For Dying Matters Week 2022, Steve shares the story of Kristof and how he embraced the opportunity to take some time to prepare for the end of life.

As he said it, I thought there was an oddness about his words. A ‘gift’? He called his cancer diagnosis a ‘gift’? Well, actually, a ‘tremendous gift’. It wasn’t so much what he said that surprised me. I’ve heard other people describe their cancer as a gift. It was more the way he said it.

Kristof (not his real name) had been talking about dying and had been very open about how he was preparing for his death. What was striking was the way he thought about this time to prepare himself. Kristof was not a religious man. He had walked away from religion as a teenager. But he was thoughtful and he saw the time he had left as ‘time to get everything sorted out’.

He’d done a lot of the practical stuff. He’d got his finances in order, made his will, made memory boxes for his kids. Now it was time for him. Kristof wanted to think about his life and what his life might mean. So, we talked together about the things he had done, what he had achieved, what people meant to him and what kind of person he had become over the span of his life.

Kristof wasn’t religious and I don’t know whether he would have described what he was doing as spiritual work but it seemed to me that it was. It seemed to me that Kristof was doing some deeply challenging spiritual work, reflecting honestly, not on the meaning of life in general but on the meaning of his life. That is far from easy work. It’s hard to take an honest look at who we’ve become. To think back to the ideals and ambitions we had when we were young and reflect on how far we have managed to fulfil those aspirations. That’s why we can only do this work if we can be kind to ourselves.

The risk is that we measure ourselves against others and feel we have somehow failed. That wasn’t Kristof’s way. He wanted to know what his life meant to him. So, there were questions to ask himself:

  • Where did I start from and what did I have going for (or against) me?
  • What have I done with what I was given?
  • What would I do if I had known then what I know now?
  • How have my choices shaped my life?

It was important that Kristof always remembered that he was a regular human being. He wasn’t the perfected specimen. He was a regular human being with the weaknesses that come with being ‘regular’. It was also important that he was always willing to forgive the weakness he found in that regular human being.

For some, the idea of time to prepare for the end of life is a fearsome thing, best ignored, not engaged with. For Kristof, it was a gift. He embraced that gift as an opportunity to look honestly – and kindly – at what his life meant for him. And in doing so, to discover more about the person he had become.

2 people talkingFind out more about Dying Matters Week 2022 and the events on offer at Princess Alice Hospice.