new-year-1171573-639x479The cycle of human mortality is especially vivid at this time as the tide of the past year sweeps out and the New Year arrives.

I am thankful for death. It provides perspective to my life. In the black and white, here and now of death I shift from the mundane to what brings meaning to life.

I still feel awe in the presence of death. I feel the stillness of time and also its relentless push forward. My patients remind me of my own fragility. By inviting me to witness their death, they teach me to live, to craft a life with joy and attention.

Thanks to good training and my practical nature, I don’t freak out in the face of death. But I am not entirely comfortable either. Even with years of experience, it doesn’t get easier to confront mortality, my own or that of my patients. In many ways I feel like a beginner. Perhaps we are all beginners in the face of profound transition, no matter how much we have seen it before.

I know one thing for certain: the presence of another person, even a stranger, can be transformative during life’s final transition.

As we begin this New Year, look for someone you know, or even someone you don’t know, who is entering their final days. Sit with them. Talk with them. Discover who they are. If you are fortunate enough, a greater sense of meaning and fulfillment will fill both your lives.

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