Posted in after the diagnosis, coping with chronic illness, coping with life threatening illness, Illness Narrative, living with chronic illness, Living with Illness

Do You Celebrate Life or Just Birthdays?

Yesterday I attended the memorial service for two people close to me who were brother and sister. The mass was held at the church where they grew up giving those who still live in the town the opportunity to attend. The mass was your typical mass, but an important ritual. The tribute to both of these magnificent souls would take place at the luncheon following the mass.

The eulogies were given at the luncheon. We celebrated the lives of these dynamic individuals and then I started thinking about how we celebrate lives once their gone. There is an irony to celebrating one’s life after it no longer exists, and yet we all have a birthday every year we’re alive.

This got me thinking about something I read by the Dalai Lama. At one of his many, highly attended, speaking engagements, someone asked the Dalai Lama his age. He was a bit perplexed because the person asking the question was used to numbers that are, in most cases, under a hundred. He made reference to the fact that he had over 21,000 birthdays. You may be asking, “How can this be?” It simple, the Dalai Lama shared that he has 365 birthdays a year. He celebrates not just his “life”, but live, being alive, every day he opens his eyes and breathes another breath.

Having spent the past twenty-five years working with individuals and families facing life-threatening illnesses, I’ve attended many funerals and read countless obituaries. Did you ever read an obituary and say to yourself, “I didn’t know that about them! I can’t believe how accomplished they were, and yet they never shared this part of themselves.” We often find out about individual’s greatest accomplishments after they’ve died. What if we transformed that and shared those parts of ourselves all along the journey?

Aside from your birthday, when was the last time you celebrated your life? How did you celebrate your life? What does it mean to celebrate your life? What is it that you’d like the world to know right now, before we read it in your obituary? How would this knowing change how you show up in the world?

Have you ever noticed that we’re more inclined to take someone’s advice after they’ve died than while they were living? What is it about their death that elevates their advice to “wisdom” status? It’s as if we have a knowing all along about the importance of the advice, but not ready to assimilate into our being. The death of the individual elevates the advice to being holy or prophetic.

Having time to sit with the memorial experience I want to encourage each of us to celebrate not just birthdays, but life! I want each of us to understand that not everyone gets to live to a ripe old age and if you’re waiting to celebrate life till the end, what have you missed along the way?

If you celebrated your life every day, would it mean more to you? Would you have a higher degree of appreciation for the gift of life? Would you utilize your day differently if you celebrated every day as a birthday?

I’d love to hear how you celebrate life so we can learn from each other. Feel free to share in the comments section below or you can email me at

For education, support, and inspiration when facing a chronic or life-threatening illness visit,

Interested in art and healing? Visit