Posts tagged with ‘dying’

26 jul

Embrace Death, Live Life

MikeRobbinsNewMy mom, Lois Dempsey Robbins, was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer in early March. The disease spread very quickly and on June 13th, she passed away. I was honored and grateful to be with her through her dying process. It was both horrible and beautiful at the same time.

My mom’s physical pain and deterioration, realizing that she was going to die and that at thirty-seven years old I would be without either of my parents (my dad died almost ten years ago), and knowing that my girls would grow up without their grandma (who absolutely adored them), were some of the most difficult parts of the experience.

However, the closeness, family connection, deep conversations, healing, insights, love, forgiveness, and support have been some of the most wonderful aspects of all of this – while she was sick, as she was dying, and in the past month or so since her death.

Four of the most intimate and sacred experiences of my life have been the births of our two girls and the deaths of each of my parents. I’m grateful and honored to have been able to experience all four of these magical moments live and in person. Although the emotions of the births and the deaths were quite different, the level of intimacy, sacredness, and profundity were of similar impact and depth for me.

I’m deeply engaged in my grief process right now – doing my best to stay present in the midst of the intense and contradictory thoughts and feelings I’ve been experiencing. While I’ve been feeling sadness and pain, I also feel a lot of love and appreciation – both for my mother’s life and all she taught me, and for the experience of being with her through her death.

Death teaches us so much about life and about ourselves, even though it can be very difficult to comprehend and experience – especially when the person dying is someone very close to us. As a culture we don’t really talk about it, deal with it, or face it in an authentic way. It often seems too scary, mysterious, personal, loaded, heavy, emotional, tragic, andmore.

What if we embraced death – our own and that of those around us – in a real, vulnerable, and genuine way? What if we lived life more aware of the fact that everyone around us, including ourselves, has a limited amount of time here on earth?

Embracing death consciously alters our experience of ourselves, others, and life in a fundamental and transformational way. It allows us to remember what truly matters and to put things in a healthy and empowering perspective. Doing this is much better for us than spending and wasting our time worrying, complaining, and surviving the circumstances, situations, and dramas of our lives, isn’t it?

One of the most profound things my mom said a few weeks before she died was, “I want people to know that they don’t have to suffer through this.” As the end was getting closer, my mom’s awareness, insight, and desire to share her wisdom increased and it was beautiful.

Below are some of the key lessons I learned from her as she began to embrace death in the final days and weeks of her life. These are simple (although not easy) reminders for each of us about how to live life more fully:

1. Express Yourself – Say what you have to say, don’t hold things back. As my mom got closer to death, she began to express herself with a deeper level of authenticity and transparency. We had conversations about things we’d never talked about and she opened up in ways that were both liberating and inspiring. Too often in life we hold back, keep secrets, and don’t share what’s real – based on our fear of rejection, judgment, and alienation. Expressing ourselves is about letting go of our limiting filters and living life “out loud.”

2. Forgive – My mom and I come from a long line of grudge holders. Like me, she could hold a grudge with the best of ‘em. I watched as she began to both consciously and unconsciously let go of her grudges and resentments, both big and small. It was if she was saying, “Who cares?” When you only have a few months (or weeks) to live, the idea that “Life’s too short,” becomes more than a bumper sticker or a catch phrase, it’s a reality. And, with this reality, the natural thing for us to do is to forgive those around us, and ourselves.

3. Live With Passion – Going for it, being bold, and living our lives with a genuine sense of passion is so important. However, it’s easy to get caught up in our concerns or to worry what other people will think about us. My mom, who was a pretty passionate woman throughout her life, began to live with a deeper level of passion, even as her body was deteriorating. In her final days and weeks, she engaged everyone in conversation, talked about what she was passionate about, shared grandiose ideas, and let go of many of her concerns about the opinions of others. It was amazing and such a great model and reminder of the importance of passion.

