No one has looked back sadly on a life full of experiences,
but many look back wishing they had had the courage to do more. — Anonymous
Working as a hospice volunteer for more than four years, I’ve witnessed a variety of outcomes during a patient’s final moments, commonly referred to as the “eleventh hour.”
During this time, people process their final defining moment: dying. This is the moment that requires the most courage—the surrender and the acceptance of one’s life. When family and friends come to the care center to be with their loved one, it’s a blessing. But often, it is too late for words or actions that provide comfort or healing.
Calling to Be an Eleventh Hour Hospice Volunteer
My calling as a trained eleventh hour hospice volunteer is to sit with the hospice patient and to know the signs and symptoms that portend the end of life. As a volunteer I offer support by being “present” as the care center assists the patient and family during the patient’s last hours. I also provide companionship to ensure the patient does not die alone. Additionally, eleventh hour hospice volunteers attempt to reduce the patient’s stress and anxiety and provide the family information, guidance, and emotional, physical and spiritual support.
With each of my volunteer experiences, I was challenged to reflect on my own personal journey—deliberating over past mistakes, contemplating regrets, and examining whether I was living in my true self today. I know that courage lives in my true self and in coming to terms with my eventual demise. I began to ask myself, how much heartfelt courage will I be able to summon to peacefully embrace my own eleventh hour? The book Being Mortal by Atul Gawande confirmed for me that dying is not a disease, and it conveyed eloquently the importance of the quality of one’s journey and having dignity at the end.
The word courage comes from the French word corage, meaning “heart and spirit.” So courage is really about acting from our heart and spirit, from the center of our being, which is the true identity hidden beneath the false self of the ego. Tapping into our courage enables us to stand in our true Selves, our solid core. Although courage was one of the four cardinal virtues in classical literature, it has diminished in importance in these postmodern times as most people equate this important virtue with acts of bravado in the face of fear.
By limiting the idea of courage in this way, we fail to acknowledge the courage in stopping to smell the roses, asking for what we want, pursuing “spiritual courage”* and overcoming courage killers such as complacency. Courage manifests itself when we embark on a journey that is in line with our heart and spirit. When we apply this original definition to our lives, we feel more empowered to be discerning and better able to respond to the inherent energy of courage. In this way we design not only a good life, but also a good death.
During my years as an eleventh hour hospice volunteer, I observed that patients often had not summoned the courage to do something they really wanted to do in life, or they sadly didn’t make time to just “be” instead of being in a constant state of doing. These observations correlated with my over twenty years of research on recognizing and interpreting courageous behaviors. Several reoccurring tenets surfaced that confirmed “I wish I’d had more courage…”
Five tenets are featured below:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to realize how important it was to stay in touch with family and friends.
We make choices about how we are going to spend our lives and who we are going to share our lives with, keeping ourselves busy until it may be too late. Rushing through life, we rarely see that complacency filled with excuses and justifications seeps into our spirits and drains our precious reservoir of courage. At 50 years of age we may eventually see that the people we called our friends have now died.
Once our time to pass on has come, the opportunity to live more fully, call a dear friend or practice gratitude for the people in our lives has closed. An eleventh hour patient is unable to talk and their chance to express forgiveness or share inner feelings has permanently disappeared—time has run out. The window of opportunity to change the story line has evaporated.
With these emotions lingering in their spirits, I’ve wondered why many eleventh hour patients are so agitated and seem to have a busy mind during their final transition. One hospice nurse shared with me that in her seven years of caring for the dying she assessed that 50% of her patients were agitated during this final phase. Sometimes referred to as “unfinished business,” complacency in life kept these patients from claiming their courage and ultimately, peaceful acceptance of the end.
2. I wish I’d had the courage to live my life expressing more of my true Self, not the life where I sometimes sold my soul to accommodate others. Before people reach the eleventh hour, the patient tends to reflect on their journey and often express regrets to loved ones. This is a form of confessing, and confessing is one of twelve cousins to courage. “Shoulda”, “coulda”, “wouldas” are generally attached to regrets such as “I wish I’d spent more time with my kids, “I wish I’d not been so afraid to travel,” “I wish I’d finished college” or “Sorry I never told you…” One time I sat with a man as he passed. Shortly thereafter, his daughter arrived and she shared with me that before her father deteriorated to the eleventh hour stage and was no longer able to talk he had looked up at her and said, “Honey, I have no regrets.” Sadly, that’s not the case for many people as they reflect on their life’s journey.
We must ask ourselves, am I living in my true self? When my time comes to pass will I be filled with regrets or happiness? Regrets represent the times in our lives when we allow fearful insecurities to undermine the courageous choices. Recognizing regrets, the task then is to cultivate courage and trust that going for it is better than dying without it. Courage is a journey from the head to the heart, outside of emotion. We have to have the courage to ask ourselves: what percentage of my life right now is filled with regrets?
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About the Author:
Global speaker Sandra Ford Walston, The Courage Expert is a human potential consultant who studies courage.
She is an international speaker and author, corporate trainer and behavioral coach. Sandra’s expertise allows her to focus on the tricks and traps of the human condition through recognizing and interpreting courage behaviors and courageous leadership styles.
Featured on the speaker circuit as witty, provocative, concrete and insightful, she has sparked positive change in the lives of thousands of leaders each year. Sandra also provides skills-based programs for some of the most respected public and private blue-chip businesses and organizations in the world, such as IBM, Caterpillar, Inc., AGN, Institute of Internal Auditors, Hensel Phelps, Wide Open West, Agrium, Inc., Virginia Commonwealth University, Xanterra Parks & Resorts®, Procter and Gamble, Hitachi Consulting, US Bank, Healthcare Association of New York State, Institute of Management Accountants, QBE, and Delta Kappa Gamma International Society.
The internationally published author of bestseller COURAGE The Heart and Spirit of Every Woman/Reclaiming the Forgotten Virtue and an honored author selected for Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, Sandra facilitates individuals and groups to discover the power and inspiration of their everyday courage.
The COURAGE Difference at Work: A Unique Success Guide for Women, Sandra’s follow-up book to COURAGE, is directed at any woman, regardless of title or credentials, who wishes to grow professionally by introducing courage actions at work. Her third book, FACE IT! 12 Courageous Actions that Bring Success at Work and Beyond confirms that what holds you back on the job is the same as what hinders achievement—the reluctance to face and live a courageous life. Sandra is published in magazines such as Chief Learning Officer, Training & Development, Accelerate (Malaysia), Real Simple, Maria Shiver Blog, and Strategic Finance.
She is a certified coach and certified to administer and interpret the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® and the Enneagram. At times, she instructs at the University of Denver. Please review her Testimonials and connect with her on LinkedIn or Facebook.
Sandra enjoys golf, skiing, yoga, travel, cooking, meditation, reading, and being an 11th Hour hospice volunteer.
Copyright © 2016 Please do not quote, cite or disseminate without authorization by Sandra Ford Walston. www.sandrawalston.com. Permission is given to use the PDF of the full article.
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