In My Eleventh Hour: “I Wish I’d Had More Courage”

 In Advice, Volunteer

Guest Blog: The Courage Expert Sandra Ford Walston

Working as a hospice volunteer for seven years, I’ve witnessed a variety of outcomes during a patient’s final moments, commonly referred to as the “eleventh hour.”

During this time, people process their final defining moment: dying. This is the moment that requires the most courage—the surrender and the acceptance of one’s life.

With each of my volunteer experiences, I was challenged to reflect on my own personal journey—deliberating over past mistakes, contemplating misgivings, and examining whether I was living in my true self today. I know that courage lives in my true self and in coming to terms with my eventual demise. I began to ask myself, how much heartfelt courage will I be able to summon to peacefully embrace my own eleventh hour?

Embracing Courage

The word courage comes from the French word corage, meaning “heart and spirit.” Embracing this definition, courage is really about acting from our heart and spirit, from the center of our being. Tapping into our courage enables us to stand in our true Selves. In this way we design not only a good life, but also a good death.

During my years as an eleventh hour hospice volunteer, I observed that patients often had not summoned the courage to do something they really wanted to do in life, or they sadly didn’t make time to just “be” instead of being in a constant state of doing. These observations correlated with my over twenty years of research on recognizing and interpreting courageous behaviors. Several reoccurring tenets surfaced that confirmed “I wish I’d had more courage…”

Three tenets are featured below:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to realize how important it was to stay in touch with loved ones.

Most of us do not make conscious choices about how we are going to spend our lives. Rushing through life, we rarely detect that complacency filled with excuses and justifications seeped into our spirits and drain our precious reservoir of courage. Once our time to die has come, the opportunity to live more fully has closed—it’s too late to change the story line.

2. I wish I’d had the courage to live my life expressing more of my true Self, not the life where I sometimes sold my soul to accommodate others.

Before people reach the eleventh hour, the patient tends to reflect on their journey and often express remorse to loved ones such as “I wish I’d spent more time with my kids, “I wish I’d not been so afraid to travel,” “I wish I’d finished college” or “Sorry I never told you…” We must ask ourselves, am I living in my true self? When my time comes to pass will I be filled with misgivings or happiness? Recognizing misgivings, the task then is to cultivate courage and trust that going for it is better than dying without it.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to dispel my fears and listen more closely to the promptings of my heart and spirit.

Underlying all fears is the primitive and intuitive fear of death itself. Learning to stay courage-centered in the present may not banish fear or the self-blame it spawns, but it will at least begin to diminish the tendencies that keep us stuck in fear. Fear blocks and paralyzes the heart and ultimately, fear blocks courage.

When human beings claim their courage, they begin to experience the truth that heart and spirit transcend fear. This mere recognition dissolves fear, allowing love to fill our hearts. This is the experience of “dying to self.”

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