THE BLOG

What We Can Learn From the Dying

12/06/2015 11:47 BST | Updated 11/06/2016 10:59 BST

"Learn from the mistakes of others. You can't live long enough to make them all yourself. " Eleanor Roosevelt said.

As a hospice music therapist I've met many people whose lives were well lived. But unfortunately, not everyone lives a fulfilled life. Even so, every dying person has something to teach the living.

One day a nurse informed me of a new patient who declared at the time of hospice admission that she refused to be taken care of by anyone other than white staff. The patient whom we call Ruth was a white woman in her 9o's, a successful business woman who was wealthy and highly educated. It seemed that Ruth had done quite well for herself, especially for a woman of her generation, yet she was a very angry person.

Many of our hospice aides were African Americans, so Ruth refused their care. Since hospice was not going to accommodate her demands, Ruth hired private care givers who took turns to stay with her around the clock. Except for the hired staff very few people visited her, if any.

Most of our nurses were white, so we didn't think Ruth would have a problem with them. But she gave the nurses such a hard time that on many days I saw them coming out of her room in tears. Ruth was not only a racist but also a mean person. As a result, she alienated herself from everyone.

Ruth's heart must have been filled with fear and pain, since fear breeds hate and pain breads anger. Her life was a life of tragedy. Even though she was wealthy, educated, and successful, her life was not well lived. She lived angry and died the same way.

What can we learn from Ruth?

What I learned from her is this: If we want to die peacefully with our hearts filled with love, that's the way we must live.

When we die, we can't hide how we've lived.