to give a musician friend for Christmas.

One-quarter off meant the estate sale was winding down by my visit and what remained was largely the “left overs”. With much gone from the home, it was easy to notice the house had not been updated for decades. Seeing a 40th high school class reunion program from 1983 told me at least one of the previous occupants of the house would likely be near 90 years old if they were still living.

Maybe it was the was the wallpaper that was starting to come unglued at the seams and tired look of the home interior. Maybe it was the long out-of-style women’s clothing in a very small size marked cheaply for sale. Or, possibly it was the fact that someone’s evidence of life was being sold and spread to the wind. But whatever it was, I was emotionally affected.

…Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference in your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word it always was. Let it be spoken without effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner. All is well. Rosamunde Pilcher

Walking through the estate sale house, most of all I felt was reverence for a life lived. What was still for sale in the kitchen told me who ever had lived there liked to entertain. A Dutch book in English about the art featured in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam indicates the previous occupants liked to travel. A box of a large quantity of oil paint-stained art brushes of all sizes indicated someone not only like to view art, but also make it them self. This helped create an image to me of a real person who lived a real life.

Many African societies divide humans into three categories: those still alive on the earth, the sasha, and the zamani. The recently departed whose time on earth overlapped with people still here are the sasha, the living-dead. They are not wholly dead, for they still live in the memories of the living, who can call them to mind, create their likeness in art, and bring them to life in anecdote. When the last person to know an ancestor dies, that ancestor leaves the sasha for the zamani, the dead. As generalized ancestors, the zamani are not forgotten but revered. Many … can be recalled by name. But they are not the living-dead. There is a difference.” James w. Loewen.

I left the estate sale yesterday feeling sad for someone’s death, but came around today to believing I visited the remains of  life lived well. One of the treasures I purchased for seventy-five cents was an old sepia-toned photograph from a box of random black and white’s of various sizes. The image is at the top of this blog; an attractive woman in her early twenties in clothing that suggests her time was early in the twentieth century.

The woman in the photograph looks out through time and makes eye contact with me as I write. I am grateful to her for helping me humanize my estate sale experience yesterday and allowing me to bear witness she once lived.

We all leave traces of ourselves behind. I hope someday strangers will find the bits and pieces I have strewn about to be meaningful like the leave behinds I discovered yesterday.

Life is pleasant.
Death is peaceful.
It’s the transition that’s troublesome.
Isaac Asimov

Thinking There Is One More Stair

A dear friend, Jan, died in a car accident over five years ago. I still have not had the heart to move the photos I have of her and her husband into an archive. Without the ability to explain it, even moving them from the directory where they reside is a discomfort even now I am not ready for.

There are two voice-mail messages on my phone from a friend of over 35 years. Bill passed away about two years ago. I know I need to save the audio onto a disc, but disturbing them from where he left the messages is not something I am ready to do.

One of the best friends of my life, Mac, died in 1993 and it was ten years before I got around to collecting together my mementos and photos of his life. I was not ready previously to store them away.

In all three cases, it wasn’t an unwillingness to let go of a person I loved and accept their death. Rather, leaving things where each placed something or as they created them was a private tribute to people who have special places in my heart. Past that I can’t explain it.

At the end of August I blogged about a poem I found purely by coincidence which was particularly meaningful written by an ordinary person I knew nothing about named Sherry Potter. The connection to her brought about thought the efforts of my friend Doug helped create a permanent place in my heart and mind for her. At the time it gave me solace that she was a surviving fighter of cancer. The story is contained within these two blogs:

About two weeks ago I received an email about Sherry from a family member  who found my email address on her computer. Sherry Potter passed away on November 6, 2012 within about two months of the contact she and I had. While I barely knew her, we did connect and I feel a sense of loss. I put off writing about her death and only this morning did I look again for the email from a family member. Sadly I apparently deleted it accidentally. As Best I recall from the email her poem was written about a man she was married to at one time, but never got over. Most all of us have those we loved, who for one reason or another, moved on in life without us. With that having happened to me more than once, I especially related to Ms. Potter’s poem “Ghosts”

I dance in the moonlight and your ghost in my arms dreaming of what might have been.

I hope that life has been kind to you and that I am not forgotten.

I send warm breezes to kiss your lips that I cannot reach and I envy them.

Time and space has taken their toll, but the memory of you and our lost love lives in the secret places of my heart.

We cannot know what the fates have in store for us as the future has yet to be written.
I wonder, will the paths we choose bring us back to each other or further apart on divergent paths, never to meet again in this life.

I only know that my memories of you warm me like a soft blanket against winters cold grip, comforting me when I feel I can no longer stand strong against the hardness of life.

We will not waste our precious time on ‘what ifs’ but yet in fleeting moments they invade my thoughts without invitation and that is when I dance in the moonlight with your ghost in my arms.

Mixed in with my sadness, is gratitude to have bumped into her, ever so briefly, in this life. May you forever dance happily in the moonlight Sherry Potter: November 4, 1941 – November 6, 2012.

It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one.
We all know that our time in this world is limited,
and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet,
never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens
to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom
in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is.
Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment
of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.
Lemony Snicket