What my dad taught me about mindfulness and “quality of life”

It’s only fitting that my first mindfulness blog is based on the lessons I learned from my dad during his terrible struggle with metastatic melanoma and generally with his poor health and medical treatments and mistreatment.

Portions of this was from the eulogy because you cannot discuss a life without discussing the struggles and how someone handles that . He has had major medical maladies for 25 years. The nature of these and their relationship to his lifestyle will be discussed in another post . But for now this is dedicated to him and how he lived .

I watched my dad fight his melanoma for a year after it came back with a vengeance, and metastasized everywhere . One thing you realize is that if you are not mindful of your life and breathing while you live you will be forced to at the end of your life .

As you weaken and become ill every day is a blessing . Every visitor is a joy. The simple movements become monumental and anything you can do better today than yesterday is a victory.  

My dad went from strong and vibrant to laying in the ICU with an uncomfortable alien mask forcing oxygen into his face . He could not breath on his own, do any bodily function on his own, or even scratch his own itch.  But as he had all year he wanted to live. It had moved from milestone to milestone. First  making it to it to his birthday.  To the next  family celebration.  The holidays.  Children’s visits.  Being able to walk on his own.  To make it around the living room . To make it to next month.  Next week.  Next day . And finally next breath. .

What he taught me about mindfulness and being grateful for what you have is possibly his biggest gift to me. Treasuring the moment   Appreciating the small things. The minutes the hours . Being with your family for the little things – that is life, that is the return on your investment.

He would buy an hour even a miserable one to be with us.  He tried so hard to stay alive even in pain as long as he could.  

This was his quality of life. As a physician we learn to talk about quality of life in terms doctor’s understand,  not of the patients, but really not understanding that quality of life is individual. From the second he had his ferocious cancer come back… the doctors started whispering the term “good quality of life”. But what I learned from my dad—- is this; quality of life is individual… it is more about the life– it’s what you as a person feel is important.  Living becomes much more important than doing. Who you are and with are much much more valuable than what you have. All the travel, and accomplishments pale in comparison to having the people you care about and love be part of your life. Quality of life is the quality you give to being alive- the value your life has and is worth fighting for —one minute is an eternity when you value that minute. Every breath is worth fighting for if you love to open your eyes and see your family that is what he taught me.

This ultimate mindfulness is a stark reminder to what is truly important and how when each breath counts when you treasure each moment. How do we learn from this painful experience and value each breath and recognize important moments now … while we think we have infinite breaths. If we pay attention we will realize that all our breaths are numbered. Then maybe we will start to value them, and enjoy each moment without wasting any.

Maybe we will use each breath to recognize and value the love, the people and things we truly care about while are still able to breathe,without an end in sight. Each moment that you get to spend doing something you love with people you care about is your real life.

Mindfulness is in it’s basic form is honoring each breath and what each moment has for you , your life , and loves. Mindfulness is the process of bringing that with you wherever you go. Find your breath in everything you do. Enjoy it. While you walk, while you drive,, when you work. Pay attention to each breath and let it bring you into life- each precious moment you are alive. Let your breath bring you gratitude for all things you will lose if you become ill. Treat each day as though you are about to lose it all.

Don’t wait until you realize you are getting close to your last breath to be mindful of what you have , who you are with , and what each moment really means.

What he taught me is that every breath, every moment, every day is a gift.

Warren Krantz MD, FAAP

To Bob