What will count on your deathbed?

Reflections of life and death

Reflections of life and death

Here is an assignment–should you choose to accept it.

Pretend you’re on your deathbed.  It’s the end of this life.  Goodbye moon.  Goodbye songbirds.  Goodbye everything awful and beautiful.

What advice might your dying almost-gone self give to your current still-living self?

Yesterday I took up the challenge and wrote myself a letter.  Here is what my dying self said to the Kathy of today.  (Spoiler alert:  it’s full of poetic metaphor.  It’s kinda long. Yours will be unique–just for you.)

What might you write, dear reader?


Dearest One,

As you lie on your deathbed, breath coming slower and slower, the world receding further and further, let us remind you what really counts.  Let us see if you agree.

Remember those days when nothing seemed to go right?  When folks argued left and right?  Remember the pandemic when everyone disagreed about everything?  When political views seemed like sharpened stabbing knives?

Here on your deathbed with soft pillow and sturdy mattress–can you feel what really mattered?

Kinder on the bed

It wasn’t the opinions, was it?  The haughty beliefs marching indignantly around in your head, circling before a crackling fire and painting your face before battle?  (Even though they seemed so very important, so very very crushingly important.)

It wasn’t your stringent ideas, was it?  The ones you so proudly wore like flags across your beating heart?  Oh how you loved your ideas–so righteous!  So beautiful!  So true! (And, yes, maybe they seemed true because you so beautifully wanted to save the world in your own way.  To save it from its imploding self, its imploding stars, its endless tears of hunger and longing.)

What really counted in your life, dear one?

The railroad crossing of Life

What grew like wildflowers between sidewalk cracks?  When all seemed hopeless and lost, what continued to sprout seeds?  What mattered in a way that makes the thoughts, opinions and beliefs pale and fade and disappear into a black hole of your dream?

Was it the times when you kept your heart open?  When you smiled and reached forward to pull up a fallen friend?  The moments when you twirled in your empty living room, joyous for no reason?  When you hugged so fiercely to show your deepest love?

Was it the times you tried?  (And it didn’t matter if you failed.  You tried!  You tried, dear one, and those pennies added up with interest in the bank account of your soul, can you see?)

June, 2012.  Soft ambiance of an open clam shell.

Was it the moments when you escaped through the self-made jail bars around your heart? (“I will not love him, I will not love her, I will turn away, I will make them go away.”) Once outside the rickety cell you sometimes glimpsed a truth that still makes your heart flutter.  For the very ones you judged and crucified revealed themselves in some way to be–you.  Your very own self.  And you can’t explain this insight to anyone because the words dry up like a riverbed in drought.  But it’s true–in the same way a rainbow refracts into impossible colors mixed together as one gleaming herald proclaiming unity.

What counted in your life, my sweet?  The small things:  steaming cup of coffee, prancing fawns, cool summer breeze, a friend’s listening ear, excited phone call, the sharing of heart.

Arms wide open

What counted was your presence in each moment you opened your eyes and looked around–and appreciated–the hundreds of gifts presenting themselves one by sacred one to your eyes, ears, mouth, hand, spirit, soul.

Life’s gifts like a birthday every day!

From your deathbed, remember again:  wading into the lake oh-so-cold.  Holding your precious firstborn wailing in your arms.  Watching the gold and pink sunset.  Hanging laundry on a clothesline.  Singing your own precious unique song.

Our clean laundry on the line

Those stringent I-am-right beliefs–where are they now?  Floating away quickly downstream.  Like dish soap disappearing down the drain.  Like the silence in a cathedral as the choir sings the final note.

Those worries, those cares, those struggles…are you still wearing them like heavy winter coats?  Or have they fallen away to reveal something more elemental? Can you see what bloomed beneath and through the challenges?  Moment after moment of BEING ALIVE!  Of feeling the world with your senses.  Of LIVING!

Oh dear Kathy, I might advise you to let go of all your concerns and heart aches…but those words are easier said than done.  Instead, perhaps, if it feels right, keep your attention on the immediacy of each rising moment.  See what’s beautiful, what can’t help being beautiful.

Hug yourself.  You’re doing the best that you can.

