05/15/17

Why Your Fear Of Dying Alone Means You’re Not Really Living

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By Kendra Syrdal

Everywhere around me even in modern day 2017, it seems like as a single person I’m confronted with the same message

“Here’s how to find the real love of your life!” Some old guy in a tuxedo exclaims at me from an eHarmony commercial.

“You’re totally like Carrie Bradshaw,” my friends say over drinks when I talk about my job and how I’ve gone out on dates with a few different guys this month. “Now you just need your Big.”

We just don’t want to be alone the countless submissions I read every day proclaim in their honest, heartsick words and in their desperate and painfully lonely headlines.

I’m afraid of a lot of things. I hate driving and am always convinced a semi-truck will run me off of the interstate and send me plummeting to my death. I love paddle boarding but have a weird anxiety about going too far out where the water is a certain level of deep because realistically – who knows what’s down there. The idea of my dog dying when I’m not home makes my eyes start watering just typing it out.

I’m afraid of a lot of things, but dying alone isn’t one of them.

One of my best friends told me a story about how her dad always used to tell her that no matter what, she had to like herself because she was the only person who ever really would ALWAYS be there. And that’s the truth. Some people would say that’s cynical and glass-half-empty, but I say it’s simply honest.

Think about it. Even if you do fall in love, madly in love, the kind of love that people write sonnets about and songs about and paint all over a building as a mural – eventually you’re going to die. And even if that person has been there day in and day out, holding your hand and kissing you despite your morning breath, the only person who you’ll have in those final moments is yourself. All you really have, is you.

So you’d better like you.

I think what we’re really not saying when we say we’re afraid of dying alone is that we’re really not afraid of the alone part, we’re afraid of only having ourselves to hold onto. We’re afraid that somehow, we won’t measure up. We won’t be enough. That somehow, we’re an incomplete puzzle without some else’s edge pieces.

When we say we’re afraid of dying alone we’re really saying we’re afraid that we’ll never be happy with just ourselves, and that we need someone else to dictate that level of completeness to our lives.

But you know what? The little secret that no one wants you to figure out – that the man in the suit hopes you never realize, and anyone writing a “Here Is How You Find The Love Of Your Life And Never Eat Alone Again” book hopes you don’t come to terms with?

A fear of dying alone is really just a fear of not living a life you love. A life you’re excited about. A life that makes you feel enough.

And they never want you to know that crushing that fear is simple. All you have to do is refuse to let it in.

So when you’re worried about eating alone, grab a book that swallows you with its characters and its story and go treat yourself to some Alfredo and wine and give it no second thoughts. If you’re scared of your life being empty, make friends with people who never cease to make you smile and challenge you in the ways you need. Fill your days with a job you love, with travels that blow your mind, and create a life that bears no need for another person other than yourself.

That way, if someone comes alone, they’re just and enhancement, not a requirement.

Your fear of dying alone isn’t sign of being an incomplete or unlovable person — it’s simply a sign that you just need to love yourself enough to stop being so afraid.

Complete Article HERE!

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04/7/17

After Great Pain, Where Is God?

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An etching from “The Book of Urizen,” by William Blake.

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These days I find I’m more alert to the grief and sorrow around me than I once was. In part it’s a product of my age, of youth giving way. I’m guessing my situation is not that different from many of yours.

Last month I checked in on a childhood friend whose 13-year-old son committed suicide last year after struggling with a brain injury. He told me, “I’ve stopped crying every day, which is a major transition.” He added, “I spent more than a year trying to get him well and keep him alive, and only in recent days have I finally, mostly, lost that mode of thinking. I don’t have to do anything now because I can’t.” Yet in his dreams, my friend said, his son is still alive and he’s checking on him to make sure he’s O.K.

Another lifelong friend recently died of colon cancer. His wife wrote to me: “I wish I could tell you that we are walking this journey with courage and faith, but that really doesn’t describe our situation at all. The outward courage feels like a ruse to convince ourselves that this immense pain will subside in time, and the weakness of our faith is showing us its shallow limits.”

