Thoughts and such like.....
Did my headline stop you in your tracks? Death is a funny thing, it's inevitable, as someone once said, we're not getting out of here alive!, however so many of us find it hard to talk about. I don't have a problem talking about my own with my kids, they already say I'm weird, so this this is another example to add to their list, but to raise it in conversation with others hmmm, that's more difficult.
This subject came about when I was talking with a colleague a couple of weeks ago, he asked me in my work with Third Actors or retirees, do I talk about death? An interesting question, and up to now, no I haven't. It got me thinking about why not. It's relevant to aging, particularly for those working through their Third Act - and yet I don't. I think partly because in Western society we are taught, whether by our teachers/parents or society itself that death is a taboo subject, and partly because, if we really look deeply, we all want to hope that we will live forever, and if we don't talk about it, it'll put death off for another wee while. But death is something that does happen to us all, and isn't it healthier to talk about it and our wishes for what will happen to our bodies, our possessions etc.. now, rather than to let our heirs and loved ones figure it out? In my former life in as a Not-for-profit specialist, I often spoke to grieving partners and children about their loved one, many were sad that they hadn't known much about the wishes of that person who had passed, or who said 'I wished I'd just asked them'. What was even sadder was the stories of hurt and regret, or those families who were torn apart because of their differing views about what should happen, or about who would inherit what.
Initially talking about death with my kids, was a bit like talking to them as teenagers about sex and how to treat girls, it was done in small bites, and in the car - they couldn't escape! Now they still don't like it, but they're more used to it. My point is, that my kids know where the legal stuff is, what my wishes are and my expectations of them both. Of course, I don't want to die, at least not yet, but it is important to prepare them for the inevitable. So why not talk to clients planning their Third Act about the importance of preparation for the end of life?
Death is the ultimate level playing field, it comes to us all. Unless we are extremely vindictive, none of us want to add to the pain felt by our loved ones at our death, and yet so many of us don't have everything in place for them - the ultimate roadmap if you will.
I remember the first time after having children that I thought of my own death. I was newly separated and needed to ensure all their needs would be met. I had visited my solicitor and signed my Will and was supposed to go onto a meeting. The meeting was cancelled last minute, and so I had time to spare and went into the local library, where I proceeded to write a letter to my kids. I can only imagine the thoughts of those around me as I wept and snorted my way through three pages.... I wrote to them about how much they were loved, I talked about who would be entrusted with their care, and why I had decided upon those individuals, as well as who would be the trustees of any money from insurance policies etc... I still have that letter, it is among several that I have written to them throughout the years, and was the beginning of an ongoing story of love and pride in who they were, and have become. I want them to have the letters, to understand a little more about their mum, and to remember the love I have for them with joy in their hearts. While I understand they will mourn, I also urge them to remember that I will always be with them
Death is a time of separation, but also a time of remembrance. Thinking about it is a time to check with yourself and who you are. How do you want to be remembered; by your family; friends and colleagues? Me, I want my kids, family and friends to mourn me when I go, but also to celebrate who I am and how I have impact their lives.
The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time. (Mark Twain)
This is a short list of things that I have come across, if you want to check your own preparedness:
I was going to write a piece about how we avoid the topic of death, but it seems life took over. I was clearing up papers and documents over the weekend when I came across a container of letters, some of which I have kept for over 40 years! A few were from my Mother, thin, light air-mail paper, probably the fourth of six papers separated by carbon paper - my mother would type her letters to us all (my five siblings and I), and hand write our names at the top, and her signature at the end. Each of us got a paragraph, and we used to joke that whom ever received the last copy was obviously not in her good books! A couple of letters from my father, handwritten rarities, short but filled with his humour. And then, letters from people some of whom I don't even remember. Sitting with them, there were fleeting memories, the young man from the US whose family rented out our house in Wales after his mother died of cancer, and who in his late teens came to visit. Friends from school, old boyfriends and room mates who'd gotten married and moved away a lifetime ago.