Love,   Your Future Self

One final glimpse before we go to the hospital

Dear Future Self,   OK, I will think about this and try to remember.  It sounds so easy from your end. Anyway, see you around–one of these future years.  Thanks for taking the time to share your truth.  Love,  Current Kathy




About Kathy

I live in the middle of the woods in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Next to Lake Superior's cold shores. I love to blog.
This entry was posted in July, 2020 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to What will count on your deathbed?

  1. sherrysescape says:

    I love your words – they are so wise.

    • Kathy says:

      Thank you, Sherry! The words might be wise…but can I listen to them and really live them? So nice to see you this morning and always.

  2. Ally Bean says:

    Oh my goodness, you’ve written it all so perfectly. Good job, Kathy. Long may you live by these ideas, modeling good behavior for all of us.

    • Kathy says:

      Well, thank you for the compliment, Ally Bean! Unfortunately, I do not know how to model this good behavior, as much as I would wish. I do not know how to live by ideas like these. But I am willing to try and listen to what my deathbed self seems to be trying to impart. To try to fathom HOW it would be possible to do these even a teeny tiny bit more.

  3. Robin says:

    Close to synchronicity again, dear friend. ❤ I am pondering (and journaling about) the question: What do you need to do to die a good death? It comes from a discussion in yoga class about dharma or duty, but also about what is it we need to clear away? Are there apologies we might need to make? That was also synchronicity for me because I've been thinking about apologies (started writing a post about that the other day which might or might not be published tomorrow).

    Our discussion in last night's class centered somewhat around the deathbed and there was talk about those we know who have died a "good" death (peaceful, in other words) and those who struggled because of things left undone or unsaid.

    Thank you for this post and your poetic and beautiful words of wisdom. This provided yet another aspect to consider. What was important? What was not? How do we let go of the unimportant and stay with what is important (the present)? I find it fascinating, too, to sit in the questions, perhaps look at when is it easy to stay in the present moment and when is it difficult.

    • Kathy says:

      How fascinating–as usual!–to hear we’re in synch yet again. Now you have me thinking about apologies and unfinished business. Maybe will have to sit with this awhile and ponder. Like you I enjoy sitting with the questions. There certainly are moments when it seems impossible to stay in the present moment. (Sometimes for hours or days!) Part of me thinks that the deathbed-person might have been more embracing with absolute love of those times when it feels impossible. But maybe she was. I must go back and read this letter! Isn’t it amazing how sometimes we write blogs and learn so much just by pondering what comes up?

  4. dawnkinster says:

    It’s a good challenge, though I don’t know that I could complete it as eloquently as you. I

    I’ve been thinking about my mom a lot today, as it was on today’s date, 16 years ago that I said goodbye to her and drove back away after spending the holiday with them. Turned out to be the last time I saw her alive. So I’ve been wondering something similar, did she get to do and be everything that she wanted to be. I already know what she would have said was most important, for her, and that was her kids. But I wonder if she felt fulfilled as a person, if she had found that place where she was totally at peace yet. I hope so.

    • Kathy says:

      Dawn–hugs–for losing your mom (and dad) so many years ago. Can’t imagine thinking back and realizing 16 years has passed since saying goodbye. Wondering if anyone feels totally 100% at peace when they die? Perhaps there are degrees of it. I knew one person who lived here in the woods that later moved to Wisconsin. She was so at peace with herself. I’ve always wanted to be like her when it’s time to say goodbye.

  5. Larissa says:

  6. Stacy says:

    That’s very beautiful, Kathy. I think deep down we know these things as truth. I would tell myself, Live those truths. Don’t just think about them. XOXO

    • Kathy says:

      Thank you, Stacy. You and me both. Live those truths. I find it much easier to write them to live them at times. xoxo back to you.

  7. Barb says:

    Many years ago when I was training as a Hospice volunteer, we were asked to do this exercise. I wonder where I have that essay, and if I would change anything now (It was about 35 years ago that I wrote it. I still had children at home and was working as a teacher.) So much in life holds us hostage with worry, frustration, and anger when often opening the heart and mind would allow more understanding and more happiness. I guess I must just keep learning day by day until the moment I lie down to die.

