Wisdom from the Edge of Life

Sunset at Fisher Towers, Utah, 2009

“If life was found to be agreeable, then so should death be.  It comes from the hand of the same master.” – Michelangelo

The following excepts are from the book Life Lessons, by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler, an extraordinary book of wisdom, a blueprint for living gleaned from the teachings of the dying.  The authors’ words have given me incredible comfort as I deal with the loss of my wife and best friend – but they have also given me so much inspiration for living and an appreciation for life and beauty and love and all of the good things we share that we may not always appreciate.

Debbie was my first-hand teacher for many of the lessons presented in the book, although sadly I did not always understand that at the time.  I will say it again, Debbie’s passing was the most incredible spiritual experience I have ever had, and the grace and dignity and acceptance she gifted upon all of us who were lucky enough to share in it has forever changed us all.  Someday when I have the courage I will write down and share the events of that incredible week, but for now I will let Kubler-Ross and Kessler share their very powerful insights.  Know that Debbie knew these secrets in the very core of her heart…

From the beginning to the end, life is a school, complete with individualized tests and challenges.  When we’ve learned all we can possibly learn, and when we have taught all we can possibly teach, we return home.

It’s sometimes hard to see what the lessons are.  Not only may we have difficulty understanding what is being taught, we may never know which lessons we’re supposed to master.

When people are buffeted by seemingly endless windstorms and their lives look like calamities, they may wonder why they have been given so many tests, and why God appears so merciless.  Going through hardship is like being a rock in a tumbler.  You’re tossed to and fro and get bruised, but you come out more polished and valuable than ever.  You are now prepared for even bigger lessons, bigger challenges, and a bigger life.  All the nightmares are turned into blessings that become part of living.  If we had shielded the Grand Canyon from the windstorms that created it, we would not see the beauty of its carvings.  That may be why so many patients have told us that if they could magically go back to the point right before they got their cancer or other life-challenging disease, and erase what was to come, they would not.

In so many ways, loss shows us what is precious, while love teaches us who we are.  Relationships remind us of ourselves and provide wondrous opportunities for growth.  Fear, anger, guilt, patience and even time become our greatest teachers.  Even in our darkest hours we are growing.  It’s important that you know who you are in this lifetime.  In our growth even our greatest fear, death, becomes less and less.  Think about what Michelangelo pointed out”  “If life was found to be agreeable, then so should death be.  It comes from the hand of the same master.”  In other words, the same hand that gives us life, happiness, love, and more isn’t going to make death a horrible experience. 

Michelangelo told us that the beautiful sculptures he created were already there, inside the stones.  He simply removed the excess to reveal the precious essence that had always been there.  You do the same thing as you learn lessons in life: you chip away the excess to reveal the wonder-ful you inside.

In exploring the lessons from the edge of life, we become more comfortable with the knowledge that life ends one day.  It is hard to deal with death before we have to, but it is at the very essence of life.  The dying can be our teachers because we can’t experiment with death or experience it ahead of time.  We must rely on those who have faced life-challenging illnesses to be our instructors.

One of the most surprising lessons our teachers offer is that life doesn’t end with the diagnosis of a life-challenging illness – that’s when it truly begins.  It begins at this point because when you acknowledge the reality of your death, you also acknowledge the reality of your life.  You realize that you are still alive, that you have to live your life now, and that you only have this life now.  The primary lesson the dying teach us is to live every day to its fullest.

When was the last time you really looked at the sea?  Or smelled the morning?  Touched a baby’s hair?  Really tasted and enjoyed food?  Walked barefoot in the grass?  Looked into the blue sky?  These are all experiences that, for all we know, we may never get again.  It’s always eye-opening to hear the dying say that they just want to see the stars one more time, or gaze out to the ocean.  Many of us live near the ocean but never take the time to look at it.  We all live under the stars, but do we look at the sky?  Do we really touch and taste life, do we see and fell the extraordinary, especially in the ordinary?

You don’t get another life like this one.  You will never again play this role and experience this life as it’s been given to you.  You will never again experience the world as in this life, in this set of circumstances in quite this way, with these parents, children and families.  You will never have quite this set of friends again.  You will never experience the earth with all its wonders in this time again.  Don’t wait for one last look at the ocean, the sky, the stars, or a loved one.  Go look now.


3 thoughts on “Wisdom from the Edge of Life

  1. Joe, I’m sorry I haven’t called in a little while. I’ve been working 13-15 hour days and it is wearing me down. I think of you and the boys everyday; I know how busy you are and don’t want to call at the wrong time. I enjoy reading your blog; it helps me to stay in touch and at the same time it’s inspiring. Love to all-Diane

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