Have you ever wondered what it would be like to look back on your life as if you were at the end? I have. If you have ever faced a health crisis, you have, too.
For years, my heart was in a condition that prevented one of the valves from closing all the way. The beat was irregular, and I was in danger of forming blood clots inside my heart. I managed by trying to stay in shape, eat well, and control my stress. My doctors were in a “wait and see” mode, but told me that at some point, my valve would have to be replaced.
And then I had what I thought was a toothache. Actually, it was an abscess under a very nicely capped tooth. The infection spread to my blood and put me into congestive heart failure.
Lessons I Learned
In a nutshell, here are the ten things that I learned to do differently, now that I have the chance.
|1. Be Grateful.||6. Eat better.|
|2. Forgive and let it go.||7. Exercise for my soul.|
|3. Spend more time with family.||8. Challenge my mind.|
|4. Stay in touch with friends.||9. Learn to play.|
|5. Develop self-discipline.||10. Live in the moment.|
Don’t wait until you are in a crisis to discover what is most important to you. Look at your life and begin living it like it is the only chance you have.
1. Be Grateful
It sounds very cliché, but after you have come through the fire, each new day is a gift. It can be challenging to step out of survival mode, but to truly appreciate the gift of a new day, that is what you must do. For me, that shift happened when I became grateful.
Now, I start each day by affirming out loud: “I am incredibly blessed with yet another day to be on this glorious planet.”
2. Forgive and Let It Go
Unforgiveness requires us to hold on to anger, pain and hurt. The only one who suffers from this is the person holding the emotions, not the person you have not forgiven.
Over the years, I have felt betrayed, abandoned, hurt, and pain caused by other people, some who didn’t realize the pain they were causing. It took me years to work through it and let go. I called on God, my guardian angels, and the White Light to help because, at times, it was beyond my understanding and beyond my forgiveness.
After my heart surgery, I made the decision to heal from the hurt. When I made that decision, I began to see a different picture emerge. I slowly began to see other people as on their own life path, which very different from mine. They have choice, and they use different criteria to make that choice than I use to make mine.
I began letting go of what I thought were hurts and looked at other people’s behaviour as their choice, not mine. When I did, I stopped reacting because I stopped taking everything personally. It took time, but after letting go, I felt emancipated.
3. Spend More Time with Family
Have you ever gone to a funeral where family members are meeting for the first time in years? I have, and I wondered why it took them so long to share stories and pictures. It seemed awkward to be sharing experiences in front of a dead body, but we were all busy and had long to-do lists. Staying in touch with relatives never seemed to make it to the top of the list.
Most of the Time Management books I read say that when facing death, no one regrets not spending more time at the office. Instead, most people regret not spending quality time with family and friends.
Now that I can, I celebrate by creating cherished memories. I’m sure that as I get older some loved ones will die but, by then, I will have shared so many wonderful events that I will not need to attend a funeral to catch up.
4. Stay in Touch with Friends
Life gets busy. Time passes. I have many close friends and when we have a chance to talk, we usually start with “I would have called, but I was so busy”.
Now that I can, I stay in touch. After my surgery, I was in the pharmacy every week getting prescriptions filled. Instead of complaining or looking for a new lipstick color, I began reading greeting and note cards. As I paid for my medicine, I purchased one or two cards and thought about who I would send them to. I wrote a note inside and dropped them in the mailbox before I got home. I sent the cards to friends who lived too far for a visit. These days, I stay in touch by phone, email, messaging, and social media.
How do you stay in touch?
5. Develop Self-Discipline
I have always been accomplishment driven, even though I do not stick to one project at a time. A very long time ago, an astute counsellor told me that this is a classic sign of being raised in a dysfunctional family. So, for a long time, I had an excuse.
When I decided to change, I realized how hard it is for me to be self-disciplined. I lose the energy, my concentration wanes, then another little “crisis” distracts me. I’m off rearranging my office furniture instead of finishing what I was working on.
Now, when I start new projects or I resurrect unfinished ones, I start with these questions, “How important is this project? How bad will I feel if it is not done?”