    • Kathy says:

      Learning along with you, Barb!! Trying to get out of some of those hostage situations… Boy, would I love to be a little bird and sit on your shoulder reading your essay from 35 years ago. To see if you’ve been more able to inch–or leap–towards your heart’s deepest desires.

  8. Beautifully written, Kathy, and the pictures are so fitting. I think I’ve always known that it’s the simple joys in life that matter the most and have lived accordingly. But what I regret is the years wasted thinking I had found “the truth,” when it was an illusion all along. And I would tell myself that most of my paralyzing fears were going to turn out to be baseless. I agree with you, what counts is being grateful for each blessing to be found in the little gifts we receive every day.

    • Kathy says:

      Barbara, I am so glad you commented. This morning saw that you “liked” the post and waited breathlessly to see if you’d comment because I really wanted to read your thoughts. Ahhh…thinking we’ve found the truth and discovering perhaps not so…I know that one, too. And the paralyzing fears that turn out to be nothing. Agreeing with you so much, my friend.

  9. Carol says:

    You have given us an eloquently written post – and some sturdy food for thought. What would I write to myself? I would hope it would be words similar to yours, although I doubt my words would be as poetic. I can only live my life as it seems appropriate at the time – although I do need to take a little more time to appreciate and less to ruminate.

    • Kathy says:

      Carol, you’ve said something really wise here. That you can only live your live as it seems appropriate at the time. I think our deathbed self must be able to see this, even as it encourages more gratitude and presence. (Today I am thinking the deathbed self might have said: you did the absolute best you could with the awareness you had at the time. Because I think that’s true, too. We’re doing our best. Well….most of us, lol! I can think of a few that I feel might be screwing up. But maybe they, too, are doing the best that they can–with their level of awareness. Hmmm….)

  10. dorannrule says:

    To Current Kathy
    Thankyou for sharing your last thoughts pretending. You have certainly made me think.

  11. Susan D. Durham says:

    I’m so glad I finally had time to read this today. As always, you generate my deep response – eyes sparkling with tears over the sheer beauty of this rich, soulful letter to your dying self. So you, so beautiful. So needed. Thank you, dearest.

    • Kathy says:

      My goodness, Susan, I love how your eyes tear up so easily when you’re touched. Would love to read what you might write to yourself…but I imagine sometimes this letter is so personal it really can’t be shared. Wondering what else I may have written if this hadn’t been intended for a blog audience. OR if this letter might change as time and perspective changes. Hmmm….Thank YOU!

  12. So beautiful, Kathy! Thank you for sharing your most personal thoughts. And I love this so much – “What grew like wildflowers between sidewalk cracks?” I will think about this line a lot, I can tell you that.

    • Kathy says:

      Thank you, Micah! Hoping we can grow ourselves like wildflowers even between those sidewalk cracks. Will be thinking more about this along with you.

  13. debyemm says:

    It is good to be reminded and you have done that beautifully.

  14. Reggie says:

    Ahh, Kathy… You have such a way with words… conveying what is in the heart… this is sooo beautiful. Love and hugs from afar.

  15. Margie.Merc says:

    Kathy, I love this post and this challenge. The crazy thing is this – our demise could be next week! And yet, we still have time to make those calls, write those love notes and sit in silence as someone else shares their burdens. Many thanks for your thought provoking words.

    • Kathy says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. You are so right–we could be gone next week, in a blink of an eye. I have a friend/acquaintance who is losing her partner, probably within the week. They found a tumor in his brain in late May and he’ll be gone in two months. It’s another reminder to appreciate every minute.

  16. leelah saachi says:

    What would I remember – feeling ALIVE and connecting deeply with another. Sitting eye-to eye with strangers in town and experiencing the vast LOVE that TOOK US. My daughter being born and talking quietly as she exited -Magical times with students when a story took us and led us EXACTLY where Love wanted us to be -the magic of creativity in our sessions, and the knowing that everything was witnessed by LOVE – the gratefulness to remember all the wondrous synchronicities in or work – and in my life – that reminded me all the time – Love is HERE. TRust the path. And all the times new ( or really “old” friends “popped up” from Facebook – you are one of those,of course – the KNOWING of Guidance through it all – thanks for asking this question, Kathy – it feels very good answering♥

Thank you for reading. May you be blessed in your life...may you find joy in the simple things...

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