Every Wednesday I head to my patient’s house for a few hours, though I spend very little time with her. She’s bedridden and has been uncommunicative for many years, living our her last days with Alzheimer’s Disease. Her husband sees to her every need while she receives hospice care. He’s home day in and day out, leaving only when someone sits vigil in his stead. That’s where I enter, to give him necessary time away. There’s a lot to learn about living when spending time with the dying and with those who are charged with their assistance. What I’ve learned has certainly enhanced my appreciation for life and good health.
Frankly I’ve always marveled at how my life has unfolded over the years, starting with a rocky childhood and evolving into a stimulating career for 30 years, which allowed me to travel, meet intriguing people and do impactful work. Three years ago I left my job and decided to stop working for a while, which might last for the rest of my life. Who knows? I do know that I’ve been using this newly created time for personal growth – spiritually, experientially and creatively.
The key is to pay attention along the way: notice the serendipity and how one experience, book or person begets another. Dr. Lee Lipsenthal says to “enjoy every sandwich” in his book with the same title. Make everything in life meaningful as though it was your last experience alive. It’s an intriguing concept, one that dying people take to heart with each final day that ticks away.
I recently adapted a challenge posed in my discussion group. The charge is to calculate the number of years I have left to live – using family history and lifestyle as consideration points. Multiply that by months and gather that many stones in a bowl. At the end of each month, remove a stone for the month that no longer remains and evaluate how I’ve spent that month. Powerful stuff. While I’m not prepared to commit to that exercise for the rest of my life, I am intrigued to try it for a year.
My bowl will be filled with 12 shells I’ve collected from my travels. Each month I’ll pull one out and glue it to a frame that will surround a collage of photos, each one representing something important from that month. In essence, it will be a scrapbook from a year of my life.
These pages will be filled with musings from those experiences. My areas of concentration will include the very things that fill my life …
Exercise – usually in the form of walking, biking and hiking – where I’ve been, with whom and the adventures along the way.
Hospice work – experiences with my current patient and spouse or the next one – and the accompanying, inevitable deaths.
Animals – my five cats and dog as well as the rescue horses that I help to rehabilitate from abuse and neglect. There’s always much to learn from animals when you listen and pay attention.
Relationships – with my husband, family and others with whom I’m involved, or met.
Adventures – however that’s defined. It could be trips in our RV or by car. Maybe it’s something else; time will tell.
The point is to live each month consciously while my life ticks away. I’m curious to see how it unfolds and whether I can actually stay tuned in.
Ready, set … go. September lived, coming up. You’re welcomed to play along!