A life without cause… What does this mean to you? Some people read this quote and immediately move away from it because they think that having a cause must mean loudly embracing something lofty. When I think of the word cause my mind grows soft and quiet…. becuase I have found that most of the greatest causes in my life, are just that…soft and quiet. As a therapist, one of the populations I have spent the most time with, are those at the end of their lives. They have, without fail, been the wisest and best teachers that I have ever had. One of the things that I have seen play out over and over, is that as their time on this earth grows short and their ability to fulfill their cause diminishes, so does their tight grip on life. This is a beautiful process to behold; as the need to hold on to the here and now blends seamlessly into the acceptance that letting go is the next thing to do. The causes that I have witnessed people ‘living for’ at the end of life have of course been varied- but they all have one thing in common- they are typically small and quiet.
Beatrice is a perfect example of this. When I met her, she was a vibrant 86 year old dynamo. She had lived a life of privilege and was now facing end stage esophageal cancer. Her passions in life as far as I could tell were; her husband who had died three years earlier, her adult son, and golf. As she approached the end of her life, the one cause that she was very devoted to was her golf game. Beatrice had been a scratch golfer for many years, but as age had made its way through her joints she had become by her own admission ‘just a recreational golfer’. Recreational or not, she managed three rounds of golf a week without fail. As her health deteriorated three rounds a week became two- and then two became one. The day arrived when she just did not have the energy to play at all. This took away her cause… and within two weeks she was gone. She did not die from a dramatic event. She gave her golf clubs away, hired a 24/7 caregiver, and simply stopped living. She began to sleep more, eat and drink less, and was not shy about asking for pain medication to ease her physical discomfort. She knew that death would be the result of this combination and she was imminently peaceful with this. Her last cause was gone and it had left her feeling without effect in this world.This made it very easy for a graceful passage out of this life. Perhaps you are asking yourself how golf can be a cause and not her son? Her adult son was a beautiful part of her life, but he was no longer the cause that he had been in his youth. He was accepting of his mother’s age and health issues, and he was resolved to the fact that the end of her life was a natural transition. If we try to understand golf as a cause from the outside, this requires us to acknowledge just one important fact. Golf was meaningful to Beatrice. Why it was so meaningful is really none of our business. We need only to know that it was meaningful to her and because of that it had an effect in her world.
Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Mother Theresa are all people that come to mind when we think of those who lived for a cause. I hope next time you consider someone who has lived for a cause, Beatrice will also come to mind. We all have a cause– most of us have several- but we seldom think in these terms.