What We Can Learn About Life From the Dying

In the highly acclaimed 2007 film The Bucket List, Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson play two men with terminal illnesses who set out to accomplish a list of things they call the “bucket” list – as in, “before we kick the bucket.” In addition to delivering an entertaining performance by two talented and much-loved actors, the film sparked a conversation heard around the world.

While we are still blessed with good health and good fortune, we tend to ignore or deny the fact that this wonderful party called life will eventually come to an end. We travel through each day full of busy-ness, accomplishing tasks that seem important at the time. But would the tasks on your to-do list have the same priority if you knew your time on earth was nearing its end?

The Bucket List’s wisdom is a simple truth: we have much to learn from the dying, and the first thing we have to learn is that we’re all going to die. Now, no one is suggesting that you adopt a morbid obsession with death; that’s not what dying people do. To the contrary, those who are facing their own death tend to focus on living life to the fullest, and in that, they have a lot to teach us. For example:

The value of life. For one who knows the end is near, each remaining day is precious. Those who are dying focus on living each day to the fullest, making the most of the time they have left. They do not squander their last days on meaningless tasks and petty conflicts.

In most cases, this new awareness of life’s value will not prompt a first attempt at skydiving or mountain climbing. Instead, seeing the value of life will come from an eyes-wide-open view of the things that are truly important: faith, family, friends, nature…the things that fill your soul and send your heart soaring.

The value of relationships. The dying and their loved ones gain a new appreciation for each other when they know their time together is limited. They will spend more quality time together, and they will talk about issues that have long simmered below the surface. They will voice their love and affection for one another, and they will make an effort to heal any lingering hurts.

You don’t have to wait until you’re dying to cherish your relationships, however. And if you do, you run the risk that you will run out of time before you say the things you want to say. When it comes to the people you love, live each day like it is your last, and let them know how much you care.

The value of you. Your limitations do not define you. Just as the person who is dying is more than his illness, you are more than your weaknesses, failings, and fears. Focus on the positive aspects of your life – your talents, humor, and kindness – and share them freely with those around you.

The value of faith. People who are dying confront the big issues in a big way. They ponder what lies beyond this life, and they spend time preparing themselves for the transition. No one can know the answers for certain, but that doesn’t stop us from searching for meaning. This is what gives substance to our faith, and in the end, faith is the source of courage and strength. Now is the time to cultivate a firm foundation of faith.

Many people of faith believe that life is changed, not ended, when physical death occurs. This belief that life goes on in a spiritual realm is another dimension of faith. You can begin today to nurture your spiritual life and build the faith that will sustain you through your losses in this life and your transition to the life to come.

What Have You Learned From a Dying Loved One?

We have much to learn from our loved ones who are dying: the value of forgiveness, the relationship between faith and courage, and the power of love. What have you learned about living from a dying loved one? Do you have a “bucket list,” and if so, what’s on it?

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