Hospice Patients Alliance: Consumer Advocacy

"The Giving Space"




By Ron Panzer
President Hospice Patients Alliance
October 12, 2005




I am dying.

We are all dying.

Some have been given the gift of seeing their dying, and have grieved, knowing we must leave this world one day. Whether death comes tomorrow, next year or many years from now, with all its suffering and joy, we love this amazing world. But don't be alarmed or misunderstand. I have not been given any dread diagnosis; I simply see the dying aspect of this life, the dying aspect of my life.

If you have cared for the terminally ill, you have been forced to confront your own attitudes toward death, the dying of others and, your own mortality.

Depending upon your perspective, all of this life can be understood as one continuous dying process or as one continuous living process. However, most prefer to live their lives without thinking about the end, without thinking about any of this at all. They do everything to avoid confronting their mortality and are not even aware that they put up mental roadblocks to any reminder of their own mortality. It's something like people insisting on seeing the cup half full, knowing that it's only "half" of the cup, yet refusing to acknowledge that there even is a half of a cup that could possibly be empty.

Those who have been given the gift of seeing their dying see the cup of life simultaneously as both: living and dying.

Clearly, our lifespan is limited, and as the sands of time pass away, death approaches. Objectivity precludes us from being disappointed when reality strikes, but who among us are consistently "realistic" when it comes to his own death? Most prefer a delusional subjectivity where death, for all practical purposes, simply does not exist in their world. Even those who know their death is approaching, eventually, choose to forget it for as long as they possibly can.

However, as we age, we do think about it more, ... a lot more. We can't help it. At first you don't talk about it, but you think about it. Perhaps it has to do with one's stage of life. People you know die. People you don't know die. In the beginning, most often they're older, then increasingly they're the same age, or younger, and death stubbornly, forcefully, intrudes into our consciousness making us painfully aware that the end of our run will eventually come, making us painfully aware that the end of those we love will come.

Those who are young think of how much time has passed since they've been born, how "old" they are. Those who are middle-aged, or older, or who have a terminal illness, think about how much time they have left; they know how "old" they are.

Whether you think about it as "living" or "dying," is there really any difference in this life that bridges the space between birth and death? Don't all of us share with the terminally ill this common end? Have you really thought about it? The concept of "dying" simply includes the recognition that death awaits all of us in the end.

Yes, modern health care's advances have helped so many people to live healthier. Yes, modern health care's advances have helped so many people to live longer. Death is put off long enough that the young and relatively healthy can talk themselves into believing (or acting as if they believe) that death will never touch them. The "not so young" and not so healthy can only talk themselves momentarily into forgetting their constant reminder that they are vulnerable. They know!

If I insisted that you are dying, you might find it hard to accept, so strong is your aversion to really seeing this truth. You would admit that theoretically all of us die, and theoretically you will die "someday," but you might not see your approaching death as a reality. You can accept that others will die, but you??

You wouldn't feel your approaching death as a reality. You wouldn't be urgently, intensely aware of the waning time left ... for you. Yet death will approach us all, even those we love, just the same.

Many choose to lose themselves in their own apparent strength, the enjoyments of this life, the acquisitions to be made, the power they can amass in their world, and youth, for as long as that lasts. They obsessively and futilely attempt to suppress even the slightest recognition of their own aging, encroaching weakness, loss, and death. Yet we will all suffer losses, grow old and need the help of those who are more able. We will need others to give of their time, energy, and skills to meet our needs. That is a reality from which most recoil and seek to escape.

We wouldn't want to think of ourselves as needing anyone's help, let alone needing help with the most basic activities of life. Yet, who is it that will help us? If we do not help others, who will be there for those in need? You see there are only us, all of us, in this society, in this nation, or in this world. We choose whether to help, or not to help. We choose whether there ever will be any help. And if most of us choose not to help, there won't be enough people to help those in need, who might, ... who will, include us one day.

How many of us think about giving now to those in need? Aren't we preoccupied with what we are doing, with achieving our goals, with what we can get or enjoy in this world? Don't we think that "they will take care of it," that "they will do what is needed," and quickly we suppress the thought that "they" are people just like us, because "they" are us. All of us together are all who are in this world.

