Gratitude, Living a Good Life, and Letting Go of Our Fear of Death
Over the last few months, this column has been exploring themes around death and grieving. We have looked at ways of coping with grief and loss, as well as ways of preparing for death – whether that be the death of a loved one or a diagnosis of our own. In today’s article, I wanted to look at the way death is often perceived through a different lens.
We live in a society that generally tries to evade death, where well-being and self-care industries are built around promises of prolonging our youthfulness. And our lives.
Of course, it’s important to take care of our physical and mental health. And I won’t say that I don’t follow certain health-related trends, like watching my sugar intake (I have a very sweet tooth) or being physically active. Yes, I hope to live a long, healthy, satisfying life. But instead of living that life in fear of death, can I – can we – look at death as one final step as we journey through life?
In this month of October, a time of reflection and thankfulness, let’s see if we can start living life in a different way. Instead of living in fear of death, let’s live because of it. Recognizing that time is not infinite allows us to ask ourselves the important questions:
What is truly important to me?
Which special people in my life should I make more time for?
Which activities and interests make my life more meaningful?
In a world that moves too fast, where we are always “too busy,” I wanted to share these words of wisdom with you:
- Many times, when I ask a person what fills their day, answers often include some type of go-go-go (work, commutes, everyday routines) and some sort of zoning out (scrolling and streaming). If this isn’t how you want to be spending all of your time, ask yourself: “What is it that I value, and what is it that I prioritize?” Then try to adjust life accordingly.
- Social media is an illusion. It’s constantly telling us that we should be living our best lives, or worse, that everyone else is living their best life – too often a reminder that we’re not. And so, we combat feelings of inadequacy by documenting our lives through a series of Instagram-worthy photos and clever captions that may not even reflect real life.
- Too many of us live our lives in autopilot: Wake up, work, evening routines, repeat. Sound familiar? Instead, let yourself ease into the day by taking steps to understand what it is that your body responds to, whether that be gentle movement, or, like me, a cup of coffee and some solitude. Same goes for easing into sleep at the end of the day.
- We are more productive when we take time to feel grounded, to be aware of our bodies, our thoughts, and the space we are in. Take time out of your day to pause and be present. We can achieve this in small ways: a relaxing breath in and a long, slow exhale; moving our body through stretching or moving away from our desks for a break; looking out the window and taking in what we see.
- Time is not money. So make time for those things that are important to you – whether that be family, pets, travel, being in nature, sleep, relaxation, eating good food, movement, or connecting with friends.
- Never forget: The natural world is a true gift. Take the time to stop and notice the sky, to mindfully breathe in the air, to visit with nature. Seasons come and go. Nature renews itself to the best of its ability. We are a part of that nature. Let’s not forget to step into it.
- Taking care of the practical stuff, like your finances, is actually a form of self-care. As much as I’m a proponent of being in the moment, we can also live a good life by thinking about the future. Having some plans in place around savings, health care, and insurance can help us avoid unnecessary worry during stressful times.
A final thought: When we are faced with the reality of loss – a loved one, a pet – everything grinds to a halt for a time. At some point, we’re expected to pick ourselves up and put together some semblance of our life before loss. But many of us secretly struggle. We don’t talk about the impact of loss; some of us feel uncomfortable even acknowledging it. And, so, we try to move on. Back to our autopilot routines, back to mindless scrolling, back to our busy lives. Let’s break that cycle. Let’s live – not the “best” life – but a good life.
If I am lucky enough to live as long as my Nana (who lived an extraordinary 97 years), I hope to live that time well – just like she did. We will all experience moments of awe, and moments of pain. In the in-between, which is how we spend most of our time here, I wish for each of you to enjoy moments of peace and contentment, as well as a good, fulfilling life.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jennifer G. McKechnie is a trauma therapist working with both children and adults. Jennifer utilizes interventions such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, as well as Polyvagal Theory in her work. She values ongoing learning as a key part of maintaining and growing her practice. When away from the office, Jennifer incorporates self-regulation techniques into her day by connecting with nature through running, as well as spending time with her partner and pets.
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