Mindfulness of death is a Buddhist practice that informs more meaningful living.
If anything can happen anytime and if your next breath was your last breath, you would pay attention to the quality of each remaining moment of your life — every sensation, thought, word and action.
If this was your last week or today was your last day, what would you do differently?
You may update your Facebook... or you might not.
Would you spend more time on social media, go shopping one last time, go to your favourite restaurant and eat all you can? Would you reflect on your life in retrospect, recognize what really matters and spend your remaining time there?
If you had one last chance to talk to the people you love, what would you say?
Dr. Ira Byock, a palliative care physician, wrote in his book, The Four Things That Matter Most, that there are four things that we need to say to our loved ones before we part: “Please forgive me,” “I forgive you,” “Thank you” and “I love you.”
We are all human and imperfect. We hurt the people we love, and they hurt us. We take one another for granted. We don’t always speak or act in loving ways.
If we knew our time together was limited, we might be kinder, more patient and loving. The truth is our lives are indeed limited, and few of us know how much time we have left. In fact, the only ones who know this have been diagnosed with a terminal condition.
My mother died suddenly in April 13 years ago.
I was fortunate that my profession had taught me how precious life was and that I was able to give back to my mom the love that she gave me. Yet I have often thought of how her kind and generous presence would have enriched my life and those of my children if she was still here.
When grieving, I recalled every word from those who offered comfort. One patient said that to die suddenly is a good way to go. Ten years later, that patient would die from end-stage congestive heart failure. Whether a person dies without warning or in palliative care, neither is easy for loved ones.
Last year, my dear aunt passed away in palliative care at St. Michael’s Hospice. She was surrounded by her loving family, and we all had the opportunity to express our love and gratitude for all that she had done for each of us.
Palliative care focuses on the comfort of the patient suffering from a life-limiting condition. The aim is the best possible quality of life even in the final stages of illness.
It takes a team to attend not only to the physical aspects of care, but just as importantly the psychological and spiritual. Patients and their families and friends are supported by a team that includes nurses, doctors and volunteers.
Though we cannot predict how our lives will unfold, we can live with the end in mind. We can invest in our most important relationships with the gift of each day and each moment together. We can stop wasting our time, doing things that don’t matter, holding grudges or putting ourselves before others. In the end, what can we hold on to?
We can say what needs to be said. We can use each moment more mindfully. We can express all the love we have in our hearts because it’s only worth something when we give it away. We can’t take it with us.
Davidicus Wong is a family physician and his Healthwise columns appear regularly in this paper. For more on achieving your positive potential in health, see his website at davidicuswong.wordpress.com.