I woke this morning with this question in my mind. Those of you whom read my ramblings in the lead up to surgery know that I was very much preparing for such an eventuality. Yes, my legal and financial affairs were documented, agreed to and witnessed by the appropriate people. My decisions regarding what use some of my body parts could be put to, was also decided and agreed to by the relevant family members, to whom I am eternally grateful. Consensus or at least respectful understanding in such matters makes the process all the easier.
But am I prepared for death? As I pondered this question in the morning’s chill air, I opened an affirmation app on my phone. Anyone who knows me knows I have used positive affirmations as part of my coping strategy throughout my life. Interestingly (to me anyway), today’s affirmation read, “I am thankful for all the days of my life that I have lived so far, and for all the days I have yet to live. Life is so good.” By Louise Hay.
As my surgery date bore closer and closer, I made a point of thanking those closest to me, for their friendship and all they have done for me. In these somewhat awkward conversations, and whilst believing I would have a good outcome from surgery, I still felt the need to say goodbye. Some calls were exceptionally difficult to end, as they felt all too final. In my attempts to acknowledge the genuine seriousness of what I was about to undergo, I had to also embrace the prospect of my death.
During this time, Jason and I became kinder and gentler with each other, as though the possibility of death somehow brought life into sharp focus and we wanted to ensure we were fully present with one another. We were more loving and appreciative of the other and took time to rest quietly in each other’s company; many hours were spent cuddling on the couch, some times in silence, others discussing all those difficult details.
Now, many weeks later, after all going well and recovery progressing, I find myself noticing how life’s little annoyances and frustrations intrude in the bubble of gentleness the prospect of surgery created around us. The occasional snappy response, the grumbles, the inattentiveness that we all experience, no matter how much we love and care about those closest to us.
How can we live our ordinary lives and still hold onto and cherish those we love, in every encounter, every moment together?
Thankfully, I think we are doing pretty well, as the seriousness of what we have just gone through together has affected us deeply, made us face what we could lose. Occasionally one or the other forgets and gets cranky but we are quick to apologise and move forward together.
Jason and I have a rule that gets deployed at times of enormous stress and that is simply to be kind to ourselves and each other. At these times, we focus upon being gentle with our words and supporting one another usually by focussing on how events are impacting the other rather than ourselves. We also lift the takeaway and junk food embargo to enable us to eat our feelings but for a limited time only. We don’t need to add obesity to the list of things to worry about!
As I ponder my preparedness for death, it makes me reflect upon my life and allows me to see the good, the lovely, the necessary and the wonderful. A moment spent watching a parrot feeding in the garden, of feeling the sunshine upon my face, of inhaling the heady aroma of good Australian tea, of watching my husband prepare a meal for me, of gathering wild flowers, of laughing with friends, of reading a good book, of waking in the warm cocoon of a doona, of holding hands with someone I love, of walking unaided, of biscuits baking, the list goes on and on.
It might be clichéd but it is genuine, thinking about one’s own death shifts you into a different headspace where gratitude lives large, fear is diminished, and life takes on a brighter hue.
“Death is a part of life, as natural as the sun rising and setting each day; as natural as a flower blooming one day, and then withering the next. Life is a terminal disease; we are all dying. It is our non-acceptance of that reality that causes the fear and suffering; acceptance brings peace, calmness. It also brings awareness of the need to live our lives in preparation for death. This type of thinking is not morbid and unhealthy – it’s positive and healthy because it means we’ll be ready for death when it happens. And it means we’ll be happier now, while we are alive, because we’ll be living a good life – living ethically, avoiding negative deeds, doing positive deeds as much as possible.”
Ven. Sangye Khadro. ‘Taking the mystery out of death and the after’.