Essential Lessons on Wellness, Learned from the Dying

I can’t entirely explain it, but I have always been drawn to hospice work. I worked as a Registered Nurse in hospice care for twelve years before my work evolved into health coaching. My time working in hospice care has always informed my view of a patient’s whole health — and recently, I was reminded of some of the beautiful and challenging moments this work can bring when helping to take care of a cousin who recently died.

Though counterintuitive, it is not uncommon for patients who enter hospice care to see their health improve. But when you consider the holistic approach of hospice care, it makes more sense: all of a sudden, a person has a team of people caring for them with their complete health in mind. This team can include social workers, nurses, and chaplains to address spiritual and mental health needs beyond bodily ailments. I saw countless people thrive in hospice as they experienced the physical benefits of emotional healing and mental health.

How simple and yet profound: when our emotional and spiritual needs are met, our bodies are naturally more well. So often in the autoimmune community, we focus on physical symptoms and diet concerns — but they’re only part of the picture of whole health. We know that connecting with others reduces inflammation and cortisol and that a soul-centered approach to self-care can help combat stress, both key for folks with autoimmune disease. Dying stirred insights and wisdom in my cousin Jim that are directly connected to whole health — in accompanying him, I felt like I learned how to live more fully. At this time of year when perhaps we are trying nit-picky resolutions on for size, I’d like to pass along some of the gems that Jim was inspired to share.

Define what matters most for you.

After receiving his terminal diagnosis,  my cousin became very clear that family and love were by far the most important things in life to him. His business success and career drive had nothing on the love that he had for his family and people who were important to him. He deeply mourned the countless times that he prioritized work, career, and success over the ones he loved. Connection to people is very important to me too. It might be different for you — but unless we define it, we have nothing to go on.
My take away: Whatever matters most for you, view it with urgency and act accordingly.

Live now.

Jim broke my heart when he said, “I just learned how I want to live my life, and now I don’t get to live.” That remark was a huge moment for me. It made me want to figure out what living well means for me right now so that when I eventually get my prognosis of death, I won’t feel like I missed the opportunity to really live. What does your bucket list look like? For me, it looks more like sitting and playing with my kids than, say, jumping out of a plane. It’s about reconciling thoughtfully when I have a fight with my husband rather than letting it turn into unspoken resentment. Strong family connection is the most important thing to me, and so I need to shape my days around that. This realization didn’t happen overnight, though — I had to hire a life coach to realize that I needed to prioritize my family over work, and I needed help to make that change step by step.
My take away: Once you know your priorities, make your days reflect them.

Less is more.

It’s really, really tough to slow down and do less when we’re living in a culture that is constantly telling us that we don’t do or have enough. Think of how many things you do in a given day that really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things — is there room to cut some of them out to make room for the other things you crave? I want to spend time with my family doing simple things like chatting, reading a book together, or hanging out on the couch. All these things help me feel more connected with my spirit.
My take away: Even though it’s not easy to slow down, it’s one of the best ways to ensure that you’re living in a way that’s true to you.

Connect to something greater.

As my cousin was dying he felt really scared, alone, isolated, nervous and scared to die. In his case, he was able to connect to a relationship with God, which helped him feel supported and okay. He sometimes saw angels in the room. This connection helped him to feel like he didn’t need to run away or use avoidance. When we are connected to something greater, whether it’s a higher power or universal goodness or whatever, we are guided into comfort.
My take away: A spiritual practice can be a great source of reassurance. I shouldn’t shy away from developing that connection during good times.

All of these practices have helped me find a greater sense of contentment on a daily basis and helped me to tune into what’s important while tuning out what’s not. I hope they help you, too, as emotional resilience is such a key component of combatting autoimmune disease. Let me know other ways that you support your whole health — I’d love to hear.

About Sarah Kolman

Sarah Kolman RN, MA, CHPN is a Registered Nurse, Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, Contemplative Psychotherapist, wife, and mom of three boys. Sarah offers unique one-on-one health coaching that blends her nursing and psychotherapy experience with holistic and nutrition-based health concepts. Learn more about Sarah’s coaching services by visiting her website, www.this-one-life.com. Her book Full Plate: Nourishing Your Family’s Whole Health in a Busy World is available on Amazon and her website. You can follow Sarah on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

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