4. Acknowledge Others – At one point about a month or so before my mom died she said to me, “It’s so important to appreciate people…I don’t know why I haven’t done more of that in my life.” Even in the midst of all she was going through and dealing with (pain, discomfort, medication, treatment, and the reality that her life was coming to an end), she went out of her way to let people know what she appreciated about them – and people shared their appreciation with her as well. My friend Janae set up a “joy line” for people to call and leave voice messages for my mom in her final days. We got close to fifty of the most beautiful messages, all expressing love and appreciation for my mom – most of which we were able to play for her before she passed away. Appreciation is the greatest gift we can give to others – and, we don’t have to wait until we’re dying to do it or until someone else is dying to let them know!

5. Surrender – While my mom clearly wasn’t happy about dying, didn’t want to leave us or her granddaughters, and felt like she had more to do on this earth, something happened about a month and a half before she died that was truly remarkable – she surrendered. For my mom, who had a very strong will and was a “fighter” by nature, this probably wasn’t easy. However, watching her surrender to what was happening and embrace the process of dying was truly inspirational and life-altering for those of us around her and for her as well. So much of the beauty, healing, and transformation that occurred for her and for us during her dying process was a function of surrendering. Surrendering isn’t about giving up, giving in, or selling out, it’s about making peace what is and choosing to embrace life (and in this case death) as it shows up. Our ability (or inability) to surrender in life is directly related to the amount of peace and fulfillment we experience.

My mom taught me and all of us that even in the face of death, it is possible to experience joy – what a gift and a great lesson and legacy to leave behind. And, as each of us consciously choose to embrace the reality of death in our lives, we can liberate ourselves from needless suffering, worry, and fear – and in the process experience a deeper level of peace and fulfillment.

Mike Robbins is a sought-after motivational keynote speaker, coach, and the bestselling author of Focus on the Good Stuff (Wiley) and Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken (Wiley). More info – www.Mike-Robbins.com

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Posted by Mike Robbins on July 26th, 2011 in New Directions, Relationships | No comments Read related posts in , , , , , , , , , ,

14 jul

The Magic and Mystery of Death

MikeRobbinsNewIn the past few weeks, two important people in my life suddenly passed away. These deaths have been shocking, sad, and painful for me. And, in the midst of sadness I’ve once again been reminded of the mystery and magic that I often experience when someone close to me dies.

I find death so mysterious because it doesn’t make much rational sense and often seems so random and unfair. I also find it frustrating that we don’t do a very good job in our culture of talking about, dealing with, or embracing death. It’s seen by most of us as a universally “bad” thing – awful, tragic, painful, hard, and negative in most cases. While all of these things can be and often are true for us about death, especially when the person who dies is someone we love and care about and/or happens to be someone we consider “too young to die,” there is so much more to it than just this.

As I’ve also experienced these past few weeks and at many other times in my life, there can be a great deal of magic, beauty, and joy that comes from death. Due to the fact that we often avoid it, don’t want to talk about it, or would rather not deal with it (unless we are forced to do so) – we miss out on the magical and positive aspects of death and in doing so we aren’t able to live our lives as deeply and with as much freedom as we could if we embraced death more fully.

Why we avoid dealing with death

There are many reasons we avoid dealing with or even talking about death. From what I’ve seen and experienced, here are some of the main reasons:

It can be very painful, sad, and scary

We often aren’t taught or encouraged to really deal with it – just to simply follow the “rules” and rituals of our family, religion, or community in order to get through it

– We don’t know what to say, how to react, and don’t want to upset people

– It can be overwhelming for many of us to consider our own death, or the deaths of those close to us

– We aren’t comfortable experiencing or expressing some of the intense emotions that show up for us around death

– Our culture is so obsessed with youth, beauty, and production (in a superficial sense), death is often seen as the ultimate “failure” – the complete absence of beauty, health, and productivity

– It challenges us to question life, reality, and our core beliefs at the deepest level

For these and many other reasons, death is one of the biggest “taboo” subjects in our culture and remains in the “darkness” of our own lives on a personal level. Sadly, not dealing with, talking about, or facing death in a real way creates a deep level of disconnection, fear, and a lack of authenticity in our lives and relationships.

