Critical Life Lessons from Watching My Parents Die

They’re not dead yet, but they aren’t living either, although they were once a fantastic dynamic duo, living quite a wonderful life, they are now in a highly emotional state trying to navigate a fiercely complex and shifting terrain that is filled with unknowns.

Now at 76 my mom has stage four lung cancer and even though she will start a new FDA-approved targeted therapy in less than a week, she is very scared, angry and confused. It is a part of the acceptance process, I guess and I hope it will pass.

Dad claims he can take care of her and will not accept any help in their home. It’s causing everyone in the family senseless, needless pain and worry, but it’s even more difficult not to help them. It is a twisted form of enabling and the situation changes daily. How do you know when you’re enabling an elderly loved one as opposed to actually helping them out with something they need?

Life Lessons Learned from The Dying Thus Far

  1. Be Open & Responsive to Change

darwin.jpgBoth of my parents are stubbornly holding on to old ways and traditions that no longer serve them and probably never served anyone well. They are trying so hard to hold on to their independence as they shut out the world around them. They refuse any help at all while making life harder for everyone, including themselves. Their behavior has affected not only their lives but all of us who care for them as they insist on struggling terribly through their days. Their lack of flexibility and adaptability is actually driving their decline even faster than if they chose to open their minds to new ways of staying as safe, secure and healthy as possible.

2. The Trouble is, You Think You have Time

time

Whether it’s the best of times or the worst of times, it’s the only time we’ve got. ~Art Buchwald

What you do with the time you have now, while you are actually able to live is most important. More important than savings, work or taking care of daily activities of living. Do not hesitate for one instance to do, try and execute everything you have ever dreamed of – for you have no time. Forgive and let go of the past, tell someone what they mean to you and  celebrate each and every miracle of breath that you take. Gratitude for what you have right here and right now is everything. Do more with your life while you have it to live. Do not take this lightly. This is the most crucial lesson.

3. Know Your Limitations, So You Can Move Forward 

struggle

My parents won’t accept their current weaknesses – fading health and loss of memory, which is causing them even more harm and possibly big trouble for others. How many times does it take getting lost while driving, or losing your cell phone, checkbook, wallet and keys before you realize that your memory isn’t what it was? Only when we honestly examine ourselves and accept our current limitations can we improve or find the tools, people or plan to help us work around the obstacles we face. If we don’t accept that we have a problem, than how can we fix it? 

4. It Takes a Measured Amount of Expectation & Acceptance to Survive

overwhelms

Yes I see how refusing to accept the aging process can be helpful- expecting more from yourself and those around you can actually keep you going, but your approach is what matters most. Feeling overwhelmed and then reacting never produces a good outcome.

Life is always walking up to us and saying, “Come on in, the living’s fine,” and what do we do? Back off and take its picture. ~Russell Baker

My mother really surprised me when she said that she didn’t think the oncologist or the cancer center was really doing anything for her condition. In her mind, they are epically failing.  How about 18 extended months of living? Mom is actually expecting a cure from the second deadliest disease in the world. It’s phenomenal. There is a measured amount of acceptance that is necessary in order to strike a deal with reality.

5. Plan Your Aging & Dying Process Before it Happens

by-failing-to-prepare-you-are-preparing-to-fail

It is our duty to plan our death. I am not taking about a living will, health care proxy or deciding on cremation versus a below the ground burial. I am talking about how you plan to age. How open you will be to the natural process of slowing down? Reverse engineering your life so that when you get to the point that you need help from others, you will accept it. Knowing when it’s time to let go of past behavior and activities, giving up your favorite things like driving. It is critical to understand the type of attitude you will have as you enter a new season of your life.

Just as we plan our career, marriage, children and even vacations, we need to be more thoughtful of how we leave this earth.

6. The Reality of Dying is Largely Negotiable

Just like anything else, we can rethink how we plan to age and die.

