One of the themes that emerged out of the research for my leadership book Leading with Wisdom: Sage Advice from 100 Experts was the value of embracing mortality and learning about grief and dying in order for leaders to connect with empathy and compassion. I started the research for this book in 2004 when I was teaching undergraduates. In fact, I developed a new leadership course based on what I was learning from this research. Since the theme that emerged of death and dying was such a surprise, I found myself immersed in learning more about this topic.
I went through training to be a hospice volunteer twice (2007 and 2011) because I did not have time to volunteer. By 2011, my schedule permitted me to start volunteering. So I go into homes and sit with patients to give caregivers a respite. This has been a rewarding, meaningful, and interesting activity. While I am not currently assigned to a patient right now, I plan to be in the near future.
One mandatory assignment (not graded) I had my undergraduate students complete and now I have my graduate leadership students do is to write their own eulogies. This is always a moving experience because they know in advance that part of the assignment is to share it by reading it out loud to the class. This takes place at the end of the course so an environment of trust and respect has already been created.
I share examples of eulogies and we talk about the difference between an obituary and eulogy (although the differences are becoming fewer all of the time which is fine). Obituaries used to focus on what a person has done or accomplished. While eulogies tend to focus on who the person was or their character. It is interesting how now you can find examples in the newspapers of people writing their own obituaries in the first person. This is another example of embracing one’s own mortality in order to move on.
We also read the book Tuesdays with Morrie because it is full of life lessons. My favorite quote of Morrie’s is something such as: “When you know how to die, you know how to live.” And I emphasize the importance of living the way you want to be remembered or living your legacy. In fact, students started calling me Dr. Death because of how I have embraced mortality.
One of the significant local leaders is now facing her own mortality. Joy Corning, former lieutenant governor, is embracing mortality in her own way. She is giving her favorite treasures to her daughters while she can enjoy them appreciating them. Friends visit her knowing it may be the last time they see her. A beautiful article was written in the local newspaper about how Joy is intentionally living out her last days. Joy told a friend of mine, “Every day is like eating dessert.”
The article closes with these words to remember:
“Iowa is the better for Joy Corning’s courage, grace, and integrity, which are needed now more than ever.”
How would you live out your last days if you had the time to plan?
What would you want to say to whom?
Why not say it now?
NOTE: If you had a chance to listen to my podcast with Mary Catherine Bateson, what did you think? Feedback is welcome. Thanks