The Business of Dying by Christina Knowles

seidoryu       As an atheist, I shudder at the thought of a chaplain at my bedside when it’s my time to die. However, today I was privileged to listen to a truly profound and helpful chaplain guide someone close to me on “the business of dying.”

Shortly after being informed that she had very little time left, the chaplain arrived, and instead of a long dissertation on theology, endless prayers, or reading cliché bible verses, he merely accepted her word that she was confidant of her eternal life and moved on to the harder part, the present.

At first, I was concerned. He seemed pushy and inconsiderate. When he asked her what she was feeling, and she replied, “It is what it is,” he pushed, aggressively.

He led her through each possible emotion, explored them, talked about them, and acknowledged their validity. He said it was okay to grieve your own life, the disappointment, the lost time, the things that you will never be able to do, time with loved ones stolen. He asked about fear, not fear of the afterlife, but fear of the actual dying and fear about leaving loved ones behind. He validated all emotions someone might feel and empathized.

Next, he asked her what she wanted. He said she didn’t have to answer now, and that it didn’t have to be one big thing, but that she should think about that every morning when she wakes up and ask, “What do I want today?” He explained that he meant real things, good things like asking for a hug or asking to have a conversation about a memory or about what someone means to her. He encouraged her to go deep inside herself everyday to really get in touch with her heart’s desire. He said to not let these things go by undone. If she needs to say something to someone or just relive a memory with someone, ask for it. If she needed closure, to fix a relationship, or address a regret, she should have that conversation.

The chaplain told her that part of the business of dying was to celebrate the life she’s lived. He said to reflect on her life’s accomplishments, things she was particularly proud of, things she enjoyed, and things that she did right. He told her she lived a life that deserved acknowledgement.

He ended his counsel by asking her if she wanted anything else from him. She asked him to pray with her. He laughingly responded, “Is that what you want, or do you think that’s what I want to hear?” She said she did want it, and his prayer was beautiful, specifically saying that she was in control of her life and how she lived it to her last breath.

He was brilliant and profound, comforting and respectful. I thought, This is what a chaplain should do. So many times, I’ve heard the well-meaning pastor spout clichés and seemed more concerned with reinforcing religious beliefs than dealing with real emotions and concrete issues. I always cringed at the shallow recitation of the typical platitudes. Finally, a chaplain who knows what to say to the dying, what they need to know in their last days, what not to forget in the days to come. The compassionate and practical advice I heard today cut through all the nonsense of avoidance. People don’t need vapid dictums when they face the end of their lives; they need something real, something meaningful and honest to go about the business of dying. –Christina Knowles

photo via seidoryu.com

10 Tips to Keeping Those New Year’s Resolutions by Christina Knowles

img_1314Reflecting on life is common this time of year. Some feel as though another year has gone by and wonder where the time went and feel disappointed and unaccomplished. Not me. I like to reflect on the year in order to make plans for the coming year. I see each new year as a fresh start, a chance to stop and take stock, decide what’s really important to me right now, and to make sure I don’t waste a whole year without even realizing it. I reevaluate my goals and adjust accordingly.

 

Yet there are those who look upon New Year’s resolutions with disdain, suggesting that failure in realizing these goals is inevitable and merely contributes to frustration and disappointment. I don’t see it that way. I like to make lots of resolutions because I usually keep at least half of them, so the more I have, the more I keep. This year, I started a second blog, published a collection of poetry, gained a basic proficiency with Photoshop, and reduced the amount of work I take home in addition to several personal things I won’t mention. Did I complete all my goals? No, but I’m perfectly satisfied with what I did accomplish.

 

So, because I’m pretty successful in this area, I thought I’d offer a few tips that help me in keeping my New Year’s resolutions.

