Oh how I do love a good "What Would Gabby Say?" question...
This one was really really good!!
What has death taught you? What lessons have you received from witnessing so much death? How does it change the way you live your life? How are you able to deal with your own personal losses when you witness so many for other people?
What advice would you give all of us?
You are right, I witness a lot of death, too many last breaths to count, and so many goodbyes. I think people assume I hide in a dark cloud of sadness most of the time, which makes sense to me, but it is so far from my truth. Death has taught me to pay closer attention to life. Each last breath that I am present for shocks me because I realize the finality of it, as well as how truly fragile we are as humans, and how blessed we are to have breath, and life.
I have always worked very hard, usually having two-three jobs at a time. I raised both of my children mostly on my own, I constantly robbed Peter to pay Paul, and I worried every single day how the heck I was going to pay rent, eat, and keep the heat on.
I worried a lot.
I stressed out a lot.
I made bad choices, and I stayed in situations that did not serve me well.
I won’t ask for a do-over because I know I am where I am because of it all… but I definitely wasted time!
How has this work changed the way I live my life? I think the short version would be that I am more appreciative of each day when I wake up to it. I live in the moment more than I ever have, and I savor it, trying desperately to allow the sweetness of it all to linger for as long as I possibly can.
I have had many personal losses, most recently my brother, and they definitely hit harder now for me than they did years before. My sister died eight years ago, and my pain is sharper than it was before. I think it is fair to say that when I am present for a death of a patient, and when I witness the grief of those at the bedside, it reactivates my own. I am a constant work in progress relative to my own healing, but I think that is a good thing. I do not stuff it down, I do not ignore it and I do not pretend it isn’t there. I own my feelings, and I honor them. Some situations trigger me more powerfully than others, which is always unpredictable, so I brace myself, I meet it head on, and I sit with it until it simmers down a bit.
If I could offer advice that would benefit those who work in this field as well as those who do not, it would simply be to not waste time on the stupid stuff, to not carry anger and regret with you as you walk your own journey, and to give yourself more credit. Tell the truth, be authentically and beautifully you, and do not allow others to dictate the way you see yourself. Be a good human, be kind, and give people a reason to smile!