It touches all of us. It's the unthinkable. The one thing we most don't want to discuss. It is the topic that we avoid dealing with until we cannot avoid it any longer. We will all experience it. It will leave a mark on each of us that no one can escape.
Death and dying are taboo topics. yet, we need to embrace them because without understanding death, we cannot understand life. Without death, there is no legacy.
Ok, so why so morbid? At the moment, I am faced with the reality of 3 aging parents. All are frail, and all are in declining health. In the past two weeks, my mom has taken a turn for the worst and it puts me face-to-face with death and dying. It is an odd place for me to be, because as a coach, my practice revolves around refreshing best life, best you, best way to live. When we ask ourselves how we can insure that we live a meaningful life, much of what we are ultimately stating is that we need to lead a life of purpose in order to be remembered and celebrated far beyond our existence on earth. What heritage and legacy we leave behind us becomes the ultimate definition of our character, our worth and our overall existence.
When I was in college at The University of Maryland, one of the most popular electives at the time was none other than a course entitled "Death and Dying." There was always a wait list for this class. I was on the waitlist senior year and had the honor of getting in and experiencing the class for myself. It explored the stages of grief, compassion, empathy, legacy and traditions. Its popularity amongst young adults was significant because when we are young, we think that we have so much time--we have forever. Time to do everything. Tomorrow.
It is hard to contemplate that there will come a time when tomorrow will end. Our lives and the story and the journey they tell will hopefully be a measure not only of a life well lived, but of the richness, the memories, the traditions that we pass on to future generations. In order for each of us to best understand life, to create our own legends, we need to understand death, to not fear it, but to understand that today is not a dress rehearsal for tomorrow's show. We need to contemplate that nothing lasts forever. When we truly process that, we can begin to see the gift in each day.
This summer, I took a cruise to Alaska with my husband. A sizable percentage of the patrons on this cruise were mid 70's and beyond. The interesting thing about this was that nothing was stopping this population from enjoying themselves. Many had walkers, oxygen tanks, or canes--they were challenged just to show up for dinner--but show up they did. They dressed up, danced, laughed, took excursions and lived in the moment despite obvious obstacles in their lives. What they taught the "youngsters like us" was a lesson about life and the quality of our existence. Where do we each challenge ourselves every day? Where and how do we show up day-to-day within the boundaries of this gift we call life? Are we impacting the world with our careers, by helping others, though our children, or something more internal within us?
Most of us have heard of the idea of writing a letter to our younger selves so that we can bestow our sage wisdom on a junior and less knowledgeable version of us. The challenge I am proposing is the same with a twist to not only think about what you want to do with your life today, but to visualize exactly how you want to be remembered for doing so tomorrow. If we count backwards in time from an older version of ourselves to today, we need to ask ourselves, what do we need to start shifting RIGHT NOW in order to optimize our true legacy for tomorrow? What we stand for, the message that marks our lives, is unique for each of us. What is your message? What we want our legacy to be; and the impact we leave on this world is reflected not only in future generations, but also in real time...starting with today. If not now, when?
"The gift of deciding to face our mortality without turning away or flinching is the gift of recognizing that because you will die, you MUST LIVE NOW. Whether you flounder or flourish is always in your hands. You are the single biggest influence in your life. Your journey begins with a choice to get up, step out, and live fully."