Reading through them caused me to reflect on all the people that come into our lives and then leave. Their interactions with us have shaped the person we are today. I still stay in touch with some friends from long ago via facebook or by e-mail, and visit when I can, however there are others that have long gone from my life, and I wonder - where are they now?
My letters, should I keep them or throw them away? They show parts of the young girl/women of many years ago, someone, I wonder if people I know now would recognize. I emigrated to Canada in my 20's, computers were just emerging in business, but certainly not at home; that would take almost another decade. Letters were a cheaper alternative to telephones, which were only used in an emergency, and receiving a letter from 'home', had a transformational effect, bringing joy into the day. What was I thinking when I put them into that box. The letters tell a story of a women who had many dreams, but obviously had also been able to support others, little notes from a niece "Mummy told me to write Thank you!" with a picture of the overalls sent. They tell a story of love, and someone who was missed. Did I recognize that then? I'm not sure, and if I had would I have done things differently? Auden states 'We must love another or die', and these letters show a young women well loved - which is a lovely feeling!
Further reflection had me thinking about decisions I had made, to emigrate, to work, to get married, have kids - interesting to look back - should I have made other decisions? Maybe, but as I said earlier those people and those decisions make me who I am today, and I actually quite like that person! Do I regret decisions made, or not made - how could I? I have two wonderful kids, a life many would envy, a cache of friends, family I love, and try and see as often as possible given we are all over the World, and a career I enjoy, regrets are not part of my life. What I can do now, I hope with my experience and learning is make better, and more informed decisions.
As a coach I work with people looking at how they might improve in life or business - they are looking at the present and into the future, yes they can learn from their experience, good and bad, but if they/we continue to look back we will never move forward.
With technology today we have lost the transformation effect of letter writing - the wonderful anticipation of receiving news from home; maybe I'm getting old, but frankly electronic correspondence just doesn't give the same little jolt of joy as would a letter. So I'll stop now, and maybe jot a handwritten note to someone I love!
There's a great TED talk by Grace Kim about co-housing, or as I call it intergenerational living . She talks about how co-housing can not only make us happier but also allow us to live longer and healthier. (www.ted.com/talks/grace_kim_how_cohousing_can_make_us_happier_and_live_longer). When I was doing work for a research project a few years ago, I was looking at the needs of elders living independently. One of the challenges is/was the sense of isolation so many feel, particularly when they are unable to drive, Here in British Columbia once you reach 80, and every two years thereafter, drivers have to be assessed by their doctor and submit their medical report to RoadSafetyBC, to ensure they and others are safe on the road. Unfortunately, for many elderly people their car is their means to socialization, and without access to it they often become isolated, depressed and even malnourished.
It's always important to create boundaries, important for our well being and mental health, however I wonder whether we may have extended our need for boundaries well beyond this healthy stance. On my neighbourhood walk there are a number of gated communities, these are communities for people 35+ without children, and it surprises me how many there are and how popular they are. I wonder is it because society has become busier, and in the process forgotten what 'neighbourhood' is about. When many of us grew up, we walked home from school, everyone knew your name, and you knew everyone in the neighbourhood. Neighbours were friends, and would check in on your family if they hadn't seen you for a while. Today many of us drive our cars into our garages, which open into our homes, and from late Autumn to Spring we may not even get into the neighbourhood except through the windows of our car!
It makes me question what we might be losing with this type of lifestyle. What are our children and grandchildren missing from being a part of this type of community. What wisdom and knowledge are they missing from not knowing the old lady or elderly couple down the street? As a very young girl I remember collecting three penny bits with my sister on our street. We had been given a Smarties tube, eaten the Smarties, and so now had to collect three pennies bits for babies in Africa. We walked up the street to each neighbour filling our tubes, then crossed the road to come down again. One was the house of an old man (he was probably in his 50's), a retired AirVice Marshal. He was fierce; who were we? How did he know we would give the money to the charity? And, the questions went on... We ran back home, crying, or at least I was. Our mother went up to see what was the problem and met the old man. He hadn't had much to do with our neighbourhood, and was obviously lonely - she stayed quite a while, and soon she, my father and he became good friends, and remained so until his death many years later.
