As Life Ended He Knew He Had Done the Best He Could

Jane A. Simington

Developmental theorist Eric Erickson1 described our final developmental task as being the need to review our lifeto determine if the gods are pleased. In doing a life review, we sort through the various aspects of our life and conclude either with believing we have done the best we could, or determining there are things we need to make right within our self or in our relationships.

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Some time ago, my husband called me for help with the frightening visions that were being experienced by his dying father. As my father-in-law’s life was drawing to a close he began having visions of uniformed soldiers walking around his bed. Each time he described the experiences, he concluded these were the soldiers killed during WWII battles because of the orders he, as their commander, had given.
My father-in-law described that over the years he had often thought about these men, wondered how their families managed their grief and how they had survived without the son, husband or father who had been killed. He mentioned that he had often pondered what the dying soldiers thoughts were of him. Had they blamed him? Had they cursed him? As he reviewed this time of his life and these circumstances, he indicated that over the years, and especially now as he was examining the various aspects of his life, he thought a lot about some of the choices he felt were required of him during the war years.

As my husband and I listened to his testimony, I became aware it was likely that my father-in-law’s feelings about his fears and regrets had become embodied. Embodiment of emotion is not uncommon both during dying and during grief. Known as personification, it is a process in which inanimate abstractions or feelings become endowed with human qualities or are represented as possessing human form.
Acknowledging that part of bringing a satisfactory closure to his life required allowing him to share these deep emotions, and to describe in more detail some of the life events he was now reviewing, his son and I listened attentively.
Over the next days we became aware that in relating some of his experiences, most of which he had rarely spoken of, the visions of the soldiers moving around his bed seemed to lessen and become less terrifying for him. Following one such vision, when he described the uniformed figures and how threaten he felt by them, I asked if it was possible these were soldiers from the unit he had commanded, and that they were coming to welcome him to the other side where he would again be in comradeship with them? My father-in-law was able to accept this reframing of his visions, and through it, alter his own interpretation.

My father-in-law’s remaining days appeared to be peaceful, and since he never again spoke of the soldiers, my husband concluded his father had completed reviewing that aspect of his life and was now able to rest peacefully believing he had done the best he could.

Reminiscence, an important aspect of the life review, is activated by many things including visits, photographs and song. These things naturally stir memories that when stirred can be explored. Happy memories can be re-lived and re-enjoyed, and ways can be found to release the emotional load attached to the difficult ones. In many cases, it is the sharing of a difficult memory with a trusted person that allows for the release of the emotion attached to that memory.

Robin Butler2 described life review as a human need to balance the good in life against the negative. The goal, when assisting another during life review, is to have the person recognize that while their life was made up of both positive and less than positive events, the good outweighed the negative. Circular questions, such as “Tell me what happened after that,” followed by “And then what happened?” and again followed by “And then what happened?” are valuable when helping the person acknowledge the positive outcomes that flowed from what was initially viewed as a negative experience.
It is also important to help a person who is examining past choices recognize we often judge past events based on today’s standards. There is great value in helping the person view events within the context of the circumstances when their choices were made, and then to assist in helping to reframe perceptions of those past circumstances so the person is able to acknowledge that the best possible choices were made.

References

1).Erickson, E. H. Childhood and Society. New York: WW Norton.
2).Butler, R. N. Aging and Mental Health: Positive Psychosocial and Biomedical Approaches. . St. Louis: Mosby.

Wind and the Seasonal Changes of Life

 ©Jane A. Simington PHD, September, 2014

As for man, his days are as grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.

For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone;

And the place thereof shall know it no more.

– Psalms ciii:15-16

Early this day, as I stood to welcome the sun, I was acutely aware that the whispering breezes were announcing “change.” I lingered to identify from which direction it came. I believe that Spirit rides on the wind and the message Spirit brings depends upon the direction from which the winds blow. This morning, the winds of the West announced that one season was ending and a new was about to begin. I pondered how, during my career as a nurse, I was so aware that when the Wind of Spirit ceased to blow, one way of being had ended and a new way was about to begin.

Autumn trees by Jane's lake

The following information and strategies has assisted many caregivers who choose to help the dying free up their Spirits, so when they cease to breathe, their breath is freed from its restless tides to rise and seek God unencumbered.

1) Recognize the three stages of dying.

Outward focused: The person continues to be interested in the outside world, especially in anything related to their family. Visits and conversations about present events are still desired.

Inward focused: The dying person is reviewing every aspect of life to determine what yet needs to be said and done. During this stage it is helpful to share “remember when” stories. Describing shared experiences can help the person feel a sense of satisfaction with the aspects of their life being reviewed. During this stage, the dying person finds the radio and television annoying for these “noises” distract from, and interfere with, the important task of reviewing life with the goal of bringing a peaceful closure to relationships.

Future focus: The person who is close to death is focused almost solely on the afterlife. During this stage many have dreams of a spiritual nature, and visitations from loved ones who have already crossed-over. Listening respectfully, with an open mind and heart, to anything the dying person chooses to share about such experiences is of great value to the dying person as well as to the listener. Being gifted with sacred stories can alter life in many positive ways.

2) Recognize the difference between pain and suffering.

Both from a clinical and research base, it is recognized that suffering is more than physical pain. When the dying person’s spiritual, emotional and relational concerns have been addressed they can relax and focus on what is of immediate importance, which is to bring peaceful closure to this life and move toward the next. When there is pain that is uncontrollable, even with medication, often the source of the suffering is a need to forgive or be forgiven. A question that can be helpful during such times is: “What do you want/need and from whom do you want/need it?