If you stress-test the boundaries and experiment with the “impossibles,” of dying, you’ll quickly discover that most limitations are a fragile collection of socially-reinforced rules you can choose to break at any time.

Social rule systems are used to examine all levels of human interaction. They provide more than potential constraints on action possibilities. Read more about social rules and the patterning of action here.

Who made these social rules about aging and dying and why do we think we need to obey them?

Increased longevity paired with aging baby boomers means that our older population is growing at record speed – a phenomenon in developed countries from the UK to Japan. According to Professor David Clark, a researcher in end-of-life care at the University of Glasgow: “We’re seeing what we regard as a massive global issue. There’s a huge wave of dying, death and bereavement.” At the moment about one million people die each week around the world; within 40 years, that number is expected to double.

I held a moment in my hand, brilliant as a star, fragile as a flower, a tiny sliver of one hour. I dropped it carelessly, Ah! I didn’t know, I held opportunity. ~Hazel Lee

 

People redesigning the experience of death

Making decisions about serious illness is not an easy task and they are not made alone. Watch Nick Jehlen  of Common Practice explain his design approach to facing the elephant in the room, the talk about death and these new products, services and dying submissions to Designing Death.

amaranthine

 

We Gather Strength As We Go

No Bone” that’s what was written in black Sharpie marker on the bandages wrapped around her head.  The trauma team wheeled my daughter past the waiting room so quickly I had to look twice and then again. No bone? what does that mean? Did they remove her skull?

ariel

It was an icy, sleeting, snowing, stormy day. The accident was bad. Ariel was brought to Nassau County Trauma Center and put on life support immediately. By the time we got to the hospital she was out of surgery. The removed her part of her skull to relieve the pressure.

One severe acquired brain injury, a terrifying time through her coma, two major head surgeries, four months at Mt. Sinai Hospital’s Traumatic Brain Injury center and two and a half years of rehabilitation later. It’s now been nine years since the accident.

bell

How do we get through times like these?

We gather strength as we go.

Yes life can be hard. But we stay strong and in the moment.

We see clearly and act correctly.

Endure and accept the world as it is right now.
We ask good questions. Like what are the opportunities that can come from this obstacle ?

We remain positive and see things for what they are – and no worse.
Do what we can.
Endure and bear what we must.
We gather strength as we go & grow.
Inspired by my life and the amazing book The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

The Smartest Way to Success

 

anais“We don’t see things the way they are, we see things the way we are.” Anais Nin

For those of you who have  been following me, you already know that I am determined to improve myself daily with the goal of going to bed a little smarter and stronger every day. I have a firm belief that it is my duty to give the best version of me to the world each day. anais-nin-always-weaving-bc-it-once-was-brokenBetter Together

I am on a quest to learn and acquire new habits, rituals, patterns and thoughts to become the best version of me, because I can’t just “think” my way there. It takes action and deliberate practice.  I hope to form a community here on this blog of like-minded motivated people so we can help each other grow mentally, physically and emotionally every day.  We can learn a lot from each other and in turn become our best versions together. So with that stated, I really appreciate your advice and contributions. What has worked for you? What books are you reading? What exercises are you doing? What classes are you taking?

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” Anais Nin

img_3307Lightening Up, Sparking Joy, Creating Love

So, today, I am sharing a smart, practical approach to organizing and achieving your personal goals for success.

Before that, a quick assessment.

What I have accomplished so far (a year of daily deliberate practice).

    • I lost 25 lbs on The Four Hour Body, a slow carb diet

I highly recommend: The 4 Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat Loss, Incredible Sex and Becoming Superhuman

  • I wake up with gratitude and journal everything I am thankful for
  • I started a daily workout routine and began Spinning and dancing weekly
  • I began a daily practice of mindful meditation to clear my head
  • A commitment to reading and learning something new daily
  • 30 minutes of writing and reading aloud  my purpose and plan for my life
  • and devoted Sunday mornings to a one hour spiritual ritual with my husband

tidying upThis next year I hope to spark joy in my life by letting go of everything that I no longer need while continue to lighten up and create love out of everything I do – cooking, working, writing, sharing, everything. Inspired by Marie Kondo’s book  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

Taming the Wild Within

Just like everyone else, I struggle with certain things and one of my biggest challenges is getting overwhelmed. I have too many goals, too many dreams and I vibrate on the side of hyper mania. This drives my family and my friends nuts, but they love me just the same. So calming myself down daily is a big thing for me. See “mindful meditation” practice above. I meditate for me and everyone that has to deal with me. I believe that mediation + movement (exercise) = my daily dose of medication.

