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I was considering my next topic when I listened to a video on YouTube titled, “A 97-Year-Old Philosopher Faces His Own Death“. Here is the opportunity to spend a challenging 18 minutes listening to the thoughts of a human being confronting their death. There is likely not much runway left by this point and the sands in the hourglass are nearly emptied. Captured here is some highlights to his life story along with the pictures and images of what was a young man and adult. His wife of many years has since died and now he lives life on his own with some support from a caregiver. He is near the end of his life! We will all be there, so here is the opportunity to learn what it can be like, and mostly to provide inspiration and motivation to make use of your life while you have energy, health, mobility, and likely more life ahead. But it begins with the willingness to talk about death first. This video along with the many comments provides such an opportunity!
Even with my own comfort with death, I found myself very agitated as I watched this video. It was not a fear of death that made me feel this, but what was captured so well in one of the 23,000 comments made to this video. I will come back to this in a moment. Let me first respond to what I just said, over 23,000 comments made to this video. The video has had over 2.5 million views! What a gift this gentleman and his son gave the world with this video. There is a real thirst for this type of conversation. THIS IS HAVING A CONVERSATION ABOUT DEATH AND DYING!!! There is the intellectual understanding of death, but then there is the emotional understanding when the topic hits home like it did in this video. This is the time to have these conversations before we run away from these feelings or become distracted.
Back to my agitation and conversation on death. Listed in one of the posts was the following: The Dalai Lama was once asked if he feared death. “No, he replied, I don’t fear death, I’m afraid of dying!”. Yes, this is what made me so agitated! It is the process of aging and dying that brings with it so many challenges. Herbert, the 97 year old gentleman in the video shared these while we had the chance to see a day in his life. It is the loss of independence that we hate. I will never forget the experience of changing my father’s diaper. How difficult this has to be to have someone carry out what used to be simple duties, and much less having to ask someone to carry out these duties. It is the effort it takes in even the simplest of tasks. It is the fact that death is now lurking right around the corner, and we cannot run from it. We can’t even run anymore or barely even walk. I am not looking forward to this.
Some say why talk about this morbid type of stuff, but I have found that by talking about it helps us understand death’s reality and impresses upon me right now, today, to make the most of this day. My walks today were less focused on my daily distractions of work and more focused on enjoying the beauty around me. My focus was on all of the things that I was grateful for, including the simple things like being able to walk without a walker, breathe without an oxygen tank, see clearly the birds, trees, and colors around me, and so on.
While volunteering as an EMT on ambulance for many years, a frequent stop was picking up patients at the nursing home. The sad and deplorable conditions for most facing the end of their life reflected the sad view of our elders in this disposable oriented society, which is a whole topic in itself. The nursing home was nicknamed, God’s Waiting Room. We are so death adverse in our culture that we have even outsourced the dying of our loved ones. Here is the perfect opportunity to engage in conversation with those who are in their final chapter. What a great time to ask them about their life, what they valued the most, the regrets that they have, along with their thoughts on death and dying. What a gift to give those who have these thoughts on their mind.
Back to the video. What really caught my attention was reading through the comments. They bought tears to my eyes but also enjoyment since I realized I was clearly not alone in viewing this video and finding real value. The conversation on this topic was beautiful and amazing. I felt comforted by what others had to say and primarily that I was not alone.