Sometimes the struggles are not about death but things like addiction. Two weeks ago I spoke to a friend whose wife had told him she no longer wanted to be married to him because of his relapse into alcoholism, which he described as a “deep, dark struggle” that robbed him of his true personality. (He’s now in recovery, trying to rebuild his life.)

Stories like these are hardly the whole of life, and most of the people I know are in a pretty good place. Yet every life has a story, and every story is marked by pain, loss and sorrow. Sometimes we suffer; other times we have to watch people we love suffer. Each situation is difficult in its own way.

I’m no theologian. My professional life has been focused on politics and the ideas that inform politics. Yet I’m also a Christian trying to wrestle honestly with the complexities and losses in life, within the context of my faith. And while it’s fine for Christians to say God will comfort people in their pain, if a child dies, if the cancer doesn’t go into remission, if the marriage breaks apart, how much good is that exactly?

During 1940 C. S. Lewis wrote “The Problem of Pain.” Lewis’s answer to why an all-good and all-powerful God would allow his creatures to suffer pain was a bit too neat and tidy. Among other things, he wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Now flash forward two decades to the publication of “A Grief Observed,” which Lewis wrote after his wife’s death. God’s megaphone didn’t just rouse Lewis, it nearly shattered him. In writing about his bereavement, Lewis described what it was like to go to God “when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.” He added: “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’ ”

Years ago I had lunch with a pastor and asked him about his impressions of “A Grief Observed.” His attitude bordered on disdain. He felt that Lewis allowed doubt to creep in when his faith should have sustained him.

My response was the opposite. Perhaps because my own faith journey has at times been characterized by questions and uncertainty, I found the fact that the 20th-century’s greatest Christian apologist would give voice to his doubts reassuring. And Lewis was hardly alone in expressing doubts. Jesus himself, crucified and near death, gave voice to the question many people overwhelmed by pain ask: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus’ question, like ours, was not answered in the moment. Even he was forced to confront doubt. But his agonized uncertainty was not evidence of faithlessness; it was a sign of his humanity. Like Job, we have to admit to the limitations of human knowledge when it comes to making sense of suffering. “From the biblical evidence,” the Christian author Philip Yancey has written, “I must conclude that any hard-and-fast answers to the ‘Why?’ questions are, quite simply, out of reach.” So, too, is any assurance that the causes of our suffering, the thorns in our flesh, will be removed. So what, then, does Christianity have to offer in the midst of hardships and heartache?

The answer, I think, is consolation, including the consolation that comes from being part of a Christian community — people who walk alongside us as we journey through grief, offering not pieties but tenderness and grace, encouragement and empathy, and when necessary, practical help. (One can obviously find terrifically supportive friends outside of a Christian community. My point is simply that a healthy Christian community should be characterized by extravagant love, compassion and self-giving.)

For many other Christians, there is immense consolation in believing in what the Apostle Peter describes as an eternal inheritance. “In all this you greatly rejoice,” he writes, “though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” It is a core Christian doctrine that what is seen is temporary and what is unseen is eternal, and that what is eternal is more important than what is temporal.

But even so great an assurance as eternal life, at the wrong time and in the wrong hands, can come across as uncaring. It’s not that people of faith, when they are suffering, deny the heavenly hope; it’s that in being reminded of this hope they don’t want their grief minimized or the grieving process overlooked. All things may eventually be made new again, but in this life even wounds that heal leave scars.

There is also, for me at least, consolation in the conviction that we are part of an unfolding drama with a purpose. At any particular moment in time I may not have a clue as to what that precise purpose is, but I believe, as a matter of faith, that the story has an author, that difficult chapters need not be defining chapters and that even the broken areas of our lives can be redeemed.

