Death & Loss: How To Die Before You Die (6 of 8)

If you can die before you die, then you can truly live! It may sound confusing but the secret to living fully is in letting your old self die. The cancer experience anyway shatters your previous assumptions, goals and priorities. Why cling to them now? The encounter with death offers an opportunity to look at life afresh.         

Death – a new beginning?

Perhaps the most exciting and empowering aspect of death is that it resets your clock to zero. By sharply ending what has gone before, it creates space for a new beginning – a rebirth of sorts. But the real question is why you should have to wait for the biological event to determine your psychological and attitudinal rebirth. In other words, can you die before you die in order to be reborn and renewed?

Shattered glass
Cancer may have shattered your life. Now what?

Think of it this way. Your cancer experience is likely to have dramatically altered, if not shattered, every previous assumption you made about your goals, priorities and even your legacies. Life as you knew it (or dreamed it) has ended.

And it is quite natural to be stunned and disoriented while surveying the damage and debris. But do remember that the same cancer event has also reset your clock to zero. This means you can pick yourself up and start afresh without the baggage of past assumptions or entanglements.

‘Living’ life before you die

How will you deal with life when you are free of them? Will you go back to your familiar habits, old patterns and mundane routines?  We hope not! It is more likely that you will want to grab the opportunity with both hands, rewrite the rules, set new boundaries and henceforth live life on your terms, not anyone else’s.

Remember, the stark prospect of death presents you with the best opportunity to ‘honour your cancer,’ take the ‘fork in the road’ and ‘reclaim your power’. So, seize the moment, and truly live!

A Dialogue with Death

Here are some questions to reflect upon, such that your answers will give you a deep and fundamental insight into yourself and your relationship with death (and life).

1. What are your beliefs about cancer?

Sample answers:

  • “Cancer is a deadly process”.
  • “Cancer is curable”.
  • “Cancer is a punishment’.
  • “Cancer is hereditary”.

2. What are your beliefs about death and dying?

Sample answers:

  • “Death is final and nothing exists beyond death”.
  • “Death is a slow and painful process, causing much suffering to everyone”.
  • “When I die, I will be judged for my actions and will bear the consequences”.
  • “Death is a gateway and I don’t know what lies on the other side”.

3. Looking back at your life, what was it all about? What was the central theme?

Sample answers:

  • “Mine was a lonely life, full of struggles to overcome”.
  • “It’s been a good balance with lots of highs and lows, evenly distributed”.
  • “My life has been one of rich and varied experiences, which I have not taken the time to savour”. 

4. What aspects of your life are you most grateful for? How have you expressed that gratitude?

Sample answers:

  • “I’ve had a wonderful childhood, but I never thanked my parents before they died”. 
  • “My wife and children are my joy; we hug each other every day in gratitude”. 
  • “Taking the road less travelled, I’ve left my mark on things”.

5. If you could change one decision in your life, what would it be? Why did you make that particular decision in the first place?

Sample answers:

  • “I chose a more conventional career over music, which I love”.
  • “I didn’t commit myself soon enough and I let the love of my life walk away”. 
  • “I sacrificed my own needs as a way to gain approval from others”.
  • “I left home in a huff to put my dad in his place”. 
  • “I have been carrying a grudge for so many years”.

6. Why do you really want to live? What do you hope to accomplish in your lifetime? How far have you come?

Sample answers:   

  • “I want to look after myself and serve others”. 
  • “I want to keep growing and learning”. 
  • “I want to change the language around cancer/ illness”. 
  • “I want to be known as a tolerant and non-judgmental person”. 

Reflection

  • Confronting death is not easy, so kudos for finding the courage to do it. Look at your answers to the profound questions about death. What immediate or long term actions can you take to change how you see death?
  • If you are feeling freer and lighter after the exercise, chalk out a plan to create a better life for yourself … a ‘new normal’ if you like.

More from this series

Title About the article
Part 1: Death Unites Us All Traditional societies were closely connected with nature’s continuous cycles of birth-growth-decay-death, and marked these rites of passage with specific and well-established rituals and sacraments. Modern society seems to have lost this close contact with these natural cycles.
Part 2: Five Stages of Grieving Dr Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, one of the world’s foremost authorities on the subject of death, describes the four stages of Denial, Anger, Bargaining and Depression that people pass through when coping with any severe loss, including their own death.
Part 3: Cancer’s Five Shocks With cancer, there are five major ‘shocks’ that a person/ his family has to deal with.
Part 4: What Actually Happens at the Time of Death Caring for a dying person, especially at home can be difficult and daunting.
Part 5: Top Five Regrets of the Dying Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them. When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five.
Part 6: How to Die Before You Die Perhaps the most exciting and empowering aspect of death is that it resets your clock to zero. By sharply ending what has gone before, it creates space for a new beginning – a rebirth of sorts.
Part 7: Quotes We share some quotations (compiled by Arun Wakhlu) on the subject of Death
Part 7: Video (When I Die) How do we approach death whilst embracing life? How can we change the conversation around death and palliative care for the terminally ill?

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