A must view is the comment from Bill Farley for this video. There were over 1,100 responses to the comment alone and 86 people sharing their own comments, all expressing appreciation for his perspective and sharing. And here it is…
I’m now 87 years old. My wife passed several years ago and my children and grandchildren are all grown up, very busy and getting on with life. I’m still fairly mobile and have a circle of old guys as friends. We do community projects by building things like outdoor benches for the local park, wheelchair ramps, bird houses, vegetable garden boxes, fix kids bikes, serve lunch at the local public school, etc. It feels great to give back to the community and regain a sense of worth. I really enjoy the camaraderie with my friends. The Dalai Lama was once asked if he feared death. “No, he replied, I don’t fear death, I’m afraid of dying!” And I have to agree with him. One of my friends died in his sleep a few months age. The response from the fellows? “Lucky bastard!” A slow lingering death has to be at the top of the worst things list. I enjoyed Herbert’s sudden observation of trees, the wind and birds, etc. This is happening to me as I slowly turn inwards and begin to pay attention to small happenings around me. I’m like a 5 year old, laying on my back in the grass and watching clouds go by, finding faces in the white fluffy stuff; hearing and watching birds and small animals scurrying through the underbrush. And of course the guilt and remorse of suddenly realizing that what I’m doing now, what I’m paying attention to now, is something I should have been doing all my life. I don’t know if I’m afraid of death or not. I’ve thought about it lately and don’t have an answer. I really don’t want to pass on because I love and enjoy my children and grandchildren so very much. I have regrets about what could have been and realize I won’t be around when all the new science and discoveries become a reality. But then I realize what the Buddhists say about ego. Dropping the ego and staying in the moment is the secret of life. Do no harm to ALL living creatures and be kind to others. As you can see, the video of Herbert Fingarette has had an impact on me, so had to put my feelings in print. May all of you stay safe and may all of you have happiness.Bill Farley, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qX6NztnPU-4
What amazing words to help in our contemplation of death and dying. The sooner we can embrace these types of conversations, the sooner we can embrace life while we have it as represented by his statement, “I’m like a 5 year old, laying on my back in the grass and watching clouds go by, finding faces in the white fluffy stuff; hearing and watching birds and small animals scurrying through the underbrush. And of course the guilt and remorse of suddenly realizing that what I’m doing now, what I’m paying attention to now, is something I should have been doing all my life.” This represents one of the key takeaways from talking about death and dying, that we enjoy life more and now, while it counts. I try to make this a daily practice during my morning walk with my dogs. This also impresses upon us the benefit from living more in the now. My posts and podcasts on Consciousness focus in part on this.
I find more meaningful ways of bring up deeper topics in my conversations. One example was in a session today. I had a session with a client related to career coaching. He was considering his next steps in his career and asked me for some advice. He was in his 50’s and I asked him, “what are your life goals?” There was silence and he inquired what I meant by this, which is the reaction I get 90% of the time when I ask this. The saying is so true, that we spend more time planning for a weekend than we do for the rest of our life. We talked about this for another few moments and he stated that he had never thought about this, but that it made sense since what we do, including our job, should be a subset of our life plan, not a separate plan. The conversation then changed and covered topics like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and in particular Self-Actualization, along with the many options that exist to cross the career finish line. Because if we do not know where we are going, than any road will get us there!! Think about that one!
One of my key learnings from my many lessons on life, is that it is really not about a destination, but instead the journey. I recall seeing a similar saying on a poster earlier in my life, and wondered what this meant. The more we can focus on the joy we have today, since this is the only thing we have right now, the more enjoyable our journey will be. The more we keep focusing on the next step, the less we can enjoy this moment. The earlier in life we can have these conversations, the more we can live life to its fullest earlier than later. And as a warning based on the video and my experience in hospice. Realizing that we missed out on what is really important in life, when it is too late to make a change, leads to regrets with no opportunity or time left to make changes.
Conversations like this are hard, challenging, scary, and more, until we come to a place where we can accept this reality. We will all be in a similar place to Herbert unless we die at a younger age. In either case, the lessons here are deep and profound. They help us to be at a better place with death so that we can support our loved ones and friends as they approach this time, and ultimately ourselves. For example, this video helped me to understand that although I accept death as a transition, it is the process of dying that I want to further understand and prepare for as best I can. For now I am independent, healthy, autonomous, and driven, which I will begin to lose as I further age. The reply from Bill to this video reminded me of the importance of having a small group of close friends to pal around with, commiserate with, and share our remaining time with.
In closure, I ran into a neighbor who has his parents living with him. They are both in their upper 90’s. I asked him if he ever talked to them about death. He said no and inquired why he should. I asked if he ever wondered about death, and he said of course I do, but I do not think about it. He asked me why I asked these questions, and I responded, so that you can better be there for your parents who are undoubtedly thinking about death and may want to talk about it, and so that you can put yourself in their shoes and remind yourself of how important your time with them is along with what is really important. Ask them what they feel is most important. He was quiet and then said, as much as I dread having this conversation I think it is really important.
Michael is an award winning author, speaker, facilitator and coach on the topics of Personal Growth, Self-Discovery and Enlightenment. Visit my website for more information (growhumanpotential.com).