“Living Well, Dying Well”

I took a walk with our 21-year-old cat, Olive, today.  She is not eating much anymore, and seems to live on direct sunlight, as plants do.  I know she cannot photosynthesize the sunlight, but it seems like a good thing for her, and so when she meowed to go outside, I took her out, set her on the grass and we walked down to the garden together.  My intent had been to grade papers this afternoon, but when Olive contentedly settled into a soft place in the garden, nestled in the shadow of a tuft of grass and mustard, I decided instead to do some weeding so that she could enjoy a little time outside.

When life is nearing the end, choices become so much simpler.  Being in the moment, in the garden, was the only thing to be done, the only place to be, when it was what Olive wanted and needed.

Death and making the transition from this life to whatever comes next, has been on my mind recently.  It’s not exactly a subject we carry in the forefront of our thoughts, and yet something that we all do need to face at some point.  My father-in-law passed away a few weeks ago, and all who gathered around his bed at the end agreed that it was “a good death.”  Even the hospice staff, commented on how well he was accompanied in this final transition of his life.  His children read from some of his favorite books, played music and sang for him, spoke of deep things, of their dreams and hopes, of the many accomplishments of his life, and simply sat with him, holding a hand, communicating with eyes and touch once words ceased to be useful.

John O’Donohue, the Irish priest and poet speaks of death walking beside us throughout our lives, not in a way that is meant to threaten or frighten us, but rather as a reminder that this opportunity to live our one amazing life should not be taken lightly.  He closes his blessing “On Death” saying,

“And decide carefully / how you now can live / the life you would love / to look back on from your deathbed.”  

Living well gives us pleasure in the present, as my hour in the garden with Olive gave me today, but it also allows us to eventually leave this life with a deep contentment, knowing we have done what we could.  We can die in peace, knowing we have answered and lived into the calling of our spirit and of our destiny.

This springtime, as so much comes to life around us, maybe we can feel ourselves participating in the fullness of the circle of life, and be grateful for the gifts… so many gifts that surround us and make our lives good.




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