The book of Isaiah, in prophesying the messiah, describes him as “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” We’re told “by his wounds we are healed.” For those of the Christian faith, God is a God of wounds, where the road to redemption passes directly through suffering. There is some solace in knowing that while at times life is not easy for us, it was also hard for the God of the New Testament. And from suffering, compassion can emerge, meaning to suffer with another — that disposition, in turn, often leads to acts of mercy

I have seen enough of life to know that grief will leave its mark. But I have also seen enough of life to know that so, too, will love.

Complete Article HERE!

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03/3/17

How to Find Meaning in the Face of Death

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The time between diagnosis and death presents an opportunity for “extraordinary growth.”

 

By Emily Esfahani Smith

The psychiatrist William Breitbart lives at the edge of life and death. As chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, Breitbart specializes in end-of-life care for terminally ill cancer patients. For many of his patients, the most pressing question isn’t when they’ll die or how painful death will be. Rather, it’s what makes life meaningful. They are in search of a meaning that cannot be destroyed by death.

Is there one?

Breitbart has spent the better part of his career trying to answer that question. His ground-breaking research shows that while the specter of death often leads people to conclude that their lives are meaningless, it can also be a catalyst for them to work out, as they never have before, the meaning of their lives.

When people believe their lives are meaningful, according to psychologists, it’s because three conditions have been satisfied: They feel their existence is valued by others; they are driven by a sense of purpose, or important life goals; and they understand their lives as coherent and integrated. Psychologists and philosophers say that the path to meaning lies in connecting and contributing to something that is bigger than the self, like family, country, or God.

Meaning and death, Breitbart believes, are the two sides of the same coin—the fundamental problems of the human condition. How should a human being live a finite life? How can we face death with dignity and not despair? What redeems the fact that we will die? These questions roll around Breitbart’s mind every day as he works with patients facing life’s end.

Breitbart’s interest in meaning took root in his childhood. Born in 1951, Breitbart grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. His parents, Jews from eastern Poland, narrowly avoided Hitler’s death camps. When they moved to America, they carried their memories of the war years with them. Breitbart’s childhood was steeped in that tragic past. Every morning, his mother would ask him at the breakfast table, “Why am I here?” Why, she wondered, did she live when so many others had died?

“I grew up with a sense of responsibility to justify my parents’ survival and to create something in the world that would be significant enough to make my life worthwhile. It’s no coincidence,” he laughed, “that I ended up at Sloan Kettering.”

Breitbart began working at the hospital in 1984 during the height of the AIDS epidemic. Young men his age were dying all around him. As he tended to them, “They were constantly asking me to help them die,” he said. He was also working with terminal cancer patients. “When I walked in the room, they would say, ‘I only have three months to live. If that’s all I have, I see no value or purpose to living.’” They told him, “If you want to help me, kill me.”

If death means non-existence, Breitbart’s patients reasoned, then what meaning could life possibly have? And if life has no meaning, there’s no point of suffering through cancer.

By the ’90s, physician-assisted suicide was a hot topic in Breitbart’s circles and beyond. The doctor Jack Kevorkian had helped his first patient end her life in 1990. As the United States debated the ethics of assisted suicide, other countries were taking steps toward normalizing the practice. In 2000, the Netherlands became the first nation to make physician-assisted suicide legal. Today the practice is legal in the United States in California, Vermont, Montana, Washington, and Oregon.

As Breitbart heard more stories of assisted suicide, he began to wonder what specifically was driving the terminally ill to give up on life. At the time, he was doing research studies on pain and fatigue at the end of life, so he tacked onto those studies some questions that asked his subjects whether they felt a desire for a hastened death. What he discovered surprised him.

They no longer wanted to die. Their spiritual wellbeing improved. They reported a higher quality of life.

The assumption had been that the ill chose to end their lives because they were in terrible pain. But Breitbart and his colleagues found that wasn’t always the case. Instead, those who desired a hastened death reported feelings of meaninglessness, depression, and hopelessness. When Breitbart asked patients why they wanted a prescription for assisted suicide, many said it was because they had lost meaning in life. Unlike clinical depression, which has a specific set of diagnosable symptoms, meaninglessness was more of an “existential concern,” Breitbart said—a belief that one’s life has little value or purpose and is, therefore, not worth living.