 

  1. Make sure your resolutions are things that you really want to do, not just what you think you should do, or what someone else suggests you do. It’s human nature to be inspired to work for something when you really want it. Sometimes, we try to force our desires to fit things that we think are good for us, but our heart is not in it. If your heart is not in it, you probably won’t do it.
  2. Make realistic resolutions for the things that you are slightly less enthusiastic about. Instead of saying, “I’m going to lose 40 lbs.,” say, “I’m going to completely stop eating at fast food restaurants.” A change like this may inadvertently get you closer to the more difficult goal.
  3. Make small incremental changes throughout the year, rather than jumping in full speed. Start slow and create habits without burning yourself out. Committing to doing yoga twice a week for a year is better, in the long run, than spending five days a week in the gym for one month and quitting.
  4. Celebrate small successes and let them encourage you to think bigger. Instead of deciding to write your first novel after several years of not writing, start journaling or blogging or writing short stories. Practice writing short things and get used to expressing yourself regularly. Not only will the task of writing a novel seem less daunting after a while, but your writing ability and creativity will have grown, so your novel will be better. This concept can be applied to all kinds of goals. This sounds like the same thing as number 3, but here I am talking more about practicing something to improve proficiency and build confidence.
  5. Put your resolutions somewhere you will see them regularly. Re-read them at least once a month to remind yourself of your goals, to adjust your methods, and to get yourself back on track if necessary, or hopefully, to check off goals that you have met early. Checking things off your resolution list is not only gratifying, but inspires us to tackle the next goal. As the year-end nears, I find myself gaining a renewed determination to knock things off that list. It feels great!
  6. Tell someone else about your goals/resolutions and ask them to check in with you periodically to ask you how you are doing with them. Be sure they understand that you don’t want to be nagged. That’s different than just a friendly check-in, which leads to number 7.
  7. Do not ask someone to hold you accountable. A friendly check-in should be framed as interest, not accountability. It’s my understanding of human nature, that as soon as someone appears to be telling us to do something, we react by not wanting to do it at all.
  8. Reward yourself for every goal you complete, or for larger goals, you should treat yourself for completing significant steps toward the goal.
  9. Make sure these rewards don’t sabotage your goals. The reward should not be taking a break from the good habits you are forming, but should be something unrelated that you enjoy. Building a habit or routine that helps you reach your goals can be derailed quickly by associating reward with stopping or taking a break from working toward your goal.
  10. Don’t feel bad or criticize yourself for the resolutions you don’t keep. Praise yourself for the ones you do keep. At the end of the year, count up how many successes you had, re-evaluate the rest, and if you feel like you still want to meet the goals you didn’t succeed in, add them to your next New Year’s resolution list, knowing that you are bound to meet some of them, so you’re better off than not making resolutions at all.

 

Why risk feeling like you let a whole year slip unconsciously by, regretting inaction, and missing out on the things that are most important to you? Don’t let your life slide by, lost in the hypnosis of everyday life. Take the necessary steps to move toward accomplishing what really matters to you.—Christina Knowles

Bad Advice by Christina Knowles

follow your heartWith all the graduations and weddings this time of year, the world is rife with “good” advice.  It seems everyone has an aphorism or two to share. But are these common aphorisms comprehensive truths? Or are we so used to hearing them that we don’t really bother examining them? Here are some suggestions that many people take as some kind of universal wisdom that really should never be followed:

