You know if you follow me that I work with people that are dying. Nothing clarifies a person’s priorities like knowing they are going to die. One thing becomes crystal clear. When you know you’re dying, it’s the relationships you will miss. As someone wise once said, “No one says on their deathbed, I wish I’d spent more time at work.”
Nurturing relationships is a spiritual practice that takes time and intention.
Consider these three stories:
I’m working with a young man who is dying from lung disease. When I asked him if he had any “spiritual background,” he said, “I sort of just believe in the Universe.” I asked how he felt about the Universe. He said, “The Universe has been giving me s**t for years.” I asked if the Universe had given him anything good. He pointed to his fiance and said, “It gave me her.” She was the only joy in his otherwise miserable life, the one bright spot.
I worked with a man who had spent the last decades of his life as a houseless alcoholic. Because of his choices, he had been alienated from his many children and siblings. Then he told me about his cat, Jewel, and he wept bitterly, missing her. His only comfort was that Jewel would be waiting for him on the “other side.”
Today I sat with a woman who is deaf but can still see. She still has a strong mind, on good days. I was paging through her photo albums with her, impressed that she had traveled the world as a nurse. Her son even told me that she had smuggled Bibles into Russia. But the only photos she commented on, and did so consistently, were of her son. “My son,” she would say with pride. Nothing else mattered to her but him.
So, if relationships are so important to us when we are dying, we’d better start building them now. You might be wondering, who will I miss when I’m gone? Who will miss me? If you’re looking around, thinking, “Wow, my friendship pool is pretty small,” it might be time to nurture some relationships.
Spiritually, nurturing relationships is the natural progression of loving God, loving yourself and loving others.
Friendships are mysterious. Some last forever, like perennial flowers. Some, like annuals, are only for a season. Here are some ideas on forming new friendships:]
- Facebook is a wonderful place to find and reconnect with old friends, long lost cousins, or past loves. Old friends are cool because of your shared history. I’ve attended class reunions I would have skipped because I’ve reconnected with so many old friends.
- Join a small group on something that interests you: a Bible Study, a gardening group, a stamp collecting club. I’ve found that, in these kinds of groups, it generally takes time to get to know others. Don’t give up. It helps to become a leader in the group and bond with others in leadership. Once, when I had moved to a new city, I joined an exercise class that also did crafts. I had first thought I had NOTHING in common with the women in the group, but eventually, I learned we had many things in common and we became good friends.
- Get on “Meet ups” and find an active group to join: hiking, softball, writing, painting. Don’t be afraid to try something new, you may discover a hidden or forgotten talent. My daughter once gave me a membership to a writer’s group for my birthday. Nine years and eleven published books later, I’m still attending.
- Take a class. Especially a class that involves participation, like wine-tasting, travel, improvisation, or dancing. Having to work together builds friendships.
- Join a group that serves others. This takes care of any self-pity issues and bonds you together with like-minded people. Try Habitat for Humanity and build a house for a needy family.
- Nurture your existing friendships. A group of friends and I started a “Game Night” group 30 years ago. We meet monthly and each couple hosts the group once per year. These are the folks I would call if I needed anything. We may not hang out much outside of Game Night, but if there is ever an emergency, we’re all there in a heartbeat.
- Adopt a pet. My step-dad came home with a dog the SPCA had brought to a baseball game to give-away. That little fellow has become his constant companion, filling a big void since my mother died. Our own dog, Rocky, has been a very important part of our family.
- Start small. If these ideas seem overwhelming, just invite a friend to lunch. Unfortunately, no one can make friends for you. It can be intimidating to reach out, but it is worth the risk.
- And above all, cherish your parents while they are still alive. Today I sat with a patient who was deeply asleep. There was nothing I could do to wake her no matter what I tried. Then her daughter walked into the room, and before her daughter even reached the bed, she became fully awake and engaged. Love them while you can. They won’t be here forever.
How have you made friendships that last? Share any ideas you have for developing and nurturing relationships.