The Inner Bottom Line ®
A Column on Personal Choices & Ethical Dilemmas by Olive Gallagher
They say when you’re dying your life flashes before your eyes. When I was told I had less than a year to live due to pancreatic cancer, I can tell you it’s true. I’ve been the guy who didn’t feel okay showing emotion or telling people I love them. A few simple words from my doc changed that. Now, time with family and close friends is all that matters. Things look different. I notice little things I never had time to see before. It was great to spend time talking with you and I hope you’ll share our conversation because I now understand what you doing in the column. Some of the comments complain about general stuff out there. I don’t think they understand your focus is about the individual first and making good choices. I get that now because I’ve come to realize it has to start with us getting clear on what matters and then being accountable before it includes others. It took being told I’m out of time to figure that out. Now, because of you my short list is complete, so thanks. George
Thank you. I was deeply moved by your trust as well as our extended conversation and I feel privileged to share some highlights with our readers. First, your courage and honesty in the face of a ticking clock is inspirational. In the midst of this overwhelming and difficult challenge, you’ve discovered and are acting positively on invaluable insights and realizations while there’s still time and ability to experience and appreciate the blessings and love you have in your life.
Far too often, whether we’re the one leaving or the one being left behind, we’re filled with regret or guilt, even anger, for not saying what we needed to say or expressing the love we felt. Death is probably the most unknown, mystical transition in life. Like birth, it’s a true denominator. All of us will die; we just don’t usually know when. No matter what we do or don’t believe about death or beyond, no one really knows; it becomes a matter of personal speculation, belief and values.
At thirty-one, I was told I had six months to live. I had two small babies, and I remember the surreal, out-of-body feeling I experienced for months as I prepared to leave a life I had barely begun. While I was blessed to learn a year later that the doctors had made a dreadful mistake and I was given a reprieve, it changed everything. I’ve never looked at or experienced life the same way again. It also gave me a sense of acceptance that eradicated a lot of the fear I had felt about dying.
During a recent class I was teaching on accepting loss and letting go, I suggested that one of the most surreal aspects of losing someone is that first actual reality check when we realize we can’t talk to that person anymore; we can’t pick up the phone and call or reach out and touch them. It elicited an audible gasp in the room. All of the participants had suffered the loss of a loved one, and that simple observation brought the starkness, the utter, real finality of death, home.
I recall your comment at the end of our chat: that one of the things you’re going to miss most is a simple hug. The warmth. The sense of belonging. How blessed you are to have and appreciate that in your life.
In our culture, too many of us spend our lifetime chasing stuff: cars, homes, clothes, toys, money, status, etc. You now have absolute clarity about what matters most. Of course, we need to have our basic needs met. A roof over our head, food in our bellies, safety against the night and the elements. But in the end, it ends up coming down to our short list of the values and loved ones that are non-negotiable. The four core ethical values of honesty, respect, fairness, and integrity. Things like kindness, compassion, loyalty, faith, and generosity. Values that illuminate our lives that we choose to not compromise, no matter what.
This is the legacy you’ll be leaving behind, George. A life lived, remembered and respected. Bravo.
The Inner Bottom Line column now runs in first use on OregonLive.com/Living every Tuesday and appears in the weekend print edition of The Oregonian.
Olive Gallagher is a life coach, ethicist, and national speaker and columnist, and has a private practice specializing in stress, boundaries, transition and choices.
You can submit your questions and ethical dilemmas or book consulting appointments and private and group coaching sessions with Olive at 503-908-7842 or www.theinnerbottomline.com.
Hard cover, Kindle and audio versions of Olive’s book, The Nude Ethicist: A Simple Path to The Good Life™, are now available on amazon.com.