  1. In college, major in something that will lead to a good career. Students are so brainwashed into becoming marketable that they need very little encouragement to throw their dreams and passions in the wastebasket in order to please some corporate exec who will use them up and spit them out. Don’t do it. Follow your passion, and you will be automatically “marketable.”
  2. Go to college right after graduation. Kids feel the pressure from parents, teachers, and colleges as early as their freshmen year in high school to choose a career, check out schools, and apply for scholarships. Geez, not only do you have no idea who you are yet, you certainly have no idea who you will be in two years. Go out in the world and find out before wasting $50,000 unless you’ve known since you were two and it’s never changed.
  3. Get a good paying job. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with making bank if you are doing what you love, but do what you love first, and then decide what kind of lifestyle doing what you love can support. A good paying job is a prison that will enslave you into wasting the next 40 years if you are not careful.
  4. Establish credit. Sure, don’t ruin your credit, but don’t go around thinking you have to get a loan and pay it off to build up your credit. That just enslaves you to debt. The best credit is built by NOT having debt and paying bills on time, bills like your rent and the utilities.
  5. Put your kids first. This is a modern idea. In past generations, adults took care of their kids’ needs, and didn’t really lose sleep over their kids’ wants. You know what? It worked. Kids became self-sufficient, hard-working, considerate, unselfish people instead of entitled, self-loathing people who can’t figure out why everyone is not trying as hard as their parents to make them happy. They learned to make themselves happy.
  6. Buy a house instead of renting as soon as you can. Buying a house is a better deal than renting if you know you are ready to settle down. But buying a house too soon is another trap, designed to keep you from following your true desires. When you are young and unattached, don’t be in such a hurry to tie yourself down.
  7. Wait for marriage. This is an old fashioned idea that most people have given up. There is a lot of baggage tied up in sex, and incompatible sex partners make miserable life partners. Do you really want to take that chance? By all means, don’t jump in bed with someone on the third date, but if you are considering marriage, take a test drive around the block first.
  8. Marriage is hard work, so stick with it. Marriage is supposed to make life easier, not harder. I’m not talking about throwing in the towel as soon as the honeymoon is over, or giving up because one of you is going through a hard time, but if sharing your life with someone is really that much work, why bother? When you are happily partnered up, life is sweet. When you are miserable, and going home is worse than working a 12-hour shift, move on. Life is too short.
  9. Wait for the kids to get older to get divorced. There is a common misconception that it will be easier on the kids, the older they are. Not true. Young kids are way more resilient. They will adapt and forget what it was like living with both of you at the same time. Older kids and even young adults hang on to the past and resentments much longer, and as an added bonus, love to manipulate the situation for their own benefit. Also, when you are in an unhappy relationship, you probably aren’t doing your best parenting.
  10. Save for your kids’ college. What? You’re getting old, and you don’t have much time left to get that mortgage paid off and prepare for a few leisurely years before you die. Your kids have their whole lives to pay for their education, and they probably have more time left than you. An added bonus is that kids tend to get a lot more out of their education when they pay for it themselves.
  11. Stay out of the sun or use sunscreen. The sun is really good for you in moderation. A half hour a day provides you with much needed Vitamin D, lowers blood pressure, alleviates depression, and gives a general sense of well-being. Conversely, sunscreen causes more cancer than sun damage. Just don’t overdo your exposure. If you have to stay out in the sun for a long time, wear a hat and a light weight long-sleeved shirt.
  12. Shelter your kids. Protecting your kids from reality is not helping them. Keep them safe by letting them understand the real world and how to protect themselves without scaring them. Expose them to different ideas and diverse groups of people while keeping lines of communication open. Answer their questions honestly. By answering uncomfortable questions in a direct and forthright manner, you give yourself the opportunity of influencing your child while they are actually interested in what you have to say. You will also earn the reputation of being someone who tells the truth and that can be trusted.
  13. Take “You-Only-Live-Once” to mean “Die-As-Soon-As-Possible.” The trend of risk-taking for entertainment is nothing new among the young, but lately, it seems people aren’t outgrowing this behavior. Jumping out of an airplane on a motorcycle may make you feel alive, but you won’t actually be alive that long if you indulge in this type of hobby. Adrenaline junkies also tend to get cancer and heart disease sooner, that is, if they live long enough. We weren’t meant to live in the fight or flight mode full-time. So, if you only live once, shouldn’t you try to make it last a while?
  14. Save all your money for retirement. Saving for a rainy day is always a good idea, but spend some of it on the now. What if you live frugally, putting off all your traveling and fun for retirement, and you never get there? What if you die two weeks before retirement? You can’t take it with you, and to be honest, you can’t save enough to matter anyway. I mean a nice nursing home will suck that retirement account dry in a matter of months. The best retirement plan is to be out of debt, own your house, and have a modest income coming in, so you don’t have to work until you’re dead. If you have to go in to an assisted living situation, you may as well have spent your money while you could enjoy it, and let Medicaid take care of the years when you can’t.
  15. Don’t Go to Bed Angry. This has got to be one of the worst pieces of advice I have ever heard—like your relationship’s really going to be better off after staying awake fighting all night? The more tired you get, the more stupid things you will say to regret in the morning. Just go to bed mad, and when you wake up, you probably won’t even remember that you were angry the night before. If it was really that serious, you wouldn’t be able to solve it one night anyway, and at the very least, you will have had some time and space to calm down.

