My friend Michele was on hospice homecare for 4 years, when you’re only supposed to be end-of-life material for 6 months.
So she quit hospice. Not because she died. It didn’t matter what the scans said, she reasoned, because she felt brilliantly alive. In fact, she sparkled, despite the way cancer had inched through her body and marred her brain, her bones, and so many other organs and structures.
That’s not to say she didn’t have pain or fatigue She did, but she took personal responsibility and learned how to manage it as best she could.
What's Keeping You Alive?
Once, I asked Michele, “What’s keeping you alive?” This is what she told me.
- Loving life, really loving life.
- Helping others.
- Meditation - two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening.
- Self-hypnosis, particularly when the pain was strong.
I would break out her formula like this:
Personal Responsibility + Positive Attitude + Selfless Service = A Good Life
I like this formula. And I think it works whether you have a serious illness or not.
No amount of doctors and pills will extend your life forever if you don’t exercise at least a modicum of self care. Find your medicinal remedies and engage in them regularly. Even better, embrace preventative care so you can stay as healthy as possible, as long as possible
Most people don’t stop when signs of illness appear. They think life is in the action, until they’re forced into inaction and must find another way.
If you're too busy for self-care, here’s two questions for you:
- Are fully present and enjoying all the busyness?
- Or is staying busy your habitual way of being, an unhealthy drive to please, or a fear of quiet?
Slow down now, at least once in a while. Truly taste each morsel of your life. You don’t have to meditate 4 hours a day like Michele, but find the level of self-care that nourishes and invigorates you.
Over the time I knew her, during her "terminal" illness, Michele orchestrated large garden parties once or twice a year, replete with good food, a dance band, and a charitable pitch. She even had her “Celebration of Life” long before she died.
Eventually, the cancer in her brain made her virtually blind, and she relied upon a portable oxygen supply. Nevertheless, she donned her sunglasses and presided over her parties like a queen, smiling endlessly. Everyone flocked to her to say hello, enjoy her presence, and receive her wisdom.
Another time, when she had lost a frightening amount of weight, at her husband's invitation, she went on a shopping spree at a low-cost store and filled her basket with clothes that would fit a skinny teen. She found the whole affair delightful.
Occasionally, Michele traveled to be close to the people she loved or to have a special holiday with her spouse. Given her condition, this wasn’t easy and some people might have considered it unsafe considering the state of her immune system. But she prioritized her family connections over staying home in what might be an illusion of safety.
Although I never witnessed it myself, I’m sure Michele got grumpy and unfriendly at times too. But for the most part, she made a commitment to choose joy and embrace life whenever she could.
In her earlier years, Michele involved herself in civil rights. In her later years, she focused on youth programs. In between, she actively helped others in myriad ways - both individually and as a change agent for organizations and communities.
When she was no longer able to lead herself, she mentored upcoming leaders who sat by her bedside. A highly skilled psychotherapist, Michele offered to teach me self-hypnosis to address long-held traumatic stress. Michele gave freely with all her heart.
Do You Have Your Own Formula for a Sweet Life?
This formula for a meaningful life kept Michele ticking, creating, and giving for years and years after she left hospice care for that first time. I think it also demonstrates the potential power of mind over matter.
I’m not saying you should adopt Michele’s formula. But I hope her joyful recipe might inspire you to formulate your own and thus live an equally rich and intentional life.
Michele passed on at the end of May 2016, about 5 years after she discontinued her initial period of home hospice. This post is my tiny tribute to Michele, my way of sharing her special wisdom with my world, and my celebration of her enormously beautiful life.
What's your formula for a sweet life? I would love to hear.
Thank you so much for reading. I would be so grateful if you were to share this post! May you be well, happy, and safe - always. With love, Sandra