The magic of death

What if we embraced death, talked about it, or shared our thoughts, feelings, questions, concerns, and more about it with the people around us? While for some of us this may seem uncomfortable, undesirable, or even a little weird – think how liberating it would be and is when we’re willing to face death directly.

One of the highlights of my life was being in the room with my father and holding his hand when he took his last breath about 10 years ago. It was incredibly sad, but at the same time deeply intimate, personal, and beautiful. He was there when I came into the world and I got to be there when he left. And, by facing death in a direct way – we can learn so much about life and ourselves, as I did when my dad died. As one of my mentors said to me years ago, “Mike, if you live your life each day more aware of your own death, you will live very differently.” This is true for all of us.

There are so many beautiful lessons that death teaches us, even in the midst of the pain, loss, confusion, anger, fear and more. When we’re willing to embrace death and remember that everyone and everything in physical form will eventually die, we’re reminded to:

– Appreciate ourselves, each other, and life – RIGHT NOW

– Let go of our attachment to other people’s opinions, our obsession with appearances, and our self consciousness about many superficial aspects of our lives

– Connect to others in a deep, intimate, and vulnerable way

– Speak up, go for what we truly want, and live in the present moment

– Be grateful for what we have and for life as it is, not “someday” when things work out perfectly (which never happens anyway)

Death can be one of the greatest teachers for us in life – but not if we spend most of our time avoiding it because it can be painful, scary, or uncomfortable. Take a moment right now to think about some of the important people who have died in your life. What did you learn from them both through their life and their death? What gifts have you been given in the form of tragedy in your life? How could embracing death more fully impact your life in a positive and important way?

As we consider these and other questions about death, it’s obvious that the answers aren’t simple and easy…neither is life. However, when we’re willing to engage, embrace, and deal with death (and life) with a true sense of empathy, passion, and authenticity – we’re able to not only “make it,” but to actually learn, grow, and thrive – regardless of the circumstances and even in the face of death.

Mike Robbins is a sought-after motivational keynote speaker, coach, and the bestselling author of Focus on the Good Stuff (Wiley) and Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken (Wiley). More info – www.Mike-Robbins.com

If you felt moved, inspired, touched, helped, annoyed, or anything after reading this, please let us know. Our wonderful bloggers really do appreciate your comments and feedback. It’s super easy and takes a minute. Click on comments below.

Posted by Mike Robbins on July 14th, 2011 in General, Personal Stories, Relationships | No comments Read related posts in , , , , , , , ,

18 mar

Live Like You’re Going to Die (Because You Are)

MikeRobbinsNewYou’re going to die. I’m going to die. Everyone around us is going to die.

The reality of death is, of course, both obvious and daunting for most of us. With the recent tragic events in Japan and some very serious health news I received from someone close to me, I’ve been thinking about life and death a lot this past week. I was on a run a few days ago and thought to myself, “I wonder what it’s like to know you’re going to die?” Then I thought, “Wait a minute, we’re all going to die – we just don’t act like it.”

As simple as this thought was, it was profound for me. I don’t live my life all that consciously aware of my own death. My own fears about death (mine and others) often force me to avoid thinking about it all together. I do catch myself worrying about dying; sometimes more often than I’d like to admit, especially with our girls being as young as they are – Samantha’s five and Rosie’s two and a half.

I also don’t talk about death that much because it seems like such a morbid topic, a real “downer.” I worry that it’s too intense to address or that if I focus on death I will somehow attract it to me or those around me superstitiously.

And, as a culture we don’t really like to talk about death or deal with it in a meaningful way since it can be quite scary and is the exact opposite of so much of what we obsess about (youth, productivity, vitality, results, beauty, improvement, the future, etc.).

But what if we embraced death, talked about it more, and shared our own vulnerable thoughts, feelings, and questions about it? While for some of us this may seem uncomfortable, undesirable, or even a little weird – think how liberating it would be and is when we’re willing to face the reality of death directly.

