‘The wisdom of the dying’ has perhaps become a cliché nowadays. A Google search using those few words returns around 39 million results.
But what I am really curious about, are the few words that really pierced your heart or absorbed your mind; those simple words that affected your spirit in a profound way.
It need not have been sage advice or anything mystical or esoteric; but something that changed you, or the way you view, or live your life.
For me, I will always remember the words of one hospice patient (here I will call her Pema); who at a time of great vulnerability, shared with me one of her favourite quotes from her spiritual teacher Sai Baba:
There is only one caste—the caste of humanity.
In tending to her nursing care, I had observed her spirituality to be a significant part of her life; of course it also proved significant in the way she approached her death.
I have reflected on those words many times now since Pema died. And to this day I maintain that it is not the words themselves that affected me. But the way in which they were offered. Pema spoke these words with such love and connection—not for (or with) me as a nurse, but for humanity as a whole. At a time when she was losing control of all the mental faculties and physical senses we often take for granted, she somehow was not fragmented or consumed by self-pity. It inspired me to go home and be a better father and husband.
Through her words, I learnt that even when it seems that everything is falling apart – we can still be whole, and connected through our love, grounded in a shared humanity. And it is experiences like this that make palliative nursing such a privilege. But we all know that you don’t have to be a nurse to experience this…
Be they a patient, a friend or a loved one – what words of wisdom were shared with you by someone who was dying?
And perhaps more importantly, how did that experience affect you?
In this way, the wisdom of the dying lives on.