The end of life is a topic that many find uncomfortable to discuss, but it’s also a time that can offer profound insights and lessons for those willing to reflect on it. As therapists, we work with people across the lifespan and this includes those facing the end of their life, be that because of age or because of illness or trauma. In this article, we explore some valuable lessons that we have learnt from those facing the end of life in the hope we can all draw from the experiences and wisdom of those who have experienced what we will inevitably will.
One of the most poignant lessons from the end of life is the importance of cherishing our relationships. At the end, people often realise that it’s the connections they’ve made and the love they’ve shared that truly matter. We should make an effort to nurture and appreciate our relationships while we have the opportunity. This is particularly difficult when we have fall-outs which are to be expected in our most important relationships. The idea of cherishing relationships does not mean to deny the hurt that may come from loved ones, but it means to keep central the importance of those relationships and work hard on them because they matter. When things are not good, work on them, when they are good breathe in all that goodness let it nourish you.
Live with Gratitude
Those facing the end of life often express deep gratitude for the simple joys of life. We can all learn from this and strive to practice gratitude every day. You can experience this for yourself now by simply asking yourself ‘what are the best moments in life?’, it is likely your mind will be filled with thoughts of simple joys, ie, sunrays on your face, spring mornings, the sound of your children laughing.
We so often strive for the big things, the promotion, the house, the car, the recognition of our achievements. But when it comes to it the greatest joys are found in the simplest of moments. By taking the time to recognise and appreciate the small moments and blessings in life can bring a sense of contentment. peace and happiness.
Let Go of Resentment
Holding onto grudges and resentment can be a heavy burden. People at the end of life frequently advise letting go of negative feelings and focusing on forgiveness and acceptance. It sounds so obvious and so easy, but in reality it is very hard to do. Try to remember the expression “resentment and bitterness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die“, it is so true and helps us to remember to let go of that resentment that is so harmful to us.
Importantly, forgiveness does not necessarily mean ‘making up’, many people decide for one reason or another they can not have another person in their life. But forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves more than to someone else. It free’s us from the resentment and bitterness that non-forgiveness inhibits. yes forgiveness is a process and can not be expected immedaitely when someone has wronged you significantly, but without it they continue to hurt you. By releasing the emotional weight there is opportunity to lead to a lighter and more peaceful existence.
Pursue Your Passions
Many individuals look back on their lives and wish they had pursued their passions more ardently. Don’t wait until the end to follow your dreams. What if the end comes sooner than you hoped? what if you run out of time? Embrace your interests and hobbies now. It is so hard to make the time in busy lives, but we seem to make the time for everything else. What if making time for you was just as important as making time for work, family, friends etc. In mid-life it can feel almost impossible, but there is a reason those facing the end of life make it known to us that this matters.
Be Present in the Moment
End-of-life experiences often highlight the importance of living in the present. We should strive to be mindful and fully engaged in each moment, rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. The present is where life happens.
Ultimately, life is fleeting, and whilst it feels vast at times whilst we are in it, death is ultimately a reminder that life is finite. This realisation can serve as a catalyst to make the most of every moment, to live authentically, and to cherish the gift of life.
While contemplating the end of life may be challenging, it offers invaluable lessons that can enrich our daily existence. By embracing these lessons, we can lead more fulfilling and meaningful lives, cultivating deeper relationships, and finding greater happiness and contentment. Our hope by sharing these lessons from the end if that at least one remains present in your mind and continue to live mindful of that lesson, so that when it is sadly your turn to face the end, you will look back and smile that you lived your best life.