For those of you who missed Part One of my Talk Radio Network interview by Gloria Burgess, here’s a link that will allow you to miss Part Two, too 🙂 … Interview, Part II. And now back to our regularly scheduled bloggin’.
Shortly after Stephen Levine’s book, A Year to Live: How to Live This Year As If It Is Your Last was released, a close colleague and I decided to invite a group of friends to gather together weekly to structure and explore the guidelines that Stephen offered in the book. The first thing each person did was to go through the book and extract and prioritize those things they would be spending the year focusing on, things like forgiveness and gratitude and, as Plato suggested, “practicing dying.” What took my colleague and I by surprise was the activity that turned up at the top of almost everyone’s list. It was as if each participant instinctively knew that this was essential to attend to while they still could. The Number One Activity? Finishing unfinished business. Or as Stephen describes it – people at the end of life change their relationship to relationship itself. They have “a going-out-of-unfinished-business sale.”
Unfinished business comes in many forms, of course. The form it took for most of the members of our little group was to do their best in attempting to repair long-ruptured relationships. One challenge in actually attempting that was that none of us had ever had any instruction whatsoever in how to actually go about such repair work. What should we do first? What should we do next? How do we best communicate our intention and desire? What if the person had no interest? What if they were no longer alive? How do we truly know when a ruptured relationship has been fully repaired? Lots of questions, very few clear answers. These questions, it turned out, were ones that each of us in the group had to learn to live our way into in order to find out the answers for ourselves.
Termination Makes It Happen
Brazilian businessman, Ricardo Semler took the wisdom available in Stephen’s book to heart long before the book was ever published.
Shortly after he took over his father’s manufacturing business, he decided that he didn’t want his work life to kill him. Nor did he want it to kill his employees. Dead employees don’t deliver much value. To help himself live his life to the fullest and not have it be mostly about work, Semler designated Mondays and Thursdays as Termination Days. Every Monday and every Thursday Semler lived as if he was responding to an imaginary diagnosis from his family doctor: “Ricardo, you only have six months to live.”
I have taken both Stephen’s and Ricardo’s wisdom to heart. I have recently initiated my own Termination Days. How do I spent them, acting as if I only have six months to live? I spend them volunteering at Enso House, our local island hospice. Enso is a perfect match for me and my aging neurobiology. They only have two beds and they only accept one guest at a time. It’s a great place to titrate intimate learning about a journey of my own that I will one day be taking. Better to go out and hang with the Reaper while he’s distracted, busily engaging with other people, yes?
Still Life with Color
Stephen (who died last year) would not be surprised in the least to discover that through the brain magic of projection and transference, my own mother showed up on Day One of my first visit to Enso. And you, dear reader, can probably guess my mother is someone I had/have unfinished business with (does anyone not?). Our relationship ruptured early in my life. As someone severely troubled and trauma-ed – she spent many years of her own life confined to Connecticut state mental hospitals. Through no fault of her own, she became someone I was simply unable to trust.
But I could feel understanding and compassion for her. As I learned about her early life – it’s very likely that her mother murdered her father and was never prosecuted for it. It was most likely in reaction to some abusive perpetration, and it happened sometime before my mother became a teen. But my mother also and saw her sister die young of cancer and her brother live an extremely disorganized life in a neighboring housing project. It was all she could do to get up every day and survive until the next.
It is a similar understanding and compassion that I also have for the current terminal guest at Enso House. She is like my mother in more ways than I can imagine, from her slight build, to her affect, to her sense of humor. Sitting by her bedside, listening to her ragged breathing while she sleeps, is a perfect way for me to “relationship-repair-by-proxy” during these first Termination Days. Long may they run.