3) Use the Hand- Heart Energetic Connection –

A loved one can give a lot of energetic support to the Spirit of a dying person by using this Therapeutic Touch technique. To do so, hold the dying person’s right hand with your left hand and place your right hand in the middle of his or her chest. Then using your breath to draw on the light and love energy from above, bring this energy into your own heart’s energy centre and send as much love and light down your right hand and into the dying person as possible. Sending positive energy in this ways helps the dying person feel connected to the energy of the light source. Many energy practitioners who are also nurses testify to the value in using this technique during times of suffering and during times when the Spirit of the dying person is getting ready to transition.

In Conclusion

Because of my varied life experiences, I have been gifted to witness many infants take their first breath and have been with many of all ages as they took their last. I am grateful for these opportunities to witness the Wind of Spirit and its association with these times of great change. This morning as I pondered the wind and reflected on these associations, I recognized that as the West wind whispered change, it was not only announcing a change of the seasons in the natural world, it was reminding me that the Spirit of the Wind blows through each of the seasonal changes in life.

Life Review: Living with No Regrets

AUG

 

 

Reflecting on the Seasonal Changes in Life

For me, August is the time when I begin in earnest to harvest what I have sown in the spring. As I walked amongst the plants this morning, I ruminated on how fruitful some of my efforts were, and of how unproductive other gardening labors have been. As I mulled over some of my early spring decisions about plant choices and planting locations, I was drawn to ponder, one more time, on the metaphoric lessons taught by the seasonal changes continually taking place in my garden.

Reflecting on the constant cycles and transitions taking place, reminded me of the teachings of the Great Medicine Wheels of the World. Within this system of learning Spring is represented by the East and is symbolic of birth and youth and of all new beginnings. The South represents Summer; it is the place of the productive adult and represents the time of growth and fruitfulness. The West symbolizes Autumn and reflects the time to reap what is sown in the spring times and early summer months of our lives. Mid-life and later adulthood hold the place of the West. The North is symbolic of winter and represents the place of the Elder and the wisdom learned through the process of taking our place on each of the spokes of the Medicine Wheel.

The month of August often awakens a voice from deep within, a voice calling us to take account of the fruitfulness of our labors. Have we made good choices, good decisions? Did we sow strong seeds and in the correct places, in this and the other spring times of our life? Did we weed out the shoots that were attempting to strangle good new growth? Did we water and nurture the good growth until it produced good sweet fruit?
The metaphoric voice stirred by the seasonal changes of harvest prompt us into a process of life-review. Life-review is a soulful attempt at taking stock of our lives. Eric Erickson, a developmental theorist, described the life review process as a time to ask if the God’s are pleased with what, to this point, we have made of our lives. He referred to life review as a testing time, as a time when we examine and bless those aspects of life that we feel satisfied with, and attempt to make amends for those events and times where we recognize that we did not do as well as we should have.

Many, not recognizing the soulfulness of this experience, can feel confused by their need to reexamine various aspects of their earlier years. Yet, there is great value in doing a review of one’s life during the years when there may still be enough life-time left to make some important life and relationship changes.
In doing the life review some have regrets over choices made or not made. I would like to offer three bits of wisdom to help heal the emotional attachments to these regrets.

1)    Reward yourself for wishing you had made a different choice.
To me this means that over the years you have changed and transformed considerably.  If there was nothing in your past that you would not change if given the chance, then I would think there is a high possibility that very little soul growth has happened for you during the course of your lifetime.

2)    Put yourself right back in the same situation as you were when you made that choice and then determine if you were back there, at the same age, with the same skills, knowledge, resources, abilities and supports you had then, would you make the same decision as you made then?
We often judge the past from the place of wisdom, knowledge and experience of where we are now. That is not therapeutic. Most people, when asked to go right back to an earlier situation recognize that under the circumstances that they were in at that time, they likely made the best decision possible for them.
I like to offer this affirmation as a way to solidify this acknowledgement. “I did the best I could at the time. If I have another chance I will make my choices based on the knowledge and skills I now have.”

3)    Look at the event to which you have a regret attached and ponder the outcomes by asking, “And then what happened?” When you become aware of a positive outcome ask the same question again, “And then what happened?”  Continue this circular form of questioning until you are able to identify that overall there have been some very positive outcomes to that difficult event.

Doing the above process of life review can help us see life as a more meaningful whole rather than as snippets of difficult life events.

Happy autumn and may you reap bushels of fruit from the good seeds you have planted in the springs and early summers of your life.

©Jane A. Simington, PHD. August, 2013

Mothering and Grand-Mothering: Weaving Spiritual Intergenerational Bonds

©Jane A. Simington, May, 2013

   As we approach the month of May, and Mother’s Day, I am drawn to reflect on the beliefs and feelings that surface as I ponder my experiences of being mothered and on how those experiences directly and indirectly affected my own mothering and continue to influence my grand-mothering. Each night during my childhood, mother snuggled me into bed asking that the Guardian Angels be at my side to enlighten, to guard, to rule, and to guide. Last evening as I tucked my youngest grandchild into his bed I was aware of how this nightly prayer to the angels, prayed by my mother with me, and prayed byimages me with my children, and now prayed by my daughter with her children, was being prayed by my grandson with me, his grandmother. During that precious time with my grandson I was aware that even though he had never known my mother during her lifetime, her prayerful influence had woven a spiritual inter-generational thread.  Continue reading