When we in time become weak, suffer losses and grow old, it will come as a shock, because we spent so much energy, all of our lives, absolutely turning away from this undesired, and feared, truth.

Strength ebbs, beauty fades, power is lost, and even the enjoyment of this life slips away; death arrives. So what is this all about? How do we find satisfaction, fulfillment and peace in the face of inevitable loss and death? Aside from living in the moment and enjoying what life offers, without giving, without serving, without loving, there is no real joy in this life.

In this life, and in this dying, we all give out of, and from, our very selves. Just as a river gives water out of itself to quench someone's thirst, we can give of our time, our energy, whatever we have or are, to help relieve the suffering of others. The river does not worry about giving water to the thirsty, and neither should we.

As a father or a mother, a friend or caregiver, we give of all we have and all we are to those we love. But the river doesn't only give to those it loves; it gives to all, and so should we. We may not find it easy to give our love and service to all, but those who do know an exhilarating joy here in this world.

Those who grieve in the awareness of their dying, shed tears both for the loss of all that might be and simultaneously, in gratitude for all this life and its Creator have already given. Inevitable death becomes the teacher of those who see the finiteness of this life, and eventually we accept the face of death. We no longer fear the loss of what is or was or might be. We are ready ... to live, or to die.

Have you allowed yourself to see your own potential death?

Perhaps we could have been a better father or mother, husband or wife, brother or sister, son, daughter or friend, but did we do the best we could at the time? If you really were aware that death approaches, would you choose to live a different life? Would you choose to give more of yourself and to know that you fought the good fight? Isn't that why we are here? ... To do our best, to serve, to give all we can from within the giving space?

Some have all sorts of questions about giving. They wrestle with questions about "who" to give to, "what" to give, "how much" to give, "when" to give, "if" they should give, and IF they give whether their gifts will be appreciated or not, whether others will know. They revel in thinking about what they may get from this world.

Although one should give wisely to those who truly are in need and who will benefit, those who live within the giving space are not preoccupied with these questions. They give unceasingly like fruit-laden trees bending low, effortlessly releasing their innumerable ripe fruits; they share their bounty with all who reach out in need.

Some say they will only give sometime in the uncertain future, when things are "better," when they get more money. Some say that their individual help is not needed, that "others have already given," that their gift "wouldn't make a difference." They always find a reason not to give.

Some determine all their actions from the perspective of the "Left" or the "Right." They do not understand that within the giving space there is no "Left" or "Right." Within the giving space, there is startlingly lucid awareness of the world's great needs, right here, right now. There is only a great desire to fill that need, to comfort the suffering, feed the hungry, warm the cold, share with the lonely, and love the unloved.

Those who know their mission in this life perceive the unending need and opportunity to meet those needs. Like a mother nursing her child, out of herself, she gives, sacrifices, serves. She doesn't need to hear her child's cry to give once more; she is ready before her child's cry! That is loving from the giving space.

Although there is such unending need and opportunity to serve, those who live within the giving space do not question the mission. They give and work, as they feel guided to do, as long as they are needed, and then move on to others who need their assistance. They cannot "fix" the world. They do not even try or think to "fix" the world, but they help just the same. They heal and share their love, one person at a time. And their touch is never forgotten!

There is a story about an old teacher kneeling on the beach with a cup, scooping water from the ocean and then emptying the cup onto the beach. A student seeking wisdom comes along and thinks, "This doesn't make any sense at all!" "How can this crazy man be a great teacher?" "Nobody can ever empty the ocean of all its water." "What a waste of time!" "Why are you doing this?" "Why don't you stop what you are doing and teach me?"

But the old man smiles silently and serenely continues, knowing that whether or not it is possible to empty the ocean is not really important. He knows that the important lesson is to commit one's life to doing what you can do, with what you have, and to begin and continue doing that even if you only have a very small cup, even if the task seems impossible.

Though the ocean of need can never be completely emptied, we need not empty the entire ocean of need alone. We can simply empty our small share of the ocean of need. Together, today, we can begin to empty the ocean of need in our small circle of this world. Life's purpose is found when we engage ourselves where we are, meeting the needs that present themselves, with whatever ability we have, even if we have believed that we can do but little.

