Is it really worth it?
Monday, September 23, 2019
First things first, for those that don't know me. I work as a hospice chaplain. I spend my days sitting with patients and families in their homes or nursing homes, attempting to help normalize the dying process. I give them a safe, neutral space to share their life stories, discuss their worries and fears, and to process their grief surrounding all the losses they have suffered.
I absolutely LOVE what I do. I feel unbelievably blessed by the patients and families I serve, and can't imagine doing anything else. Every single day I see the divine through a different set of eyes...a different perspective...a different world view. My understanding of what is holy...what is divine in this life grows with each new encounter.
Last night, I got called out to visit a family in distress. The patient was an 80-year-old man and Army veteran. His own father died of a heart attack in his late 30s, which encouraged the patient to put extra focus on living a healthier lifestyle. He went running every day, worked hard, and tried to always eat right. Well, last week, as he was getting ready to head out on his daily run, he sat down for a quick lunch with his wife of 60 years. Moments later, he collapsed with a massive heart attack. While the paramedics were able to bring back a heartbeat, he would never recover. He remained on life support until this past weekend. The family made the heart-wrenching decision to withdraw him from the machines helping him breathe and he became one of our hospice patients.
The patient was stable enough to be able to transfer home where he would be surrounded by familiar smells, sounds, and the love of his family. I arrived to find his beautiful wife half-sitting half-laying over her husband crying. Other family members surrounded the bed, holding vigil. The hospice nurse had just left and the patient was entering the stages of actively dying. This meant that he would likely die during the night or the next morning. I introduced myself and knelt down beside the patient's wife. She never looked up or paused her crying. She responded to me in almost inaudible short answers. The sheer amount of grief in that room was palpable.
I've held encounters like these hundreds of times, but this one is still sitting with me a day later. That tells me that there is something about this experience that I need to evaluate a little closer. I spent part of my morning revisiting my time with this patient and family, thinking about the stories they shared and how they struggled with letting him go. The heart attack happened so suddenly and so unexpectedly. They talked about how he seemed to be in such good health, how he exercised every day and took such good care of himself. The shock was very understandable and made the entire experience seem surreal.
As I sit here reflecting, I can't help but think about my own mortality. (I think of that often in my line of work - LOL) Seriously, whether it's because my work deals with the end of life, or whether it's because death happens every single day around us (ie. car accidents, random shootings, etc.), I am reminded regularly that my life is finite and that one day I will die. I know, no one really wants to think about things like that, let alone talk about it. Yet, it is something we all have to face. I engage in conversations like this because I find that it really seems to keep things in perspective.
I recently reignited the fire under my butt to get back in shape and start making healthier decisions. Then, last night happened. I watched as a previously fit and healthy man lay dying. I can't lie - it made me wonder if all his efforts were worth it. As I was driving home from the visit, I even got a little angry. It's just not fair. He seemed to be doing everything right but was still taken down by the same thing that killed his father. How is that right? What kind of payback is that?! What's the point of grueling our way through workouts, suffering through diets, and agonizing over every little pound we gain if we could all die tomorrow?
As my own blood pressure began to rise, I took a deep breath and stopped. I reflected back on that family sitting around his bed. They took turns sharing stories...memories of the man they remembered...the husband, the father, the friend. He lived such a full and rich life. He identified early on what gave his life purpose and meaning and then made life choices accordingly. Yes, he died from a heart attack just like his father. However, he didn't die in his late thirties - he made it to 80 years young (and didn't look anywhere near 80).
Yes, we could all die tomorrow in a car accident. We could all collapse with a heart attack before our next birthday. However, we are alive today! Moments like this remind me of my own life's purpose and meaning. It's so easy to get distracted and forget what really matters. We are constantly bombarded by news, social media, and the world around us. It is no surprise that we allow ourselves to get caught up in everything else and make choices that don't really align with our true purpose in life.
When setting goals, it is important to dig deep down and put to name exactly what is driving you to reach that goal. Your ultimate why. Like a relentless child who keeps asking "why," you need to keep asking yourself the same until you've gotten to the truth. Those deep truths are usually based on your life's purpose and meaning. When we choose goals that support our purpose in life, we are way more likely to reach them.
I am striving to live a more active lifestyle and make healthier choices, not because the news or social media tells me I should, but because doing so is helping me live a life that will support the things that bring my life meaning and purpose. Am I going to veer off the path every now and then? Absolutely! However, moments like last night remind me how precious this life is and how every effort I make is worth it. It's worth it for this moment, this day... and every day.