Do you ever question the purpose of your life/existence?
Occasionally when I’m at an event a subject comes up that prompts a conversation in a different direction.
In the past month I’ve had around 5 similar conversations on what I share with you here.
Prior to that I’ve had this conversation less than 5 times in the past 10 years.
Which tells me the timing is right for this slight deviation from my usual themes.
From as long as I can remember I have wondered who I am and what my reason for being here is.
One of my earliest memories was sitting in the back of a car and going into a state of altered reality as I continuously asked the question: “Why is me me?”
Whilst the question may not make much sense to you, it did to me at the time and was the start of my curious journey into this largely unexplained or taught space.
When I was 10 years old I watched my Great Grandmother in a hospital bed with tubes coming out of her nose, bladder, and arms.
She couldn’t speak but she did have the energy to continually pull the tube out of her nose, which was being used to feed her and keep her alive longer.
It was an undignified finale for a wonderful woman whom I loved very dearly.
It was also my final memory of her.
It has since become very clear to me that she knew her time was up and just wanted to be left to die in peace.
10 years later I started my nurse training.
They taught us many things in preparation for being a nurse.
These included learning to read government white papers, how to assess medical research studies and integrated health care systems.
Whilst I now see the relevance of all of these, I cannot help but feel there was a big gap in a key knowledge base.
But I wouldn’t find this out until I started work as a qualified nurse.
As anyone in the medical field will likely tell you: the real education starts the first day you work as a qualified practitioner.
And if there’s anyone trained in medicine on this planet that thinks otherwise: I don’t ever want to be looked after by them!
Working mainly on medical wards, I was not trained in terminal care.
And medical wards are in many ways the polar opposites to hospices.
One is there to do everything they can to keep you alive.
The other is there to keep you comfortable as you prepare for death.
Unfortunately, many spend their final moments on the wrong type of ward. This would often cause conflict for me with the doctors.
It also prompted me to submit a research project into terminal care for people on medical wards to back up my points.
Occasionally we would get patients in with escalating pain which they were just looking for relief from.
But sometimes this turned out to be advanced and previously undiagnosed cancer.
Which, especially in the male population, was left for too long before seeking help.
The cruelest blow is watching someone come in with what they think is something minor.
Only to find out they have inoperable cancer a day or two later.
Doctors would come into the ward and deliver the news and then leave.
Most people shut down initially and are rendered almost speechless.
There is a delay as they contemplate a new reality of having just a small time to deal with their impending death.
In over 13 years of nursing I had well over a thousand conversations with people caught in this space. At least 20% of these were with people younger than 50 years old.
No training had ever been given to me in managing that dynamic.
And only experience and curiosity would change that for me.
All I could do is hold the space, be a sympathetic ear and ask questions as I fumbled to help them in my early days.
In reality this proved to be predominantly a lesson in being silent and holding space for longer periods as patients dealt with this tsunami of impending doom.
Everyone in the position of finding themselves there will start to question the meaning/purpose of their life.
This was a very sad story in around 99% of those I witnessed.
Often full of regret and a crushing collapse of an imagined future, which is no longer real.
I spent many hours sitting in silence with people who found themselves in that dark zone.
When patients finally spoke, I asked them questions about their lives.
The question which provoked the most profound realisations in that setting was: “Do you believe in life after death?”
The first time I asked a patient this question, I didn’t believe it myself.
However, my desire to help them led me to playing Devils Advocate with my core beliefs.
The only thing I had to offer them was hope.
I find it interesting how so many people start to doubt the existence of eternal life when faced with imminent death.
I can also say that well over half of those I spoke with had very strong religious beliefs.
Which would often enter the realm of doubt when looming death became a reality.
Unfortunately, I have many stories of such cases.
I also became fascinated with near death experiences.
In a clinical setting death is deemed as the absence of breathing and a heart rate.
I have helped to resuscitate many hundreds of people.
And I have always spent time with those brought back, asking whether they recalled anything.
But around 20% of people had a remembered experience.
These are always hugely profound and lead to an alternative, more positive reality.
This conversation warrants a separate article, which I will write if there is a demand for it.
In summary: some people had experiences that were so deeply profound and insightful I soon went on to believe the physical death of the body is not the end of life.
If I hadn’t been in the position to witness it, I would probably not have believed anyone telling me about it.
So many people spend their final days/hours worrying about what happens when they finally die.
And the only way to offset these fears is to discover what makes you and those you love feel good, and spend as much time doing it as possible.
Because death is the only guarantee that life gives you.
Some say taxes , but there are those who prefer to risk jail.
The real jail is living an unhappy life and finding reasons to not improve it.
If you knew that you only had a day left to live, what would you do more and less of?
Write out those two lists honestly and you can predict where you’ll be when death comes calling.
Depending on whether you take steps towards feeling better.
Your access route to this state is to find a bigger purpose than yourself.
And keeping connection to it.
The biggest regrets I have heard at the end of life are the things people didn’t do.
For whatever reason.
What are you not doing that you would love to do?
May you find your purpose and happiness.
And if you need help with that, sign up for my newsletter and come along to a few events if you can.
Because you never know who you will meet, where the discussions will take you, and how it will improve your life, unless you turn up.
Photo by Dyu – Ha on Unsplash