This limited life, this ongoing dying, is all about giving, wherever we are, whomever we're with, whatever we're doing, out of all that we are, while we are. It also is about receiving, not "taking," about actively receiving, consciously, and accepting with love and gratitude. For the giving space is the same as the receiving space when we give and receive in the Spirit of Love.

Some who witness the lives of those who are actively dying understand this potential: the heart can melt. The boundaries can dissolve. We can know a great connectedness: through our eyes, through a touch, a kiss, and a smile ... through caring for those who reach out to us for the simplest of things.

Through the pulsating, throbbing fullness of this life, we know. What else can we do when we are aware of our own dying, accepting the finiteness of this life, while living fully now within the infinitely giving space? We know that however our life here may end, life itself will go on in its ever renewing, wondrous dance.

I don't know what my end will be, but I could never write or say how much I have enjoyed this living, sharing, and this dying. How can I describe the gift of all this is, the living and the dying, this life? This is not a dark perception. It is not a preoccupation with death. It is simply not being preoccupied with life to the exclusion of seeing its limits, without seeing death and the never-ending cycle of it all.

The details may change, but we all have been given this gift: to breathe, to know, to do, to be, to give ... and receive. The details may change, but we all have been given the gift of choosing how we are as we live this life and how we are as we die ... whether to give from all we are and from all we have ... or not. Daily, moment-to-moment, we choose whether to allow ourselves to live, and be, within the giving space.

If we hold back, if we are afraid to risk losing what we have in the giving, we lose it all. In that moment, we lose the gift of this life and all it could be and is and could have been. And everyone around us loses what could have been, had we but chosen to give, to let go, to live and to make the leap into serving Him.

You may wish to give up, to turn away from life, for you may not see the purpose in continuing. "Better to end it all," you may say, like putting an injured, but not fatally injured horse "down." Too impatient to work with the injured, to heal her if you can, to let her live as long as she can? You say, "There's no purpose," "She's not good for anything!" But life itself is good even though you may not think so. Its purpose may be mysteriously revealed one day, if you only would give life a chance.

Like a disabled patient who despairs, believing she will never find acceptance, and seeks to end it all. Though so many things have changed, and it is unspeakably hard work, how many times have we who work with the disabled seen little glimmers of hope sprout and a new life begun? How many times have we who work with the dying seen the miraculous gift the dying give to the remaining in the very last moments of their life? The healing of family relationships? .... Yes, in the very last moments of a naturally lived life and a "naturally died" death?

How often have we seen that where there is "unfinished business," the patient will hang on till that last work is done? Till a certain family member visits... till a treasured gift is given... till the unspoken words are finally spoken.

We've seen this so many times, yet those who encourage others to give up, those who "assist" in killing the "willing," affirm their despair, affirm their denial of the gift of life, and eagerly hasten their death, snuffing out even the possibility of the miracles so often found in the naturally ending moments of a life.

The death-bringers, for that is what they are, care not at all about the giving they have destroyed. And while they stamp out every glimmer of hope, for as long as there is life there is hope, they think they are caring with real "love." They understand little about dying, or life. They hold back from seeing the real meaning in life, preferring to flee from life into death. They affirm that holding back from life in those they kill ... reinforcing their denial of the purpose of a life, both killer and the killed, even the willingly killed.

Those who flee from life protest that they know better when death should occur. Better than God?

They may simply be afraid to experience dying as it can be, and it's not always pretty. They may fear being humiliated. They may angrily wish to control every aspect of their life including dying, never allowing themselves to be humbled by the overwhelming power of Nature and its loving Creator. They may fear being while not being on their own terms. For they do not allow themselves to feel love for Him or to admit to their own fear of really letting go.

We know medical science can relieve pain very well, but we can't help to heal the hearts of those who flee life as it is and turn their backs on His healing touch. A down-turned pot can hold no water. A down-turned mind sees no Light, sees no hope, … sees only darkness and shadows. A down-turned mind only sees the limited world below, yet asserts fiercely that it "understands."

If we hold back, we cease to truly live. Like a river that refuses to flow, we can become like a dried-up puddle stagnating in the mud. We become a mere shadow of all we could have been or were meant by our Creator to be. If we hold back, we cease to participate in the river of life. If we hold back, we cease to enjoy. We don't even begin to fulfill a mission we dared not imagine or see!