So next time you reach for that age-old (worn out) wisdom that you’ve heard so many times that you think it must be fact, look at it from a different perspective and just do what you want. And however hypocritical it may be, I’ll offer my favorite bit of advice from notable French author, François Duc de La Rochefoucauld: “It is more easy to be wise for others than for ourselves.” –Christina Knowles

The Ten-Second Sage by Christina Knowles

Quotation-Kalista-Miller-life-live-Meetville-Quotes-181803Lately I’ve been reading a lot of life advice on Facebook, and a huge majority of it centers on living for yourself, doing what you want, letting people go who don’t improve your life, forgiving others in order to move on with your own life, and not letting others determine how you live your life. It seems selfishness is the new black. Of course, all of this can be good advice under certain circumstances, but it struck me that taking this literally as a mantra by which to live your life is a good way to be alone for the rest of your life.

There is nothing wrong with being alone if that’s what you choose, and if you really feel like you can’t compromise in the details of your life, then it’s probably a good choice. But if you happen to fall in love, you may need to rethink the whole “living for yourself” thing.

I am a very independent woman, who does not like to be told what to do. I consider myself a feminist. When I divorced my first husband, I reveled in the freedom to do whatever I wanted, make choices without considering what anyone else thought, and being able to completely change my life if I wanted without worrying about how it affected someone else. I was happy, and I vowed never to tie myself down with anyone again. And that is a valid choice. It didn’t make me selfish or shallow. However, “living for yourself” while in a relationship is selfish and shallow and is guaranteed to end in disaster.

Even before I met my current husband, I realized that the secret to a good relationship with anyone is unselfishness. When I fell in love with him, I decided I would always consider his needs above my own because I love him. Of course, if he did not respond to me in the same way, we would have had problems, and eventually, I may have felt differently about him because of it. But he does put me before himself. I believe that when someone you love puts you first, it’s a natural reaction to reciprocate in kind, and when this happens, both people’s needs are met and both people feel loved and valued. In contrast, acting out of self-serving motives and without considering the needs and desires of your mate leads to arguments, resentment, and eventually a break-up. When someone who is supposed to love you, cares more about himself, you feel unloved and unimportant, and then the tendency is to react by protecting yourself, becoming selfish in response. When you protect yourself from someone you love, you lose intimacy, and eventually love.Take-Care

Sometimes it is necessary to act selfishly. Sometimes it is survival. As I said above, under certain circumstances, taking care of yourself first is good advice, but it is never good advice for making a relationship work. Sometimes you need to leave people behind, let them go, but adopting a permanent attitude of self-protection and complete independence means choosing to be alone or in constant conflict.

forgivenessAs far as forgiving others so that you can move on, I think this is terrible advice. If you merely forgive others for your own sake, you probably haven’t really forgiven them at all. You’ve just moved on, and put whatever they’ve done to you out of your head. Forgiveness should always be a gift to someone out of love. You love who hurt you more than you dislike what they’ve done, and you love them enough to give them a clean slate. You love them enough to be vulnerable to the possibly of them hurting you again in the same way. You don’t hold it against them, expect them to repeat the mistake, or ever bring it up again. If you can’t risk it, don’t forgive them, but let them go and forget about it. You don’t need to forgive them for you; they need it if they want to stay in a relationship with you.

When I fell in love with my husband, I knew I had a choice to make. I knew I had to give up making all the decisions myself; I had to give up the freedom to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I decided that what I was gaining was better than anything I was giving up, and I’ve been lucky because being unselfish is easy with him. He treats me with such concern, such unselfish love, that I automatically care more about his needs and desires than my own. Sure there are times when I want my way, and it’s not the same as his, but all we have to do is realize how important something is to the other, and then it’s easy to compromise. That is love, and love is unselfish.

So I don’t think I’ll be utilizing any ten-second psychology from Facebook any time soon. These sage-sounding aphorisms make good memes, but not good relationships. There is enough selfishness in the world; I don’t want it in my relationship with my husband or anyone else I care about.—Christina Knowles

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