Breitbart knew he could treat depression—there were medicines and well-developed psychotherapies for that—but he was stumped when it came to treating meaninglessness. Then, in 1995, he began to see a way forward. He was invited to join the Project on Death in America, which aimed to improve the experience of dying. Breitbart and his colleagues on the project—including philosophers, a monk, and other physicians—had long conversations about death and the meaning of life, “peppered with references to people like Nietzsche and Kierkegaard and Schopenhauer,” Breitbart said. “What I suddenly discovered,” he explained, was that “the search for meaning, the need to create meaning, the ability to experience meaning was a basic motivating force of human behavior. We were not taught this stuff at medical school!”

Breitbart became convinced that if he could help patients build meaning, he could decrease their suicidal thoughts and make their lives worth living even to the very end.

He developed an eight-session group therapy program where six to eight cancer patients come together in a counseling workshop. Each session, in one way or another, helps build meaning. In the first session, for example, the patients are asked to reflect on “one or two experiences or moments when life has felt particularly meaningful to you.” In the second session, patients respond to the question “Who am I?” to tap into the identities that give them the most meaning. One woman responded saying, “I’m somebody who can be very private … [and] have been working on accepting love and affection and other gifts from other people.” In subsequent sessions, they share their life story with the group and think about the role that love, beauty, and humor played in their lives.

In the final session, the patients reflect on the part of them that will go on living even after they are dead—their legacy. That could be their soul, or it could be something they helped to create that will continue to exist—their children, a work of art, or an organization. They present a “legacy project” to the group, generally something they do or create that represents how they want to be remembered. One man brought in a woodcut of a heart sculpted into a Celtic Trinity. “This is what I will teach my children,” he said, “that there is eternal love, and that I will be there for them, far beyond my passing.”

Breitbart performed three randomized, controlled experiments on the meaning-centered psychotherapy. When he analyzed the results with his colleagues, Breitbart saw the therapy had been transformative. By the end of the eight sessions, the patients’ attitudes toward life and death had changed. They were less hopeless and anxious about the prospect of death than they were before they began the program. They no longer wanted to die. Their spiritual wellbeing improved. They reported a higher quality of life. And, of course, they found life to be more meaningful. These effects not only persisted over time—they actually got stronger. When Breitbart followed up with one group of patients two months later, he found that their reports of meaning and spiritual wellbeing had increased, while their feelings of anxiety, hopelessness, and desire for death had decreased.

The time between diagnosis and death, Breitbart has found, presents an opportunity for “extraordinary growth.” One woman, for example, was initially devastated by her diagnosis of colon cancer—but after enrolling in the therapy program, she realized, “I didn’t have to work so hard to find the meaning of life. It was being handed to me everywhere I looked.” And that realization ultimately brought her—and Breitbart’s other patients—some measure of peace and consolation as they faced life’s final challenge.

Complete Article HERE!

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02/9/17

How Death Makes Us Human — For Now

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Thinking of death is inherent to being human. Technological advances, like so many human activities, reflect our desire to avoid it. But that may all be bound to change.

 
By Darío Sztajnszrajber

The human being’s link to death is intrinsic and existential. It is not an external notion one could discard or disregard and somehow remain human. Death, simply put, is a part of us.

As the German philosopher Martin Heidegger observed, our death is both imminent (we could die almost immediately) and conceived in our minds as too distant (we usually think we still have a long time left to live). French philosopher Jacques Derrida asked cheekily, “Is my death possible?” when dying precisely eliminates all possibilities. The curious thing is that while we know we are born to die, we spend our lives trying to transcend death. There is a basic awkwardness or nonsensical origin to all our actions: Whatever we do, we will still die, whence our flight toward daily routines in order to forget or seek relief. This ambiguity may explain a great part of human culture. Just as we want to negate death, we also seek to surpass ourselves.

