Dear Neil: I am 59 years old, and am told by my oncologist that because of my inoperable liver cancer I have at best only a few more weeks to live.
I am trying to sort through the clutter of my life so I can die with a sense of inner peace and contentment. Do you have any suggestions how I might make sense of my life, and how to be at peace with it?
Dying in Colorado Springs
Dear Dying: It is periodically useful to review how far you have come in life—how you are wiser, richer, more grown, deeper—even if you are not on your death bed.
Try this exercise: Who were you 20 years ago? 30 years ago? 40 years ago?
If the “you” of then could talk with the you of today, what would s/he say, feel and think about how far you’ve come in life, what you’ve accomplished and what you’ve experienced?
What battles have you had to fight since then? What obstacles have you had to overcome? What places (emotional as well as literal) have you been to? What do you know today—about life, about people, about yourself—that you didn’t know then? What lessons has life taught you? What triumphs have you had? What setbacks and disappointments? Which of life’s orgasms have you tasted?
Which people have you had a profound influence on? Which people have had the most profound impact on you? If you had to live your life all over again, what would you do differently? Who have you loved, and how deeply did you love? What mistakes have you made? Are there any amends you still need to make to anyone? How about to yourself?
What did you get so angry about? How have you had fun in your life? Where have you been creative? Unique? Gifted? Special? Intelligent? Heartful? Is there anyone you still have to forgive? Any one you wish forgiveness from? Anything you still need to forgive yourself for?
What moments, experiences and relationships have given meaning to your life? What accomplishments or achievements have given meaning to you? What have you learned from your mistakes and failures? What parts of yourself do you like? What sorts of experiences have you had that you would call spiritual? What is the best example in your life of a time that you felt fulfilled, happy and at peace with yourself? Where in your life have you felt abundant? What are you most grateful, thankful or appreciative of in your life?
Answer these questions and address these issues with yourself—preferably on paper or into a tape recorder so you can review your answers. When you look at how rich, how varied, how full, how deep your life has been, when you look at how much you’ve experienced, grown and how much the experience of life has touched you—you can allow yourself to relax, let go and be at peace with the richness and depth that is you. Fare thee well.
“If there is a sin against life, it lies perhaps less in despairing of it than hoping for another and evading the impeccable grandeur of the one we have.” Albert Camus