The opportunity to fulfill that mission is never ended until the last touch, the last kiss, the last word, and the last gift of giving as we take our last breath ... no matter how long we've turned away from giving, from others, from Him.

He is the Giver. He is the Maker. And we are fulfilled in mirroring His image, the image of One who gives all of what He is and gives all of whom He is from within His Infinite giving space.

Sacrificing our pride and opening ourselves to giving, we are able to renew our hearts and regain our place within the giving space.

We can only begin to reflect His image, sharing, laboring, till nothing more is left, like a candle that gives all the light it has and is consumed by that Light.

"Where does it go?" you ask. "Where do we go?" you ask. Those who give from the giving space no longer ask; they know.

The greatness of giving freely is something that anyone can experience. It is something anyone can share. But not everyone knows this experience, and not everyone shares it. The question clearly is: "why?" Why don't we all care and why don't we all share that caring by acting and giving? Why do some always expect others to do, others to care or others to give for them?

It's not difficult to understand. Holding onto what they have, they fear. They fear risking and losing, but in their choice to desperately hold onto what they have, they lose all that could be. They lose the thrill of living within the giving space.

It is so easy to let ourselves become caught up in the petty concerns that routinely arise. Yet when the day is through, when our life is through, when we consider the terrible anguish of those who have lost it all, how important were those petty concerns? How important were the now meaningless preoccupations?

Seeing those near death, seeing ourselves near death, brings us to our senses.

We expect so much. We hope for so much. Yet it always seems to be "just out of reach." Or if we finally find what we desired, we desire more, or something different, or it doesn't last. Change touches all. Death touches all.

We desire so much, but often the blessings that we seek may be found within the simple circumstances surrounding us right now. Perhaps those circumstances are not as we envisioned or demanded, and perhaps they are not as we prayed they would be. Nevertheless, sometimes in little things, sometimes in great things, the blessings abound.

Do we pause to wonder at the blessings of our lives? Do we appreciate our wives or husbands, our parents or children, the friends or neighbors we meet along the path of this life? Do we take the time to share our love, to express our love, to forgive the hurts that occur from time to time and to help others forgive as well? These are the lessons of death and dying. Do we remember that while we are living, we are also dying, that there is only this moment, ever, in this life: now, and now, and now.

We are all guilty of not taking that time, not expressing that love, not forgiving all the hurts that occur and not helping others to forgive as well. Though we fail, we can try once more, forgiving ourselves and others and allowing ourselves to finally arrive at the giving space, even if it is at the very, very end.

It is a soft, unrushed space where we can feel and perceive the wonders of this world and our lives. Although there is much that appears ugly in this world, and we may think death "ugly," ... from the giving space we can see a beauty that pervades this world and even death, yet transcends the petty preoccupations and concerns of our lives. From that space, we can surrender to the changes and losses that occur as we age and die, whatever our age.

Can we awaken from the preoccupation and self-absorption that rule our lives? Only if we open our hearts.

Do we experience the blessings of living within the giving space? Only if we choose to embrace the changes that must occur in this life and only if we choose to embrace the Giver of this life.

I may be alone at the end. You may be alone at the end.

Or not.

But every drop of kindness given helps to create a powerful river of goodness, washing away the troubles of this world, at least in "our world." Every drop of service creates an expanding ripple of love that cannot fail to spread and heal and bring peace in "our world." Every word of encouragement feeds the hearts of the discouraged and despairing.

In that giving space, there is not even the slightest hint of enmity. There is no fear of dying. There is only love, forever.

We may or may not receive a visit from a friend or a loved one. But being with us, sitting with us, even praying for us in our dying, the remaining give us their final gift, and we give them a gift as well. The tears will come, knowing how much we have been given and how much we have even now to share with the world.

We can only begin to reflect His image, sharing, laboring, till nothing more is left, like a candle that gives all the light it has and is consumed by that Light.

Tears of joy will fall at that time, knowing we are traveling on in the Presence of the Giver of this life.

You who remain when we are gone: I pray you choose to live from within the wondrous, glowing, giving space.




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