Talking about the hard questions can break their power over you.


Talking about the hard questions can break their power over you.

Some years ago, I became the proud owner of a beehive for the bottom of my suburban garden.

Everything grew faster, bloomed better and I began a friendship with 30 000 of nature’s little helpers. But over time their accommodation needs grew as their numbers doubled to 60 000 and a second story addition to their beehive was needed.

What was to be a routine job became the day I almost died. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The question we all want answered, just not personally.

While the question, “What are the final thoughts that go through the mind of a dying man or woman?” is something that many would like to know the answer to, it’s not something we personally want to experience.

Fading memories or a deliberate need to forget?

Several years ago, a study of near-death experiences caught my eye. Talking about such matters is difficult, so many professionals now prefer the acronym NDEs. This study’s author travelled the country to interview 1000 plus people who, in the preceding 24 hours, had survived an NDE after a car accident, an industrial accident, a heart attack or such like.

The researcher specifically wanted to interview the participants within the first 24 hours of their coming back from the brink of death. He documented their experience and their memory of what their final thoughts were, to better understand this question of, “What goes through the mind of a dying person?”

After the study’s participants made a full recovery and returned to everyday life, he would re-interview each person about what they now remembered, often weeks (sometimes months) after their original life-threatening experience.

Reshaping our memories of the past to help us live in the present.

My particular interest in the study was this finding: ‘Everyone who experienced such a significant trauma event would, when interviewed for the second time, usually either forget its initial harsh reality or deliberately begin to soften their recall about its details. Perhaps so as to better mentally survive the reality of what actually happened.’

The researcher went on to comment, “These trauma infused experiences are probably necessarily softened to comfort the living.”

There’s no lasting comfort in refusing to learn from the past.

Writing about my own similar NDE is particularly difficult for a number of reasons; least of those being the reality of my final thoughts and how I too would like to soften my own memory of the urgency of the event I experienced.

But when diluting the facts and hiding from the chance to learn, we dilute our opportunities to become better versions of ourselves. I will share with you what I learnt, in part 2 and 3 of this, my Death, taxes and hard questions series.

Preparing to answer the question that comes when your next breath is uncertain.

As a financial adviser who specialises in reducing risks to families and their businesses, I help people protect and provide for those they love. But before I learnt this skill, I also worked with people facing a medical crisis and usually the final part of a terminal illness.

Over the years, I have sat with many people during difficult events in their lives. The common conversation with the majority of them can be summarised in this statement from a client who barely survived a heart attack:

“At first it’s comforting to think about the smiling faces of family and friends. But at that same time, you’re faced with the unavoidable question about their future without you, and the question comes to you, ‘Have I left them better off?’”

As the weeks passed and I returned to visit these clients and their families, I was struck by a striking similarity to the study mentioned above. They’d all softened (some even changed) their memories, the severity of what happened, what they initially told me and what they wished they’d done about it.

Two distinct groups emerged:

  1. The ones who took action on their new-found realisations found greater strength and purpose in their daily life. They shared their experiences, learned to love better, to seek more connection, and they went on to live bigger lives.
  2. The others, perhaps embarrassed of their experience, what they haven’t yet done or the need to forget their lack of preparedness, usually tried not to talk about it and ended up neglecting to change whatever they initially promised themselves they would do, ‘if they just survived’.

If your head is always hiding in the sand, your heart really isn’t in the game.

We all can learn from these kinds of life events. We can even use them to help motivate us to become more appreciative, more present in the moment, more protective and supportive of those we love. Life happens to us all, and we can’t control that, but we can surround ourselves with experts and those committed to our benefit.

By the way, if you were asked the question, “How would your family survive without you and have you left them better off?” what would your answer be?

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