On several occasions, when I've told people I am a hospice volunteer, the first thing they say is "that must be hard!" It was "hard" before I realized that I didn't have to "be doing" anything -- just "show up and be present" with the dying person. And it forced me to deal with my own mortality in ways that only being with someone who is dying can teach you. That was a gift -- a blessing -- which continues to bless me today and every day I'm "still here".
A few years ago, I decided to create and offer a talk that I called "Everyday Blessings: Wisdom for Talking About Death With Loved Ones". While it hasn't become a "best seller" at our Senior & Community Centers, it has drawn people willing to learn (some) of the profound teachings death (and talking about it) has to offer.
Last weekend, I had an opportunity to present the talk for a group of 15 Caring Visitors at a local church -- people who regularly visit elderly members of their congregation who no longer are able to come to church. What a great program! What a wonderful group of people! Every church should have a Caring Visitors program. It reduces the depressing (and often deadly) isolation that so many elders in our community and country experience in their lives.
Presenting the talk again reminded me of the many blessings I received from people who I've "sat with" as a hospice volunteer. In a handout I prepared for the talk, I quoted Roger Housden, author of a beautiful series of books, Ten Poems to Last a Lifetime, Ten Poems to Open Your Heart, Ten Poems to Change Your Life , and Ten Poems to Set You Free.
Housden says that “ . . . a blessing, wherever it comes from, joins us to the larger body of life. It nourishes and heals us with sustenance from the invisible realms.” And “. . . blessings give an experience of the world that is richer, more full of life and meaning, than the one we had known before. . . A blessing is an influx of grace.”
As I thought about my experience as a hospice volunteer, I realized that I have received these blessings from the dying that have enriched and deepened my experience of living:
A blessing of acceptance: I am blessed by accepting death as a natural experience of life, opening my heart to acceptance of all situations, emotions, and people.
A blessing of gratitude: I am blessed by expressing gratitude for all the gifts of life, appreciating whatever comes my way, the hardships as well as the joys.
A blessing of presence: I am blessed by choosing to be fully present with other human beings, connecting heart-to-heart as I listen to their words and their message beyond words.
A blessing of attention: I am blessed by paying attention to what really matters in life, guiding me to choose words and deeds that engender meaning and purpose.
A blessing of time: I am blessed by knowing that death brings time to an end, awakening me to the preciousness of time and compelling me to live in the present moment.
A blessing of patience: I am blessed by being patient with myself and others, relaxing gently into whatever is happening in my life and experiencing a sense of wonder in all creation.
A blessing of intimacy: I am blessed by communicating from the heart, speaking openly, honestly, and genuinely with everyone on my life’s path.
A blessing of kindness: I am blessed by treating every human being with kindness, bringing generosity of spirit and caring to all of my relationships with others.
A blessing of compassion: I am blessed by being willing to be touched by the suffering of others, knowing every human experiences pain and seeks to be free of suffering.
A blessing of forgiveness: I am blessed by forgiving myself and others who have harmed me, letting go of the past and creating a fresh start in the present moment.
A blessing of joy: I am blessed by deeply appreciating the fortunate conditions of my life, embracing feelings of joy and delight in everyday living.
A blessing of love: I am blessed by loving myself and following my heart, opening myself to loving others and receiving their love – to be fully, passionately alive.
How have you been blessed in your life? Who has blessed you? What gifts has life given you? I encourage you to write about them and share them in an ethical or spiritual will that you give to your loved ones while you are still alive.