When I told my book group that I had finished and uploaded my thesis, one of the members asked about my topic. After sharing that I had researched and written about end-of-life, Joanne asked if I was including near-death experiences (NDE). NDEs are mentioned by some people who have survived traumas, where in the midst of a life-threatening event, they have reported spending time in an otherworldly realm. While stories vary, some commonalities may include elements such as a tunnel, a welcoming light, a feeling of transcendent love, meeting spiritual beings, or encountering deceased relatives. There is no consensus on whether this is a dying body’s neuro-chemical response to trauma or if it is something that we just can’t explain and don’t understand.
Joanne described her post-op experience. During what was supposed to be a simple procedure, the physician unknowing nicked an artery and Joanne was bleeding out. She was transported from the surgery center across town to an emergency room, examined, and whisked to the operating room. Before anesthesia kicked in, Joanne envisioned a split screen—on one side, she was aware of the pre-op chaos surrounding her; simultaneously she envisioned a blue-tinged scene of serenity and peace. She sensed that she faced a decision point–stay or go.
In the aftermath, some who have recovered after an NDE claim that the event has changed their lives. That was not Joanne’s experience. Life has gone on for her. She did offer pragmatic advice: don’t use a stand-alone surgery center that is a distance from an ER.
After mulling Joanne’s story and some chaplain experiences at the bedsides of dying patients, I realized that the problem isn’t near death so much as near life. Many people have packed schedules; but, the busy life doesn’t translate to a full life. Some are unaware that they are not doing the things that matters most or honoring the reason for which they are living here and now. They are living partially–a near life. Some part of us realizes that we are mortal and existence is finite, but we fail to appreciate that how we spend our time is how we live our lives. The countdown is inexorable and every day is one closer to the end. Often it is only when someone has a life-threatening emergency that the fight to survive arises from a recognition that:
“My life might be over and I haven’t done everything I was put on earth to do.”
As Trappist monk Thomas Merton reflected, “People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.” Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People reframed the message: “If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.”
Take time to discern:
- How do you figure out what direction is right?
- How do you ensure that you are on your heart’s true path?
- How often do you check-in and re-calibrate?
As I told a friend whose partner was just admitted to hospice: None of us know what the future holds. We love the people around us as best we can and appreciate each kiss, as if it were the last. Because at some point, it will be.
© Joan S Grey, 1 FEB19
IndexCardCure™: Live fully