A few years ago I visited a man who was dying. He had a disease that left him almost immobile. I would say he “suffered” from this disease but he had such an amazing attitude he didn’t consider it suffering. I noted that, pondered it out loud with him and he said, “Oh, many people have it much worse off than me.”
I wanted to say something as I was preparing to leave and so I said, ‘Do you know what I think life’s last lesson is?” He looked at me blankly. So I said, “So you’re not in the mood for philosophy?” “No, but you started so you have to finish.”
“I believe life’s last lesson is when you can no longer contribute, you are already loved.”
He looked up at me and calmly replied, “It has taken me a lifetime to learn this, but now there is nothing left to do but accept it.”
This makes me think of Paul Tillich’s reminder that we have to “accept that we are accepted.”
I want to contribute. I want to say something or do something significant. Yet, I am reminded it is a gift. Life is a gift. Being with the dying has given me a gift in those sacred moments. Several years ago I was with an aunt at the end of her life. She was so independent and adventurous. And yet at the end of her life she faced dementia. She never lost her articulate nature. She was not sure who my mother was so I asked her,
“Do you have a sister named Joy?” Even though Mom was right there she didn’t notice.
She became animated, “Oh, yes!”
“What is she like?”
“She’s like me, only more so.”
I told a friend after observing how caring she was and how she was receiving care graciously,
“I want to be like that at the end.”
“You don’t have to wait, until the end” was his reply.
The lesson is not quite yet learned.