“Don’t be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life. You don’t have to live forever; you just have to live.” ~Natalie Babbitt
And don’t wait to say what you need to say. And don’t wait to live the life you want to live.
Yesterday we lost a dear friend to cancer. Ken was sixty-eight. Five months ago he and I hung out on the beach drinking out of coconuts with a straw. We were at a personal growth retreat that my husband and I conduct every winter in Mexico.
He was the happiest I had ever seen him and he knew he only had months to live.
Ken spoke of how he always assumed he would live to be a ripe old age. His father did. His father lived into his nineties. But a year ago Ken found out that he had a brain tumor and less than a year to live.
Ken was the one who pointed the way for my husband and I to find our life purpose and our own happiness. He recognized a perfect fit for us with an old wise couple—who then became our mentors, who would teach us how to be happy by helping others learn to love themselves.
Poignantly enough, I also lost my father two weeks ago. His death was a blessing. He was suffering from severe dementia. Ours was a complicated relationship; we had a sweet and sour life together. He was my first best friend until I was eleven and then my worst.
Who I have become is partially due to my relationship with him. Through his early example and encouragement I became courageous and kind to all beings and because of his abuse, I became deeper and chose to live a more conscious life.
Because of him I learned to speak up against abuse, regardless of the sacrifice (years of disconnect with my family) and learned how to heal myself. And likely because of him, I ended up devoting my life to helping others to heal themselves and find wholeness.
I regret and sadden myself that my dad never stepped up to do any personal work in his own life. But this was his life to do the way he wanted, consciously or unconsciously. And I relieve myself in that I had nothing more I needed to say to him, and I feel complete.
Ken’s relationship with his kids was also not easy. But the difference between Ken and my dad was that Ken continued to work on himself, to grow, to consciously try to heal his relationships with his adult children.
On the beach that day last winter Ken was finally happy because for a week he stopped striving to make something happen.
He finally took residence in his body, really soaked up the lovely environment we were in, and began to feel his life rather than analyze it. And he began to really love himself and let in the love from the group he was with that week on the beach.
He shared with my husband, afterward, that during that week he had done the work he needed to do before dying and so he could say he was ready to return home to die. He was fully awake and enjoying each present moment. He died consciously and with no regrets.
Life is full of surprises and many of us are unlikely to live as long as we thought we would. What if we were to become really conscious of our impermanence now, without needing an impending death sentence to wake ourselves up?
What if we begin to say what we need to say to those we care about (they may not live as long as we think they will either)? What if we express the unexpressed appreciation or heal the wounds we’ve carried around with us—wounds given and wounds received?
Right now is the best time, regardless of our age, to do the personal work we need to do, work that will ultimately bring us to a place of self-acceptance and self-love. Fortunately, Ken found grace six months before he died. But let’s not wait that long!
What if we started right now? What if we didn’t wait to start living the lives we really want to live. What if we didn’t wait to be happy?
If we do that, we can feel satiated and feel ready to die when we arrive at our ending.
How lovely would that be?
Photo by Nattu