Do You Get It Now?

Many years ago as I sat through my first hospice orientation, I participated in an activity that was aimed at enlightening us to the fact that we were all entering our hospice patient’s lives at a time when the world as they knew it was becoming smaller and smaller. The exercise was supposed to get us to feel a small portion of what it must be like to be a dying person who must slowly say goodbye to everything they hold dear. For us it would be based on a simple list, for the dying it all becomes much more personal and real as they slowly say goodbye to their independence, their modesty, and eventually their life. That simple exercise has stuck with me to this day. I share it now so that maybe, just maybe, you can get a glimpse of what it must be like to not live each day blissfully oblivious to the fact that there is no guarantee of a tomorrow. For the terminally ill, the clock of life begins slowing down in louder and louder clicks. The exercise began like this:

Take a moment and write down in a list, in no order of importance, a list of the ten most important things in your life. The list can contain anything that is important to you. This is your list, for your eyes only. But think carefully, the ten most important things in your life today. (For purposes here I will only list five things, but if you try this yourself, do make a list of ten) Keep in mind that because all of us in the class were not dying, our list of must have items were easy to see and understand. My list looked something like this:

  1. my family; children , husband, granddaughter, siblings
  2. travel
  3. my photos, photo albums
  4. my cat Gracie
  5. hiking

Now, right off the  bat, cross off one of those things you put down on your list. Cross it off and it is gone, right now, from your life forever. Alright, well I guess I will pick hiking, as much as I love it and love being outside, I guess I could live without it. The speaker then goes on for about another five minutes or so and talks about the various things we need to know in our roles at hospice, until he stops, and says ok, time to cross another item off your list. Hmmm, I see where this is going, but alright, this time I choose….travel. I love traveling as it gives me something to look forward to throughout the year, but I go ahead and cross off traveling, besides this isn’t really real anyway…..

  1. family
  2. xxxxx
  3. photos, photo albums
  4. my cat Gracie
  5. xxxxxx

Now we get up stretch our legs, take a minute to talk to the person on our left, and…time to cross another item off the list…..I look at the person I was talking to on my left. We don’t like this activity anymore. It’s not real, but we still feel uncomfortable. ‘Hurry up now, quick, just cross something off’….now it’s not so easy, even if it isn’t real. I’m finding out that I am bit superstitious and I really can’t just ‘cross off my cat’….but my photos, at home I am surrounded by my photos, I love my photos, but I love Gracie more…so photos it is. Not happy.

  1. family
  2. xxxxx
  3. xxxx
  4. my cat Gracie
  5. xxxx


I suppose you think, like I did, ‘oh I get it, I get it’, but you don’t get to stop because you ‘get it’, just like I couldn’t. You have to keep playing. So now we go through the various offices within hospice and their roles like nursing, social worker, doctors, chaplains, volunteers…and it comes. Time to cross something off. I know in my head that this isn’t real, that this will not affect my cat in any way, but I am suddenly finding out that I really am superstitious, and I really am actually afraid to cross my cat’s name off the list…..

  1. family
  2. xxxx
  3. xxxxx
  4. xxxx
  5. xxxx


Are you dreading this as I was?  There were more than a few who became tearful, and if you have been playing along honestly, then I think you know how we were feeling. OK, time to cross that last item off your list…. I actually had to tell myself that this was simply a made up list for this class, it is not real, be brave, these things will still be in my life….and yet I still could not, and would not, cross that last group from my list.

  1. family; children, husband, granddaughter, siblings
  2. xxxxx
  3. xxxxx
  4. xxxxx
  5. xxxxx

This activity has stuck with me all through the years. I thought of it when I met the man who was angry because his family had taken away his car keys. I thought of it when I visited the man who prided himself on living alone and now needed a nurse to help him on and off the toilet. I thought of it as I held the hand of an elderly woman who kissed her old dog goodbye as the couple who adopted it left her room that day.  I thought of it as I looked at the pictures at my patients’ bedside, and I thought of it as I stood at the foot of the bed while families said their last goodbyes. Do you get it now?


6 Comments Add yours

  1. meKathy says:

    You’re very welcome

  2. This is a sort of activity I would never like to take part in.Just reading this gives me chills.I wonder how the session must have been to you.I cannot die.I am not ready for it.But eventually we will all have to leave this world,our family and everything that we love and we own.

  3. meKathy says:

    It was a very tough exercise, but it did accomplish its’ objective which was to make me appreciate and be much more empathetic to the patients and families I would be working with. To have better insight to the fact that the dying person is going through so many things beyond being sick makes you a better nurse and it helps you to understand and empathize with your patient’s anger and frustration that can be directed outward toward families and caregivers.

  4. Amanda says:

    So very powerful. Thank you.

  5. meKathy says:

    Thank you Amanda. It was in the moment, and still is all these years later.

Leave a Reply