The Gift of Death
Much of my work in counseling has to do with loss. Loss of love, loss of dreams, loss of people and animals. Death, in particular, is a loss that rattles us out of the sleepy habits of our day and awakens us to the ephemeral reality of being a singular human being, alive on this miracle of a planet, at this point in time.
Most of the time, awareness of our own death lives slightly behind our peripheral vision; we know it’s there, but we focus on other, more life-oriented subjects. A death often brings our own mortality into view, sometimes just to the side, and other times, front and center.
When our personal mortality is in view, we can see the period at the end of the long sentence that has been our life. The distance between NOW and THEN becomes finite, a limited window, a precious commodity. It begs the question, “What are you going to do with this last, circumscribed bit of time here?”
In therapy, my work with clients of all ages is to remind them that we need to regularly ask ourselves this question. We need to hold our mortality within our peripheral vision, and not forget that the miracle of being here does not go on and on. We need to ask ourselves, “What do I want to do with my time here?”
In order to answer this question, we need to be clear about another: “What matters to me?” The answers to this question are intensely personal; while they are surely influenced by our families, our culture, and our overall worldview, ultimately only you can determine what really matters to you. What are your values, your guiding principles?
If we know what matters to us, it helps guide every choice we make about how to spend our time. If I am clear that one of my values is fiscal security, I am more inclined to pause before making an impulsive purchase. If I remember that I value travel and seeing the world, I might not be so quick to choose work over an invitation to take a trip with a friend.
What matters to you can get lost in the demands of daily living. The values of “solitude” or “quiet” might not be met due to an overfull calendar. How do we stay on course and live with intention during our short time here?
Know your values and keep them in your awareness.
Here is a simple exercise to identify your current values (I say “current” because they do change over our lifespan): it’s a long list of values that you narrow down several times until you come up with your top five. Once they are clear, post them somewhere – on the top of your computer screen or on the fridge – to help imprint them on your consciousness.
Then begin to live your life with your mortality as a gift, helping to increase your intentionality about how to spend your time alive in the way that is most fulfilling to you.