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How to avoid having deathbed regrets

“This is the reset I have craved, but delayed.

This is the shedding I have feared, but desired.

This is what I knew was coming, but I could not have known.

We’re on a massive deathbed, with a magnificent chance for a new life.

~ Danielle LaPorte

I’m not much of a numbers girl but COVID-19 has us watching the numbers rise and fall daily. We’re all being confronted with the thought of death right now, not knowing what numbers to trust, or trusting when our number might be up. Canada’s numbers are improving but we only have to look at our neighbour to the south to be reminded how precarious our position is and how fast those numbers can change.

This daily reminder that life isn’t guaranteed has got me thinking about my 80-yr-old self.

Can you imagine yourself at 80?

I can and ummmm, she’s pretty amazing. A blend of Helen Mirren’s sass and radiance mixed with Betty White’s humour and lightness. She’s wise, doesn’t tolerate any BS, speaks her truth and ohhhh does she love to laugh and poke fun. She’s also calm, ultra-loving, and trusts implicitly in the divine (which I now call GUSGod, Universe, Spirit/Soul/Source). She knows she’s lived a wild and adventurous life filled with phenomenal highs and some devastating lows. She accepts who she is in her ‘ripe old age’, and has found a delicious brand of grace because of it. She inhabits an alignment with her deepest self and highest good. Her heart is wide open and able to receive wayyyy more than just 40 years ago. She’s laid down her perfectionist shields and leads with love, kindness, and forgiveness because she now realizes, that is what’s most important. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t have boundaries, quite the opposite actually but she doesn’t hold grudges, comparisons or scoreboards of any sort.

I’m excited to BE her. And I’m excited about the day-by-day journey that will lead me TO her.

This pandemic feels like death knocking at our collective doors and whispering, “How do you REALLY want to live?” Are your daily routines, relationships, and career choices leading you to the 80 year-old version of yourself that you see? Or does something need to shift or transform?

It also has me asking ‘why wait until I’m 80 to embody these traits I admire in Helen and Betty?!  Why not start today?’

Well, when death comes knocking, asking us to change, it naturally churns up all our fears and anxieties. Try a new career? I might fail horribly and end up broke and living on the street. Write that book? I have nothing original to say and my Mom will probably be the only one to buy a copy.  Take that big trip to the other side of the world? Mmmm nah, what if I get sick in a third-world country where I don’t speak the language?  

I’ve heard variations of these fears and many others over the years. And about halfway through my coaching career, I started to notice a trend. That all our major fears boiled down to one thing – the fear of death

This inspired me to get curious about death. I started researching it…what are the deathbed stories? What regrets do people have at the end of their life? How does death teach us how to live?

Turns out, there are some pretty universally held regrets…(thanks Bronnie Ware)

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.  Pssst, this time of like-it-or-not transformation is the moment you’ve been waiting for. Now is the time to find your truth so you can live into a life free from the “shoulds” that seem to multiply like bunnies.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. How’s your balance these days? Are you being generous with the time you devote to living or are you still ruled by an unforgiving schedule?
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.  This pandemic has challenged everyone I know to make space for uncomfortable emotions. Emotions that trigger old wounds that we are so ready to heal.
  1. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.  Now is the perfect time to reach out and show the people who matter most how much you love them. It can be as simple as sending a note. Tell them why they’re amazing and how grateful you are they’re in your life.
  1. I wish that I had let myself be happier.  Because happiness is a choice more often than we’d like to admit. And when we learn to look for and appreciate the small, simple joys (like a great song that makes you get up and dance) happiness is closer than we imagine.

All this research, all of these deathbed regrets showed me that we need to get comfortable with death.  Befriend it.  Know it.  Expect it.

Because during this global pandemic we’ve learned that fear doesn’t move us forward – it paralyzes us.  

What moves us forward is LOVE. And death asks us to lean into the life we want to live with intention and compassion. To love ourselves enough to allow transformation to break us and liberate us and remake us. When we root ourselves in love we can withstand any storm.

This pandemic is here to challenge us and teach us that the choice to live differently and die without regret is right here in front of us. It’s tucked into everyday decisions and seismic life changes.

We’re all in the express lane of transformation whether we like it or not. The funny thing is, we’re normally all about the immediate results. The quick fixes. The instant gratification.

And now that it’s here…we don’t like it!  We get all nostalgic about the life we led before. It’s kinda amazing how fast we put on those rose-coloured glasses eh?

But what if we decided to embrace the transformation that’s happening instead? What if we chose to get cozy with and curious about our fear of death? All aboard the express train to transformation station!

But before we can step into that new life we’ve got to go DEEP, which I looove because depth is where the true gold is. It’s doing the ‘shadow work’ to see what’s lurking in the corners of your soul that you’ve been too afraid to look at. 

Shadow work can seem a little scary…it feels safer to stay in the light once you’ve found it, right? But shadows are all around us. In the patterns cast by sun-filtered leaves. In the rhythm of day and night. The cycles of winter and summer.

What I’ve found in those shadowy corners are SHAME and GRIEF….which thrive in secrecy, silence, and judgement. Yet, the more we honour these emotions and talk about them, the less power they have over us. The less weight we carry. The more insubstantial they become. 

This integration of light and dark is key – it’s about choosing not to orphan our ‘shadow’ selves, those parts of ourselves we’re not proud of or wish didn’t exist. Instead, we need to love up on our shadow selves because tucked into your shadowy corners you might find…

The “gets-his-back-up-and-lashes-out” boy.  

The “avoiding-confrontation-at-all-costs-remaining-silent” girl.  

The “always-allowing-boundaries-to-be-crossed” people pleaser.  

We’re afraid that if we look directly at these parts of ourselves they’ll take over. Actually, the opposite happens. When we show them some love and compassion they dissolve and fade because all they’re asking for is acknowledgement. They’re asking to be seen, honoured, and respected and they deserve to be.

We need the dark to see the light. 

Authenticity is calling us out. Asking us to align with our truth and to embrace our deepest, darkest, self. Not run away from it as we’re so inclined to do when things get uncomfortable.

It’s always darkest before the light breaks through and “the wound is the place where the Light enters you.” – Rumi

When people face death, they often radically change their lives. They get their priorities straight, let go with greater ease, and get clear on what they want to invite in.

We’re having a death bed reckoning right now. And the good news is…we still have a chance to reinvent ourselves. Reconnect to a deeper purpose. Move forward with intention. Recognize and release the patterns that are keeping us stuck and small.

How do you do that?

Grab your journal!

  1. Have you ever thought about your own death?
  2. What emotions does it bring up? How does it manifest in your body? Stomach drops? Eyes well up? Heart races?
  3. Can you imagine yourself at 80? What would your 80-year-old self tell you about how you’re living now?
  4. What limiting beliefs need to die? What behaviours need to change? 
  5. How can you find home within yourself?

As Mark Twain said “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” So, take this as a wink from GUS that this pandemic is showing you it’s time to LIVE YOUR LIFE as fully as possible right now. It’s what Helen and Betty would want for us too.

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