Steve Jobs gave a powerful commencement speech at Stanford in 2005 entitled “How to live before you die.” In that speech, he said, “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Contemplating death in a conscious way doesn’t have to freak us out. Knowing that our human experience is limited and that at some mysterious point in the future our physical body will die, is both sobering and liberating.

The reason I’ve always appreciated memorials services (even when I’ve been in deep pain and grief over the death of someone close to me) is because there is a powerful consciousness which often surrounds death. When someone passes away we often feel a certain amount of permission to get real in a vulnerable way and to focus on what’s most important (not the ego-based fear, comparison, and self criticism that often runs our life).

What if we tapped into this empowering awareness all the time – not just because someone close to dies or because we have our own near-death experience, but because we choose to affirm life and appreciate the blessing, gift, and opportunity that it is.

Here are some things we can think about, focus on, and do on a regular basis that will allow us to live like we’re going to die, in a positive way:

1) Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff – As my dear friend and mentor Richard Carlson reminded millions of us through his bestselling series of books with this great title, life is not an emergency and most of the stuff we worry about, get upset about, and obsess about is not that big of a deal. If we lived as if we were dying, we probably wouldn’t let so many small things bother us.

2) Let Go of Grudges - One of my favorite sayings is, “holding a grudge is like drinking poison, and expecting the other person to die.” Everyone loses when we hold a grudge, especially us. If you knew you were going to die soon, would you really want to spend your precious time and energy holding onto anger and resentment towards those around youor people from your past (regardless of what they may have done)? Forgiveness is powerful – it’s not about condoning anything, it’s about liberation and freedom for us.

3) Focus on What Truly Matters – What truly matters to you? Love? Family? Relationships? Service? Creativity? Spirituality? Our authentic contemplation of death can help us answer this important question in a poignant way. If you found out you only had a limited time left to live, what would you stop doing right now? What would you want to focus on instead? And while we all have certain responsibilities in life, asking ourselves what truly matters to us and challenging ourselves to focus on that, right now, is one of the most important things we can do.

4) Go For It – Fear of failure often stops us from going for what we truly want in life. From a certain perspective (the ego-based, physical, material world) death can be seen as the ultimate “failure” and is often related to that way in our culture, even though people don’t usually talk about it in these blunt terms. However, this perspective can actually liberate us. If we know we’re ultimately going to “fail” in life (in terms of living forever), what have we really got to lose by taking big risks? We all know how things are going to turn out in the end. As I heard in a workshop years ago, “Most of us are trying to survive life; we have to remember that no one ever has.”

5) Seize the Day – Carpe diem, the Latin phrase for “seize the day,” is all about being right here, right now. The more willing we are to surrender to the present moment, embrace it, and fully experience it – the more we can appreciate and enjoy life. As John Lennon famously said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Living like we’re going to die is about remembering to fully engage in the present moment, being grateful for the gift that it is, and doing our best not to dwell on the past or worry about the future. If today were your last day, how would you want to live?

Death can be difficult and scary scary for many of us to confront. There is a lot of fear, resistance, and “taboo” surrounding it in our culture and for us personally. However, when we remember that death is both natural and inevitable, we’re reminded that everyone’s life (whether it lasts for a few days or a hundred years) is short, precious, and miraculous. This awareness can fundamentally and positively alter the way we think, feel, and relate to ourselves, others, and life itself. Living as if we’re going to die (and remembering that it’s guaranteed) is one of the best things we can do for ourselves and those around us.

How can you start living your life for more conscious of your own death, in a positive and empowering way? What can you do right now to let go of what’s not important, focus on what truly matters, and seize the day? Share your thoughts, ideas, insights, actions, and more on my blog below.

If you felt moved, inspired, touched, helped, annoyed, or anything after reading this, please let us know. Our wonderful bloggers really do appreciate your comments and feedback. It’s super easy and takes a minute. Click on comments below.

Posted by Mike Robbins on March 18th, 2011 in Uncategorized | No comments Read related posts in , , , , , , , , , , , , ,