If my new idea passes the “I want this” test, I break it into tasks and prioritize them. I schedule the hardest tasks in the morning when I have my best energy and focus.
After completing my Batchelor’s Degree, my Master’s Degree, and several professional certifications this way, I now trust in myself to follow through on what is most important.
6. Eat Healthy
After a health crisis, you need to heal. Then you can live your best life, ever. For both of these, you need optimum levels of health and energy.
I now place more value on the health consequences of the food that I eat than I do on the taste. The taste only lasts for a few short moments, but the consequences impact every area of my life. I eat whole grains, fruit, and vegetables, eating as close to the ground as possible. I avoid processed sugar and gluten and drink plenty of water to keep my body’s systems running at peak performance.
Because I am on Warfarin, I am especially careful about maintaining a healthy balance of foods with high vitamin K, which speed blood clotting and foods that slow the rate of blood clotting.
7. Exercise for Your Soul
The best way that I know to stay healthy is with daily exercise. My problem is that I get bored with fitness routines, like aerobics, lifting weights, and running. What I need is exercise for the soul—that is, exercise that doesn’t feel like I am methodically “working” muscle groups, but exercise that makes me feel joy. Some of these include:
- Bicycle Riding.
- Hiking and climbing.
- Walking tours, especially of places where I have never been before.
I won’t attend grueling aerobics classes, but I will let the sweat pour down while hiking up a craggy mountain hill.
8. Challenge Your Mind
If you don’t use it, you lose it. Research has found that the more we use our minds, the more mentally adept we remain as we age. The idea of becoming mentally flaccid is a myth, unless we let our mind muscles atrophy.
When I started my master’s degree program at age 62, many people were surprised. One “friend” said, “Shouldn’t you be relaxing, now?”.
Several years later, I am still learning new things. This year, I learned how to build a new website from WordPress. I hope you enjoy the outcome at Coumadincommandments.com.
In addition to learning new software and applications, I try to keep my memory sharp, too. Recently I took a course on remembering names by linking them to absurd visual images. Since I’ve been practicing, I can remember the names of people I met months and even years ago
9. Learn to Play
Since recovering from surgery, I learned to play as hard as I work. I plan vacations and day trips, just like I plan projects. I break the preparation for each adventure into tasks and I schedule them so I am ready to go when it is time to play. I also schedule time for my hobbies – sewing, competitive pistol shooting, visiting museums, country fairs, and finding treasures at estate sales.
I use my photography skills to capture great moments, then I print and frame them. When I’m caught up in the frenzy of my work day, I just look at them to remind me of my trip to Ireland or the quilt I made for my niece’s new baby.
Now that I have it to “do over”, I get up early and spend the morning completing the hardest tasks. That way, I have more time to play.
10. Live in the Moment
I’m a planner, so my mind is often in the future, setting my plan in motion. Sometimes, I am in the past, comparing expected future results to what experiences that happened long ago. That thinking ensured that I lost touch with the present moment.
Since facing the end of my life before it ended, here are strategies I put in place to get back in my body and enjoy what is happening here and now.
- I start each day with 5 minutes of quiet. I just sit in silence. Sometimes I focus on my breath. When thoughts come in, I imagine them flowing in one ear and out the other. Then, I focus on my breath. When the timer goes off, I feel calm and ready for the day.
- I acknowledge my feelings, even the not-so-good ones. When I do, I come right back into the present moment.
Feelings are energy and I can use the energy for motivation, personal change, or I can lose the energy by directing it out. When I feel my feelings, I can take advantage of the energy they bring me.
- When I’m working on a project, I still plan but I focus on the task, not the future or the past. When I am in touch with my feelings, I have more energy and I get more done, too.
Make Your Own List
Maybe these are not the 10 things you would pick, but I hope they will spur you on to make your own list.
Don’t wait till you are almost dead to start doing those things you can today. If you have the chance, look into your soul and find the things that are important to you in your life. Then do them. Don’t wait until it is too late.