In fundraising, I used to use this story to illustrate how important it is to build relationships before asking someone for money, however in life I believe it is also important for us all to have relationships between generations. Not knowing any young people can breed fear in many of the older generation, they don't understand the music, the kids are so loud, they have tattoos, piercings - they don't follow rules. Kids think old people are grumpy, they always want 'us' to be quiet, their music is awful and the list goes on.... Intergenerational interactions are important for many reasons, not the least it provides understanding and wisdom, in both directions. Community can be built through interaction and understanding.
A goal I have is to build bridges between the elderly and youth. How can we bring older people into schools, developing conversations and maybe even friendship? When you provide an arena, you may be surprised at the people that come to play - free transit for elders to travel to school, teenagers taking shop can help build or repair small items that are broken; cookery classes can provide a nutritious meal for those visiting and a safe place for conversations for all; sewing can provide learnings from someone who has been making their own clothes for years... the value exchange often includes an important emotional exchange. I believe we need to stop putting walls and gates between generations, rather we should be opening doors and with them opportunities to learn and love - which in the end is what we all want.
Maybe, as the weather improves you could organize a street party so that everyone in your neighbourhood can get to know each other, set up an emergency plan so that no-one is forgotten in a disaster, or even spook your neighbours by saying hello and stopping to chat - I think you, and they, will be glad you did!
I've been reading a lot about purpose in recent months; Simon Sinek calls it our 'why'. How does one find one's why? What does knowing your why/purpose/cause do for you? Why, (sic) do you even want to?
In a nutshell, what do you care for? What gets you up in the morning? How important is it to you, and how can you incorporate it (maybe more) into your daily life?
One book on purpose that I love is, Life on Purpose, How living for what Matters most Changes everything, by Victor J. Strecher. https://www.amazon.ca/Life-Purpose-Matters-Changes-Everything/dp/0062409603/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1520378140&sr=8-1&keywords=life+on+purpose It's easy and thoughtfully written, beginning with Dr. Strechers' own story of tragedy and loss, and how that event shaped his thoughts on his own life and how it helped him move forward.
One of the greatest gifts we have as we age is time. Time to think, and work on what matters to us most, time to indulge in travel, hobbies or a new career. However, often we find ourselves fumbling in the dark, how do we start? Are there rules? Actually no, at this time in our lives, why should we look for rules, this is the time to create - think big and do what we want. It can also be a time to think about doing good in the World.
Today I work as a coach, working with individuals and groups in transition, I love working with people who understand the value of investing in themselves and want to make a difference. Being solo entrepreneur also allows me to do work that touches my heart in a program called CoachActivism. This program began in 2016, its purpose is easy to understand, and its impact is growing. CoachActivism recruits professional coaches from around the World to donate their time to provide free coaching to volunteers working in refugee camps in Greece, Portugal, and hopefully this year, Italy. The steering committee is comprised of a number of individuals, from Greece, Portugal, China, Italy and me, in Canada. We provide training to our coaches in a number of areas, including: managing boundaries, helping a traumatize population, and team coaching just to name a few. Coaches are matched with their clients and provide six hours of free coaching. The coaches too are given free supervisory coaching to ensure they are not affected by the work they do, and the stories they hear from their volunteer clients.
We ask the clients, the coaches and supervisors to reflect and evaluate the program each year, and this allows us to tweak and improve it. The work has an enormous effect on each of the client volunteers and is growing each year. The World forgets, headlines from a few years ago fade and yet the number of refugees and migrants grows. I cannot imagine fleeing my country because of war, or hunger or because I hold views that are contrary to my country's ruler. This work fills a space in my heart - I value the fact that thanks to those that work with me, I am able to do it and I have a goal that as my business grows, I will be able to contribute financially to this work.
Think about your purpose - how do you contribute to the world? What does it feel like when you are able to see how you make a difference to your community, your World?
Maeve O'Byrne's Blog