 

Dreams pass into the reality of action, from the action stems the dream again; and this interdependence produces the highest form of living.” Anais Nin

So my practical advice today is to follow along with me as I show you how I am going to organize my goals in a way that will not overwhelm me, allow me to be successful and continue to become the best version of me. There is one rule: I can only do one goal at a time and make it a habit for the year.

Step 1. Categorizing Life

Here are my categories:

  1. Relationships & Family
  2. Professional & Career
  3. Financial Health
  4. Physical & Health
  5. Emotional & Spiritual
  6. Time Management & Routines
  7. Household & Living Environment
  8. Personal & Intellectual Development

Step 2. Rating My Development So Far

The rating scale: 0% = completely unhappy to 100% this is the best version of me

Here are my categories:

  1. Relationships & Family – 45% 
  2. Professional & Career – 60%
  3. Financial Health – 15%
  4. Physical & Health – 50%
  5. Emotional & Spiritual –80%
  6. Time Management & Routines – 75%
  7. Household & Living Environment –35 %
  8. Personal & Intellectual Development – 75%

Step 3 – Identifying What Needs Improvement

Chagall-la-PromenadeRelationships & Family – 45%  

“You cannot save people, you can only love them.” Anais Nin

  • More forgiveness, patience and quality time scheduled with everyone I love. Friends and family.
  • Make new friends from around the world through this blog.

Professional & Career – 60%

“One’s life shrinks or expands according to your courage.” Anais Nin

  • Continue to inspire each day by sharing what I am learning each morning.
  • Writing my book “Lightening Up, Sparking Joy, Creating Love” Giving Your Best to the World
  • Helping new clients grow with my marketing and public relations skills
  • Continue to improve my Social Media, Photoshop and WordPress skills

Financial Health – 15%

  • Learn how to invest in successful companies for the long term while allowing compound interest work for me.
  • Pay down left over credit card debt, reduce my living expenses and understand if the insurance I have is the best for my family
  • Save 10% of what I earn monthly, no matter what.

Physical & Health – 50%

  • Lose 5 more lbs, Tone my body with an increase in pushups, situps, planks and weights.
  • Carry less tension in my body and practice a full body scan meditation to release that tension
  • Visit my doctor for a full check up and blood work
  • Become a more mindful eater with a mindful kitchen to prepare healthy meals

Emotional & Spiritual80%

  • Continue to remove negative thoughts of anger and doubt
  • Practice radical acceptance with compassion and loving kindness
  • Develop a schedule of meditation practices to do throughout the day

Time Management & Routines – 75%

  • Develop a mindful relaxation ritual at night that does not include more than one glass of chardonnay
  • Continue to write my 90 seconds of daily victories each evening
  • No phones, laptops or tablets in the bed
  • Relaxation stretches and meditation before bed

Household & Living Environment35 %

“Anything that I cannot transform into marvelous, I let go.”  Anais Nin

  • Purge everything that doesn’t spark joy for me in my entire house and care for everything I decide to keep. – clean it, paint it, fold it, organize it, make it shine.
  • Refrain from buying anything new unless absolutely necessary for the entire year.