The 20th-century Spanish writer Miguel de Unamumo postulated that human anxiety was a product of the tension between reason on the one hand, which understands that life is finite, and the desire that it continue forever. That desire has become the engine behind all the attempts to supercede our limits. Thus with every technological innovation, symbolic transformation, revolution in values or new narrative on the meaning of life, are we not aspiring, ultimately, to achieve immortality?

Graveyards do not so much recall our provenance as our destination

 
Now death, which pertains to others, is not the same as dying, which we cannot possibly experience. Cemeteries and their rituals are a means of linking ourselves to the deaths of others, the only possible death experience. In any case, a person supposes that he too will also be buried, honored and remembered — or forgotten. Graveyards do not so much recall our provenance as our destination, prompting the sensations of uncertainty, respect and concern among us all.

Cemetery in Buenos Aires

Cemeteries remain of their time of course. Technology makes it possible today to live on through images and sounds, and create a presence from the experience of absence. It would be interesting to analyze the impact of death’s omnipresence, and the evolution both of mourning and the mechanics of a memory that now is live before us, always within reach.

In reality, current trends like robotics or cloning will change the roots not just of our ties with the death of others, but our own dying. The day will eventually come when we have resolved death, which can only happen when we stop dying. That of course is also when we will stop being human. And so we shall mutate again …

Complete Article HERE!

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02/2/17

This Study Reveals The 5 Biggest Regrets People Have Before They Die

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With just a few weeks to live, these are the biggest regrets most people have

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Do you have any regrets?

Most people do.

But it appears our regrets gain a lot of weight as we approach the end of our lives.

For many years, Bronnie Ware – an Australian nurse and counselor – worked in palliative care; taking care of terminally ill people, most of whom had less than 12 weeks to live.

Her patients were typically old people with very serious illnesses, waiting to die.

And a lot of her work involved providing counseling and relief from the physical and mental stresses that come naturally when a human being comes face to face with their mortality.

Death is not a comfortable subject for most people. We prefer to not think or talk about it.

But the sad truth is, all of us will die someday.

Knowing you are going to die in a few weeks is a very bitter pill to swallow. And Bronnie noticed as her patients experienced a range of emotions that usually started with denial, and then fear, anger, remorse, more denial, and eventually, acceptance.

As part of therapy, Bronnie would ask about any regrets they had about their lives, and anything they would do differently if life gave them a second chance.

Of all the responses she got from her patients, she noticed there were 5 regrets that stood out. These were the most common regrets her patients wished they hadn’t made as they coursed through life.

But the regrets of the dying can be sound and invaluable advice for the living.

And that’s why it’s a really good thing you’re reading this article.

One of the key revelations from Bronnie’s study is that we often take our lives for granted because we are healthy.

Health affords us boundless freedom very few realise, until we no longer have it.

But while her dying patients were helpless in the face of their regrets, you and I still have time to do something about our regrets, before it’s too late.

Let’s now look at each of the 5 most common regrets Bronnie observed:

1)    I wish I pursued my dreams and aspirations, and not the life others expected of me

According to Bronnie, this was by far the most common regret of all.

When people realise their life is coming to an end, it becomes easier to look back and see all those dreams they had but didn’t have the courage to pursue.

In many cases, their failure to pursue those dreams were often due to fitting into the expectations of others – usually family, friends and society.

One of her dying patients, Grace, made Bronnie promise that she would pursue all her dreams and live her life to its fullest potential without ever considering what others would say.

According to Bronnie, Grace was in a long but unhappy marriage. And after her husband was put in a nursing home, she was diagnosed with a terminal illness. And Grace’s biggest regret was that she never was able to pursue all the dreams she put on hold.

I think the biggest lesson from this regret is, if you know what really makes you happy, do it!

It appears that our unfulfilled dreams and aspirations have a way of silently stalking us, and eventually haunt our memories in our dying days.

