September Note From the President and CEO: It’s Hard Work, But Worth It

I recently held an informational interview with a woman who was thinking about shifting into a career in end-of-life care. She asked me if it was hard to be around death all the time. I told her: Without question, it is hard when a supporter I’ve become close to dies. However, working in this field is an enormous blessing.
September 20, 2022

Each and every day I have the opportunity to work side-by-side with some of the most inspirational people: our terminally ill advocates. Through their actions and words, I have been blessed with so many powerful life lessons that have made me more courageous, my relationships more authentic, and my life more meaningful.  While it’s hard to narrow down these lessons, below are my top five:

Just face your fears head on. When you watch our advocates living their lives to the fullest in the limited time they have left, it is transformational. One supporter told me: “I used to be terrified of public speaking, but I’m going to die soon; who cares what kind of public speaker I am? Now I’m out there talking to people about this issue all the time – and I’m good at it!” Every time I find myself facing something that feels too big to handle, I imagine one of our terminally ill advocates, and it gives me the courage to move forward.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. I remember having lunch with one of our terminally ill supporters. I had just had a silly argument with my husband over something trivial, and I was still annoyed.  Then I looked across the table at my friend, and it hit me how absurd it was to stay angry. I was overwhelmed with appreciation for having this wonderful person who loves me. If we could take all the energy we waste being upset about unimportant things and focus it on what really matters, think of how much more powerful our lives could be.

Never underestimate the power of one. I think about John Radcliffe in Hawai’i or Mary Klein in Washington, D.C. – and most recently, Danna Nelson in Minnesota, whom we lost just last month. At the very end of their lives, they became crystal clear about what was important to them and the impact they wanted to make on this world. And they committed their time and energy to that. They touched so many lives and had a huge impact. Even if the end goal they were working toward was still out of reach, they moved the needle in a way it never could have without them. Just imagine what we all could accomplish if we committed ourselves with the same kind of focus and intensity.

Treat time as a precious commodity – because it is. For all of us, time will come to an end.  And I’ve learned from our supporters how important it is to use that time in whatever way brings us the most meaning. Which means not doing the things that are not bringing us joy and meaning, and spending as much time as possible doing whatever matters most to us. Why wait until we’re facing death to prioritize how we spend our energy and attention? Why not live like time is finite? Because it is.

Human connection and community are key. I am a natural introvert, meaning that I get my energy from being by myself. For a long time, I thought that meant I don’t need community – or at least not as much as other people. But through this work I’ve come to realize it doesn’t matter if you are introverted or extroverted or anything else; we all need to feel connected. And as we approach death, we truly appreciate how precious our human connections are.

I recently shared this list with one of our long-time storytellers and supporters, Allyne Hammer. Within hours – while she was celebrating her 80th birthday in New York City! –  she dashed off a note to me with her own list of “caregiver” lessons: Leave nothing unsaid or undone; Fear is a liar and a waste of our imagination; and Life is fragile, so make it count are just a few of her gems.

This gave me an idea: What if I were to compile and publish lessons from across the end-of-life care movement?  What an inspirational list that could be – a way we could all learn from each other about how to live more fully each and every day!

So, if you have any lessons you have learned from being around somebody who is dying or has passed, or if you yourself are approaching death and would like to share your own life lessons, please send me a note at [email protected]. If enough people respond, I will publish everyone’s life-giving advice.

Thanks for inspiring me each and every day,

Kim

Compassion & Choices
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