Personal & Intellectual Development – 75%

  • Find my work and home “uniform” – clothes that suit the occasion that I feel great in and that I don’t have to think about too much.
  • Read and learn how to continue to become a better writer. I just found this amazing list of 150 free writing tools here
  • Complete books I am reading including The Tools and my winter reading list.

inspirational-quote-Anais-Nin-hustle

The Art of Not Panicking, Keeping Your Composure and How to Re-Write the Rules of Life

John Glenn“When America raced to send the first men into space, they trained the astronauts in one skill more than in any other: the art of not panicking.

When people panic, they make mistakes. They override systems. They disregard procedures, ignore rules. They deviate from the plan. They become unresponsive and stop thinking clearly. At 150 miles above Earth in a spaceship smaller than a VW, this is death. Panic is suicide.”

A quote from Ryan Holiday’s fascinating book

The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph

ObstacleDuring his orbit around earth, American astronaut John Glenn’s heart rate never went above 100 beats per minute. Consider that for a moment, he was in a tiny space ship miles and miles above our planet and he never lost his cool.

Every Day Work Day Panic and Anxiety

Flash to the average work week. Think about how some of us react to what happens throughout our day. Even some of the smallest challenges become ridiculously big obstacles (in our minds).

  • Our hearts begin to race while mind-ruminates and body tenses as we frustratingly fret over how to respond to a mean-spirited and snarky email from a co-worker.
  • Our stomach churning as we hold our breath before an important sales pitch presentation.
  • We run for the bar before we work the room at yet another after-hour “networking” event. Our minds not in the game and just going through the motions.

We become stuck, paralyzed by obstacles of and not of our own making. The daily struggle lies in turning trials into triumphs and the awful into opportunity. Want to dive deeper? Read more about the secret to handling pressure like astronauts, Navy SEALs, and samurai here.

Pause, Breathe and Take a Moment to Compose Yourself

xanaxIf you have read this far, I would imagine that you are not rummaging through your bag for another .5 mg dose of Xanax, but looking for a healthier and more mindful way to deal with every day panic and anxiety.

Research shows meditation-style breathing can make you courageous,increase your attention span, and even boost happiness.

Take just five minutes each day to watch your breath go in and out. While you do so, try to remain patient. If you find your mind drifting, just slowly bring it back to focus. Meditation takes practice, but it’s one of the most powerful happiness interventions. Studies show that in the minutes right after meditating, we experience feelings of calm and contentment, as well as heightened awareness and empathy. And, research even shows that regular meditation can permanently rewire the brain to raise levels of happiness, lower stress, even improve immune function.

What matters most is not what these obstacles are but how we see them, how we react to them, and whether we keep our composure.

Ambition with Meaning

Lately I have been listening to many a friend and family member share their concern and desire to change they way they are living now, moving away from the driving demands of a 14 hour work day to a more purposeful, peaceful and calmer life. Yes ambition is necessary and can even be wonderful but ambition with meaning, well that shit is sacred.

Navigating your life with Poise, Grace and Power

Some of these more mindful millennials that I refer to have the resources to enjoy a ten day getaway to discover meditation and mindfulness on solitude retreats. A ten-day stint in a tree house in the jungles of Tulum, Mexico on Airbnb with water cleansing massages and sun basked mud masks.

air-conditioned-jungle-cabana-tulum-mexico12

I have noticed a huge movement of those waking up earlier in life to realize, “not my rules, not my purpose.”  The intention: Re-write the rules, make more room for meaning in their lives. Make money, but with pleasure.

Truth be told, you don’t need to go away and remove yourself from your environment to make a change. You don’t need to quit your job right way either. What you can do, is change your perception to what is happening around you right now and focus on designing a life filled with daily habits that are more conducive to a meaningful life.

Ground Control

It all starts with controlling our perception. When something is happening to us we need to ask, How am I perceiving this? What meaning am I giving it? It is really a horrific experience or is it an opportunity for growth?

I have a big secret to share. A vulnerable moment for me. I  use to suffer from severe anxiety, panic disorder and fear. Movement, meditation and mindfulness have become my daily dose of medication.

Curious, how are you managing your panic, your anxiety? How are you adding more meaning to your life? How are you re-writing the rules?