This is the last question from the college class, and it’s an important one.
How do you stay positive? Don’t you ever think this is unfair, or ask why me?
I do believe that our attitudes are, to a considerable degree, a choice. I could certainly wallow in self-pity, but that wouldn’t be a very wise use of my remaining time. I’d much rather enjoy every moment I can! I have never thought this was unfair because I already knew that life is not fair. Funny that we never complain of unfairness when it goes the other way! I lived with enormous gratitude before I got sick because I knew I had more than my fair share of blessings in life. So when I got sick, it simply felt like random bad luck. And I still feel grateful for all the other gifts.
There is a lot of sadness in dying. I’ve done lots of crying, though the tears don’t actually last very long. Really, less than a minute a day, on average. (The rest of my time is pretty cheerful!) Those moments of grief or sadness come when I think of having to give up all I love in life, which is a lot, because I love so much of this wonderful world. This is indeed very hard. But I’ve realised I can turn this around, and instead of thinking of giving up all I cherish, I can think of giving it away, or simply giving.
All of life, but the end of life especially, is an opportunity to give, pass on, or share all that we hold dear. This can be material things, like our favourite clothes or collections, a car or money. It can also be our intellectual or creative accomplishments, such as our ideas or research, the songs we recorded or our poems or drawings, a recipe, or the code we wrote or websites we created, maybe even our comments on social media. I had a friend who died recently, and the mission statement she had developed over many years of caring for children was one of her special gifts.
But even more importantly, it can also be our interpersonal gifts, such as our love, enthusiasm, kindness, gratitude, laughter, listening, encouragement, and compassion. These are all the things we can continue to give to others as long as we are able, and that act of giving is an enormous consolation in the face of death. It is the near-magical transformation of loss into gifts. So instead of grief at giving up so much, we have joy in giving these gifts.
That also means that instead of being focused on ourselves and our suffering and loss, we focus on others and engage in an act of generosity. Not only is this a cure for grief, it is also, if practiced throughout life, a way to avoid regret at the end.