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I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

According to hospice workers, that is the #1 regret of the dying.

I was reminded of this recently, when I walked into the room of a patient who was upset because his family wanted him to have a risky surgery that offered no real promise of success. He had spent too many hours on the operating table in recent years, and he just didn’t have it in him to undergo one more.

When I asked him what word he might want me to illustrate for him, he said he didn’t care. He just didn’t care anymore.

I asked how he felt about the words IT’S MY LIFE, and a sparkle instantly shone in his eyes. That was the answer I was hoping for.

As I drew, I heard many stories about how he had been letting people make his decisions for a long time. He was worn down by it. And now when it seemed he might be nearing the end of his life, I wondered if it was too late for him to do something that HE wanted to do.

I held up my drawing and asked him how it felt to look at it. "REALLY GOOD!” was his response. He broke out in the first smile I’d seen from him, and thanked me for understanding how important this was for him. I told him about that #1 regret, and he got a little misty-eyed.

Saying goodbye to him was hard. I wanted to hang around and make sure he found the courage to do this one thing that would right those other wrongs in his life. But I knew he’d do the best he could, and it was his life, after all.

I learn so much from these conversations I have with patients. They bare their souls to me. And I am reminded again and again that the thing that matters most to them - to all of us - is to be seen and heard by others. To speak our truths and to know that someone with a kind heart is listening.

Living a life that’s true to ourselves is not easy, or everyone would be doing it. But we have to try. Especially if we recognize that someday we’ll be like this man, facing the end of our journey on Earth, wondering why we didn't.

© 2016 Kathy Curtis, All Rights Reserved

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