Your Death Time Line

Has been a very long time since my last blog. Super busy and well, just haven’t been able to put my thoughts in a proper form to convey it all. The pressure I put on myself to write a blog or to keep up with what I consider my responsiblity to do so, is enormous (in my own mind).

So I decided to share an exercise that might seem a bit morbid to some but I’ve found it helpful and can be a way to get you evaluating areas in your life that might need to be paid attention to. This “experiment” is merely a simulation to represent your life on a timeline. So, let’s get to it.

On a sheet of unlined paper, draw a six-inch horizontal line. On the left side, write the word “Birth” on the right side the word “Death”. I know what you’re already probably thinking. Just do it.  Birth______________6″line______________Death.

Now think of this line as representing your lifetime. Place an X on the line to indicate where you believe you are at present. That is, if you believe that you have lived half of your life, place the X midway between Birth and Death.  If you believe that you have lived two-thirds of your life, place the X two-thirds along the  line.  Once you have placed the X on the line, take note of your feelings.  Do you have a sense of relief?  Of anxiety?  Of fear?  Or a realization that much of your life has passed?

Next, think of six significant events in your life. Examples would be, meeting your spouse or partner, the birth of a child, the death of a friend, an exciting vacation, a failure, a good financial investment, graduation from university, the birth of a grandchild, a car accident.  Number the events 1 through 6 and place the numbers on the line between your birth and the X. What emotions do you feel about each of those events?  What about the emotions you feel about your life as a whole?  Are you satisfied with the life  you have lived?  Do you wish that some things had been different?  Are there events that ought to have been placed on the line but because of the pain they caused, you omitted them?

Now focus on the between the X and Death.  How might you embrace life in the time that remains?  If you didn’t have to live up to the expectations of anyone else, how would your life be different, who would you be?  Are there things you would like to do? Places you would like to visit?  People you’d like to spend more time with?  Conversations you would like to have?  Events you would like to attend?  The baptism of a grandchild, the graduation of your eldest child, a birthday, a bar mitzvah, a wedding, and anniversary?

Choose 6 events and number the events beginning with the number 7 and place those numbers on the line between the X and Death.  How do you feel about each of those events, the people involved in them and your life as a whole?

Now here comes the good part or not so good, depending on how you look at it.  Imagine the scenario in which your doctor informs you today that the symptoms you and he have been investigating are those of a terminal illness.  Unfortunately there are no known treatments that can reverse the disease process.  Some of the medications available may slow the disease, but none of them are known to cure it.  Your life expectancy is six to twelve months.  What might you be experiencing emotionally?

Draw another timeline.  Hang in there, you can do this.  This time, place an X one centimeter from the right end of the line, like this.

Birth_________________________________________X_____Death

If you knew that this was accurate, would you live differently?  Starting when?  Would you care as much what other people think about you or what you do, how you live? How would you fill in your remaining time?  How does this new reality affect the answers to your questions in the previous time-line exercise?  What effect does this have on your feelings?  What about unfinished activities?  Are they still important to you?  Are there other activities that seem important now that you have only six to twelve months remaining in this world?  And, what about looking back over your life?  Does the knowledge that you are living with a terminal illness change your feelings about your memories?  Are there other relationships or events that come to mind as being significant?  Are there things you wish you had done?  Things you wish you had not done?  And are there conversations that you wish had not happened or had been different?  Do you wish you had said somethings that you did not say?

You may become aware of events that you will surely miss.  With that realization, there will likely be a sense of loss and grief.  I know, it isn’t exactly fun to think about all of this but with anxiety can be reduced by introducing certainty.  When facing the anxiety associated with a terminal illness or embracing your own eventual death, you can create a degree of certainty by developing a plan for your care and through the process of a “life review” in which you consciously consider the meaning and the unfinished business of your life.  A “life review” simply means living in the present while looking at the past.  It enables the individual to reconsider life events, relationships, successes, failures and more.  It may also remind you of conversations and activities that might still be desirable.

Today, I will again do this “life review” exercise.  It is a call to live awake and fully present, not an easy task for me I must admit.  I would be so pleased to hear back from you after courageously working through this exercise.

Peace and blessings

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