I received the comment below in response to a blog article I wrote about the reason to get out of bed in the morning—purpose, that we all need a purpose in life. I was so inspired by this person’s response that I am writing this addendum to the original blog.
Dear Barbara, At 88, I've come to be concerned that many or most of us were raised to believe that there is no value to our simple being, that we are worthless if we are not doing, and the more the better. Our "purposes" become our identities, our resumes, that prove we exist and have a right to exist. That fear for ourselves (who am I if I'm not knitting an afghan?) can lead some folks to devalue the disabled, those living with Alzheimer's, the old old, the dying. If our "purposes" give us our value, are those of us with fewer purposes less valuable--because of our own fears and sense that we need to keep producing, do many of us really feel that way, even as we pretend not to? Just food for thought here in a very, very purposeful and transactional society. Not that I don't value purposes, Just saying.
I had a teacher once tell me "as long as we are breathing, even if it is doing nothing else but breathing, some one is learning something and it may be you". That is what I was reminded of when this person wrote to me.
Our very existence is reason enough to get out of bed in the morning or not. She is right, we tend to value productivity and shame idleness.
That said I want to clarify why a purpose is so important as we approach the end of our life. Most of us live our life as if we are going to live forever, that we have “all the time in the world”, that other people die but certainly not ourselves—-if we think about death at all.
Then a physician says “I can’t fix you. You are going to die sometime soon”, it is generally not said so bluntly. Actually often it is not said at all. BUT because we live inside of our bodies, as our body begins shutting down, we know when we are dying even if no one tells us directly. Our mind then shifts from not thinking about death to thinking about it a lot. (Maybe not sharing those thoughts but be sure we are thinking them.)
In the months before death comes, when our body begins shutting down—eating less, sleeping more, less interested in socializing, a “why bother” thought pops inside our mind, a “I’m just not interested, I just don’t have the energy, why should I do anything” group of thoughts.
To help a person live the best they can, to have quality time until their body completely withdraws, finding a purpose, a reason to get out of bed can give direction. Having a purpose can fill the time of endless “I can’t do anything anymore” thoughts.
There will come a time, in the weeks before death, when activity, a purpose, is no longer important. Now begins the work of the chick getting out of its shell, releasing from a no longer functioning body. But before that happens, that in-between time, a project is helpful. That project can be organizing scrapbooks, recording a family history, making phone calls to friends, an easy craft project, something to fill the time, something to give a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Something More about... A Reason To Get Out of Bed, Part II
When a person receives the diagnosis of a life-threatening illness, life as they know it ceases. They find themselves in uncharted territory with no script to follow. Too often they withdraw from the world, as if they have already died. All activity becomes centered on their living with disease and its treatment. Fear and uncertainty replaces confidence and self identity. The joys of living are more or less put on hold while living as long as possible is pursued.
A Time to Live honors whatever life prolonging choices are being made while at the same time suggesting we look at the gifts life offers each day.
Raquel, I am sorry for your loss, and it sounds from your mother’s comment that she was a “doer”. But the value of life isn’t always tangible or visible. Up until the moment she died, ….she was teaching you about the value of love. And even now, you are still listening and learning from your mother. When it is your turn to leave, remember to be the teacher to those you love. We all have so much to learn about love. Shine on in peace.
When my mom was terminally ill, during her last weeks she lay in bed saying “I can’t wait to die. I’m just here, useless.” It broke my heart.
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