Love and Light Always, johnny: notes on living well and dying a good death
I’ve been blogging about mindfulness since 2009 and have received some deeply touching comments and emails in response from people all over the world through years. I received this email in 2014 from a man named johnny:
HI ! I AM IN A HOSPICE PROGRAM AND WOULD LIKE A GOOD DEATH ! ANY WORDS TO HELP ME ?? THANK YOU !! LOVE AND LIGHT ALWAYS…johnny
I’m posting my reply here, because I think we could all use some reminders about how to live well and die well every now and then.
Thank you for writing to me.
One of my first meditation teachers used to say that in our everyday life, we die a million little deaths, and these little deaths help to prepare us for our bigger death. Know that all of the little deaths that you have handled with grace (as well as those that you have handled without grace)—the pains, heartaches, losses, and other forms of suffering—have prepared you for this moment, and trust yourself. We all want a good life and a good death. Life and the dying process both are filled with moments of meaning, connection, love, and joy as well as moments of pain and suffering.
Know that each present moment continues to offer you an opportunity to prepare for a good death by simply being present in each moment and attempting to meet whatever arises in each passing moment with acceptance and compassion.
A number of years ago in my daily meditation practice, I said the following intention: “I am cultivating the capacity to be present with whatever arises.” I said this several times throughout each day for days, months, years. Sometimes I still say it. I have experienced a good deal of challenges and loss in my life, and having the intention to be present with an attitude of acceptance and compassion toward whatever arises in my life has helped me to navigate the difficult moments with much greater ease and less suffering.
Try to take your last bit of time moment by moment as much as you can. This can serve to help get you through any fear, pain, or other difficult emotions. See if you can try to focus on “This is happening, now what?” and if thoughts arise related to wanting your situation to be other than it is in this moment, see if you can practice trying to have an attitude of acceptance. Fighting what is happening only increases suffering. When we can turn toward our experience with acceptance and compassion, we may still feel physical or emotional pain, but it can ease the suffering. As the saying goes, pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.
If there are words left unsaid, say them or write them to your loved ones, even if all you can get out it is “I love you,” or “I’m sorry.” If you hold resentment or regrets in regards to yourself or others, try to hold an intention for forgiveness toward yourself and toward those people. Know that you are a person who is worthy of love, mercy, and peace. Know that you have done the best that you could do, and like all of us, you are an imperfect being simply because you are human. This, more than ever, is a time for turning inward and trusting your own experience, letting go, and being present to each moment as it arises.
If you are processing regrets, may you also recall the ways in which you have made meaning of your life, the ways in which you have loved well, the ways in which you have touched others’ lives and will be remembered.
What matters most to you during your last days, hours, minutes? Whose company do you desire to keep? What do you wish to see? I like to imagine that I will die lying in bed looking out a window into nature, surrounded by a few quiet loved ones who are comfortable just being present with me and not filling the space with mindless chatter. I like to imagine that I will say, “No” to seeing the people who don’t add to my sense of peace. I like to imagine that I, along with the support of loved ones, will protect my sense of peace. This is your life and your death, and I encourage you to choose what matters most to you during this process.
I am sending you a link to my loving-kindness meditation in hopes that you may find some comfort in listening.
Your email is a gift and has touched me deeply. I will always remember you. I am holding you in my heart and sending wishes for peace.
I hope that my words have brought you some comfort. May you dwell in your heart. May you find comfort in the rhythm of your own breath. May you be free from suffering. May you be healed. May you be at peace.
Love and Light Always to you as well,
I don’t know johnny, how he found my blog, whether he read my reply, or how long he lived. But I’ll always remember him.
This post goes out to all of us who are trying to live intentionally and meet whatever arises in each moment with an open heart. It goes out to my students, clients and friends who are dying or who have recently passed on. Your courage continually inspires me. May we all open our hearts to more fully embrace the beauty and complexity of living and dying.
Love and Light Always,