Dear Coach Paradise,
I dont know whats going on but lately I can count four friends — all over 50 — who have been diagnosed with cancer. One of them has died, and I am so sad about this and will miss him and feel so sad for his family, who will miss him so much more. These are all people I have known for many years and loved.
I am scared for them and for myself. I realize that we are all going to die (mortality) and I hate that. I feel guilty that I am healthy and then wonder if I am as healthy as I think and if this means that I am next.
I also feel guilty that I am going about my life and that life will go on perfectly well without them. I feel like I am revisiting the adolescent questions of the meaning of it all and struggling to get a grip.
I also know that as I get older (hopefully very old and very healthy), there will be more and more people who will get sick or not and die. I dont want to spend this next chapter of my life in mourning or in crisis mode and yet I do want to be a good friend and be there for my friends and family — not only the people who are special to me but people in general. I dont know if this is a coaching question or if it needs a philosopher or a priest. From reading your columns I figured you would have something to say.
Dear Passing Through,
Wow! Thank you for trusting me with these heartfelt questions. I am deeply honored. You dont mention your religious background or your personal beliefs around death. If you dont have a firm belief in place, it might be time for you to figure out what you believe, what makes sense and what brings you peace and comfort. Many people are thinking about the same subjects, and much has been written in the sacred and secular worlds.
I think that what you are really asking has more to do with the here and now and about choosing how you would like to show up in these difficult situations — for others and for yourself. It sounds like you see death and illness as depressing and a trigger for fear and anxiety. Many if not most people are with you here.
The only problem is that thinking this way keeps you feeling depressed and anxious. In this state it is difficult to truly be there for people when they need you or to enjoy your own life. Lots of opportunities are missed and lessons go unlearned. It has also been shown that anxiety and depression (i.e., your outlook and attitude) is key in maintaining overall well-being.
One way to change your attitude is to see if you can find another way to see illness and depression — ex: illness and death provide opportunities for growth and spiritual development. If you can think something more positive you will feel better. In this state it will be easier to be a good friend, to learn whatever lessons are present, to remain in the here and now, and enjoy your own life.
It may also be a way to live the answers to your questions and to arrive at a way of being that will serve you and those you love.
In my work as a social worker, therapist, medical case manager and coach, I have spent a fair amount of time with people who have been ill — some of whom have been dying. While never easy, I am always amazed at how clearly I remember these clients, how much they taught me and how there is a joy that resulted from having been part of their lives.
More recently I have had the privilege of spending far too little time with a truly amazing man (Rik) who lost his battle with cancer a few days ago. Being in his presence was always inspiring because he never stopped being present to what was happening in his life, including his illness. He approached the challenges of dealing with his situation with the same passion and determination and love with which he embraced his life. He never stopped growing and continued to evolve until he died. He was always gracious and grateful, despite incredible discomfort and physical limitation. He never gave up, and he never lost hope.
I hope that I will be able to muster some of those qualities in my own life. My time with him was a gift and I am grateful.
There are plenty of role models around. Like copying a great master painting, emulating those we admire in all kinds of situations prepares us for our own starring roles and for the walk-on cameos that happen everyday.
Editor's note: Coach Paradise (AKA Anne Nayer), Professional Life Coach, is a member of the International Coaching Federation, an MSW clinical social worker-psychotherapist and a medical case manager with 30 years experience working with people of all shapes, sizes and challenges.
For further information about her services, call 774-4355 or email her.
Coach Paradise: Coming to Terms With Mortality
Dear Coach Paradise,
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