The older I get, the more I realize how difficult it is to detach from people, places, and things. An eye-opening exercise in that regard took place for me years ago, during hospice volunteer training. (Sadly, I still haven’t fully learned the lesson).
Step by step, the gist of the exercise went something like this. (Suggestion: for maximum impact, please do the exercise, as you read it. You need just paper and pencil.)
First, in a column, write these five categories: person, place, body part, talent or ability, and inanimate object.
Now, next to each category, write the name of whatever means the most to you.
Review your list. Make sure each one is the most important thing in its category.
(Okay. If you’re like me, you’re feeling really good, probably even smiling, thinking about those five things. You might be wondering what this exercise has to do with hospice training. Buckle your seat belt. Here we go.)
You just found out you are dying. Give up one thing. Erase or cross it off your list.
Take time to think about how you feel.
(Are you beginning to feel the grief? Which one did you choose? Why, do you think, did you choose that one?….Feeling safe? Grateful you get to keep the other four meaningful things? …)
Your condition has worsened. Give up another thing. Take it off your list.
Pause to take in how you feel.
(Getting the picture?)
Your health continues deteriorating. Eliminate another thing.
Take time to know what you are feeling.
Death is getting closer. Remove something else from your list.
Take time again; get in touch with your feelings.
There is one more thing on your list. Think about that.
Now erase or cross off from your list that one last thing. You have died. There is nothing left for you to possess or to lose.
I don’t know about you, but that exercise was a most powerful one, both to teach me what I hold as the priorities in my life—those most important things in each category, as well as the relative importance of the categories, themselves, as I chose the progression in which to let go of each person, place, body part, talent or ability, and inanimate object that was important to me.
At the end of the exercise, we were encouraged to share our thoughts and insights.
Most of us were too speechless to say anything. The intent of the exercise was to help us gain empathy for the dying persons we would be volunteering to serve—to realize, albeit vicariously, how gut-wrenching it is to lose the things you most value and love.
Having fully entered into the exercise, the result was a sense of our own immortality and the pain of progressive loss we will feel–unless we experience a sudden death.
And despite the pain of dying, I look forward, when nothing in this life is left, to trading in the entire list of things I possessed in this life for possessing and being possessed by the Lord Himself in the next.
Meanwhile, I know what I best do: detach, detach, detach; renounce all possessions, as the Lord instructs…in little things and little ways, every day…Hopefully each little detachment, each renouncement makes the final ultimate detachments—over which I likely will have no control or choice–easier to accept with the Lord’s Grace.
I’m wondering, what insights about yourself—your life, and your readiness for dying–did you gain from this exercise?