What the Dying Can Teach Us about Living
By Becki Hawkins
The bulk of my career as a Registered Nurse was in Hospice and Oncology. I started out as a nurse’s aide in a nursing home in 1971. It was the hardest work I’ve ever done and the least amount of money I ever received as an employee, but I fell in love with it. This was where I was first introduced to dying patients. It took me seven years to get to go to nursing school. I graduated in 1980 and went right to work in a brand new Oncology unit in a big city hospital.
Again, I fell in love with my work and my patients. From there I went on to do Outpatient Oncology, Hospice, Hospice and Home Health, and got more education and became a Hospice Chaplain.
When I was working those early years in Oncology, I was struggling with how to process all my emotions. My husband suggested I start writing. I did. You see, there is just so much the dying can teach us about life and death.
Over the past thirty years I’ve written a newspaper column titled, Beyond Statistics. They (the patients and their families) were educating me on a regular basis that it wasn’t all about the numbers: age, weight, room number, lab values, etc. But, it is about the individual, precious soul dwelling inside that body. They were teaching me to not just assess the heart, lungs, skin, etc., but to listen, to observe.
These are some of the highlights of what they gave me.
- Live this day. Each moment matters. Even if you live to be 110 years old, it’s here and gone before you know it. Be present to those moments. Let the past dwell in the past. Sure, make amends as needed, but then get back to the ‘now’. Don’t run ahead to your tomorrows. Today is real time, stay with it.
- Forgive yourself and forgive others. One of my patients told me he was sad that he had remained so angry at an old friend for over 40 years and at this point couldn’t exactly recall why. “Becki, I am dying. I do not wish to carry this anger anymore. I’m sorry I chose to waste all these years staying mad at him. I miss him. I’m going to put it down. And I’m going to forgive myself for being so stubborn. Staying mad has not served me well. I’m letting this go. God be with him and God be with me.”
- We are not here by accident. We are here on purpose, with purpose. We are beautiful beloved beings who have come here to ‘grow our souls’, as one patient told me. “We are here in Earth School. We are here to love and to learn how to respond to and care for one another. We are one human family dear nurse. We are not here just to take up space! We need to be about connecting to the business at hand. Is someone hungry? Is someone in pain? Does the earth call upon us as well? And her creatures? If we say we love God and yet ignore all the calls for love, how does that add up?”
- Remember: The only thing we take with us when we leave this life is the Love wove into the DNA of our souls in the way our memory energy banks hold how we treat one another. Hold lightly (not tightly) in your hand what you own. It is all temporary.
- It is not about how big our house is, how fancy our car is, how many diamonds we own, how much land we possess, how many degrees we have, or how great we look. BUT, it is about how we share what we have, and how we lean toward humility and not pride, and how we acknowledge our youth and beauty fade. It is our heart, our soul’s beauty that helps us understand it is not all about how much we accumulate, but how we give. One dear saint shared with me, “Sister, look around here in my house. Lord, I’ve been collecting this and that for years. Sure I enjoyed it, but there are no luggage racks on those caskets! I know my hours are numbered and I’m boxing these treasures up for my daughter to have an auction and give the proceeds to the Food Ministry in our town!”
- On more than one occasion a patient would tell me of a regret or two. The number one regret I heard was, “I wish I had done more for others.” One dear gentleman farmer told me, “Becki, I’m out of time and I can’t hurry fast enough to share the small amount of wealth I own. But even harder for me is that I can’t recreate my being with those who needed me just to listen to them. I was always in a rush to get a chore done. There were family members and neighbors who I should have sit down with and just heard what they needed to say, shared their burden a little, honored their need to speak it. And I’m not saying I would want to do any of this for a reward in the Beyond, but because it makes my heart sing.”
- Another admirable woman was rocking in her bedside chair on one of my visits and wanted to tell me how grateful she was for her time here on Earth. “Becki, slow down my dear. Make time for yourself as well as others. And remember if you are ever in doubt about what to do with your life or your time, just ask God, ‘Lord, show me where I may serve. Allow my soul to see and to hear and to respond as you guide me. Make time my dear to be still and learn what it is to truly listen. Let your compassionate heart know when and how to bless others and when and how to bless yourself.”
There are many more and I’m still learning as I volunteer. My hope is you know how much you are beloved…you are a beautiful soul here for a brief time, own it.
And because of that, they have taught me not to be afraid to be me and not to be afraid when it is time to transition.