As a hospice chaplain, I often have the privilege of being at the bedside of patients with just days, hours, or even minutes to live. It's a special time and spiritual time for patients and their family, friends, and caregivers.
I've found it's also a time for me to reflect on my life, what my final days and hours might hold for me, and the wake of unlived experiences I might leave behind me when my final minutes slip through my fingers.
Stones Left Untourned
The thought occurred to me recently, about what my mind's eyes will see from my deathbed. What will I be thankful for? What will I regret doing? Most importantly, what will I regret not doing? What stones in my life I never turned over?
It's easy to fall into the habit of looking back and regretting things we've done. For some reason, that seems to be the default approach to our looking at our past.
The more exciting and beneficial approach is to imagine looking at our life from our deathbed, and what we could have done. What dreams we carried to our death unfulfilled? What lives we unlived based on choices we made? Then tagging those things as something we should now pursue.
It's another angle from which to see and to create a "bucket list," of what you want to go before dying, and a complementary list of what you want to stop doing before it disrupts your life or even kills you.
Instead of listing what you want to do before "kicking the bucket," we would be looking backwards from the time our foot is ready to kick the bucket, and imagining what we would like to experience today.
A Deathbed Imagining Activity
Try this activity. Take a sheet of paper and imagine you are lying on your deathbed, still capable of looking back on your life. Write down whatever comes to mind about the life you lived based on how you live today and what you plan to do. Do this without making judgements.
You might even think of it as writing your own obituary today, a practice more people are doing, especially those in their later years. Write your own obituary, taking into consideration what you have done and would like to do.
I've attended and presided at many funeral services and memorial services. I've found those in attendance have two overall reactions, aside from grief they may be experiencing.
First, a sense of mortality sinks in, and thoughts about their plans and their expectations about eternity emerge.
Second, they feel they should renew and strengthen family ties, and explore ways to live life to the fullest. They also look at their current life, what they are doing and what they shouldn't be doing. In the words of a song from the musical, Bye Bye Birdie, they think "I've got a lot of liv'n to do!"
Living life to its fullest is a commendable goal. But just how can you begin doing it. Here six suggestions to help you.
1. Free yourself from the past and worrying about the future. Live each moment as if it were your last.
2. Be willing to have an open mind and think outside your box. Don't be afraid to take risks.
3. Ignore the naysayers who want you to abandon your dreams, especially your internal naysayer.
4. Make serving others a high priority. You will expand your heart and your horizons.
5. Know who you are and what you stand for. Be willing to stand on your values and beliefs.
6. Tell and show those you care about how much you care about them and love them.
Finally, make a key part of your living life to its fullest, dedicating your life to obeying and serving the one who gave you that life and its sacred purpose, our Lord and God.
In God's Words
“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” (Psalm 16:11).
“For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jeremiah 29:11).
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28).
In the Words of Others
“If you want to be happy, do not dwell in the past, do not worry about the future, focus on living fully in the present.” Roy Bennett
“The true joy in life is to be a force of Fortune instead of a feverish, selfish little child of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” George Bernard Shaw
“Each day brings new opportunities, allowing you to constantly live with love—be there for others—bring a little light into someone's day. Be grateful and live each day to the fullest.” Roy Bennett