And if you’re afraid of what people will say about your choices, remember that their voices will not matter to you in your dying days.

2)   I wish I didn’t work so hard

This one makes me feel guilty.

According to Bronnie, this regret came from every male patient she nursed. And a few female patients too.

As breadwinners, their lives were taken over by work, making a living, and pursuing a career. While this role was important, these patients regretted that they allowed work to take over their lives causing them to spend less time with their loved ones.

Their regrets were usually about missing out on the lives of their children and the companionship of their spouse.

When asked what they would do differently if given a second chance, the response was quite surprising.

Most of them believed that by simplifying our lifestyle and making better choices, we may not need all that money we’re chasing. That way, we can create more space in our lives for happiness and spend more time with the people who mean the most to us.

3)   I wish I had the courage to express my feelings and speak my mind

This one just made me so much bolder. 🙂

According to Bronnie, many of her dying patients believed they suppressed their true feelings and didn’t speak their mind when they should have, because they wanted to keep peace with others.

Most of them chose not to confront difficult situations and people, even when it offended them. By suppressing their anger, they built up a lot of bitterness and resentment which ultimately affected their health.

Worse still, harbouring bitterness can cripple you emotionally and stand in the way of fulfilling your true potential.

To avoid this type of regret later in life, it’s important to understand that honesty and confrontation are a necessary part of healthy relationships.

There is a common misconception that confrontation is bad for relationships and can only create division.

Not all the time.

In reality, when confrontation is kind, honest and constructive, it helps to deepen mutual respect and understanding and can take the relationship to a healthier level.

By speaking our minds, we express our true feelings and reduce the risks of building up unhealthy stores of bitterness that ultimately hurt us.

4)   I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends

This one is a regret many of us struggle with.

Bronnie found that her patients missed their old friends and regretted they didn’t give those friendships the investment of time and effort they deserved.

Everyone misses their friends when they’re dying.

It appears that when health and youth have faded, and death is looming, people realise that some friendships hold more value than all their wealth and achievements.

According to Bronnie, it all comes down to love and relationships in the end. Nothing else mattered to her patients in the last few weeks of their lives but love and relationships.

We live in a busy world these days. And the pressures and demands of work, city life and trying to raise a family can take its toll on some golden relationships.

Knowing this now, what would you do differently?

5)   I wish I had let myself be happier

This is a very humbling one, really.

Many of her patients didn’t realise until the end of their lives that happiness is a choice.

They wished they had known that happiness isn’t something to be chased and acquired through wealth, social acceptance and the trappings of life.

In their deathbeds, these patients realized they could have chosen to be happy, regardless of their circumstances in life – rich or poor.

To me, this regret is the most touching.

Throughout our active lives, we often focus too much on acquiring the things we would like to have – wealth, status, power and achievement. We often (wrongly) believe that these things hold the keys to our happiness.

When asked what they could have done differently, here’s the key message those dying folks shared: Learn to relax and appreciate the good things in your life. That’s the only way to find real happiness.

Happiness is a choice.

Is it possible to live a life without regrets?

This is the big question I’ve been asking myself.

As no human being is perfect, and I doubt there’s anything like a “perfect life”, I expect all of us would have some regret(s) in our dying days.

But I think the key is to have as few regrets as possible.

And the best way to die with very few regrets is to live life as if we would die today.

After all, almost nobody knows exactly when they’ll die.

By living our lives as if the end is nigh, we would realise that we really don’t have all the time in the world. As a result, we would procrastinate less, and pursue our truest desires, dreams and aspirations.

Also, to live a life of few regrets, we have to focus on and accommodate ONLY those things and people that make us happy. Because if we try to conform to the expectations of others and hide our true feelings, the regrets could haunt us later in life.

If you’re reading this article and you’re alive and healthy, you still have a choice.

Remember, you only live once!

Don’t forget to share this article with people you care about. You may just save someone a ton of regrets.

I wish you an amazing life.

Complete Article HERE!

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