The Bookworm of Edwards hosts meet and greet with author Dr. Karen Wyatt
If you go …
What: Meet Dr. Karen Wyatt, author of “What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying.”
When: 3-5 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 22.
Where: The Bookworm of Edwards, 295 Main St., in the Riverwalk at Edwards.
Cost: Free. Books will be available for sale.
More information: Visit www.bookwormofedwards.com, or call 970-926-7323.
“I’ve only just learned what really matters in life now that I am at the time of my death. Why didn’t I know this earlier? You’ve got to tell other people to pay attention NOW and learn these lessons before it’s too late.”
This is what Ted, a hospice patient facing the last days of his lives, implored Dr. Karen Wyatt to do, to share that specific kind of wisdom that comes to those who are at the end of their lives with those who still have plenty of time to put it into practice.
This seed of an idea, planted many years ago, eventually became Wyatt’s book, “What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying.” The author will host a meet and greet to talk about the book Thursday at The Bookworm of Edwards.
Wyatt worked in hospice care off and on for most of her medical career, sometimes as a volunteer and for many years as a paid medical director.
“I made home visits to patients who were being cared for by our hospice staff,” she said. “I would see the patients in their homes and sit with them and talk with them. That’s what led to writing my book, was listening to patients’ stories.”
Many of Wyatt’s patients, like Ted, whose words are transcribed in the opening sentences of the book, wished they could share what they had learned about life with other people and not have their words and insights die along with their bodies.
“I recognized that while those patients are not still here to tell their stories and talk about what they learned, I could be the mouthpiece for them and write for them, so I decided to become the voice who would share their stories and share their wisdom,” Wyatt said.
The book is part storybook, part guidebook, with the seven spiritual lessons organized into chapters. Each section begins with a Bible verse and an introduction, followed by a personal anecdote from one of Wyatt’s hospice patients.
“It tells a lot of stories, and the stories that I share help people confront their own fear of death and dying by reading a lot of different scenarios but also seeing the beauty that can exist in death,” Wyatt said. “I wanted the stories to be there to introduce them to thinking about death and dying and become a little more comfortable with it.”
When the author was putting together the lessons, she found certain tenets that kept returning again and again, such as love, forgiveness, suffering and purpose, which echoed the things Jesus said in the Bible when he was dying on the cross.
“He was a dying man himself, so some of the statements he said on the cross were reflective of what these patients were talking about,” Wyatt said. “I used those particular Bible versus because they correlated so well with the lessons I heard from the patients.”
Many of her patients had a sort of spiritual awakening as they approached the ends of their lives, Wyatt said, not with any particular religion but a sense that there was something greater in life than just themselves, a higher purpose that she thought was important to include in the book.
“It made sense to me for it to be a guidebook for people who maybe don’t have a religion and haven’t been interested in religion but would like to have some of these principles in their lives that religion teaches,” she said.
“They don’t want to learn it from religion but from other people — how to forgive other people, let go of expectations and be in the present moment. They could learn those in a practical way by hearing about how other people at the end of life had dealt with those issues.”
Some of the stories and talks the author had with patients were very profound, spurred by a well of wisdom they dredged as they looked back on what was most important.
“When patients are facing the end of life, it’s as if everything that’s superficial or false or shallow about life gets stripped away from them and they are confronted with the greatest crisis that any one of us will ever experience in life,” Wyatt said.
“They look back at life with new eyes, in a way, and are no longer blinded by materialism and consumerism and the concerns that occupy a lot of our time — trying to be successful, trying to accumulate a lot of things — that’s all put aside and they’re able to look at the deeper meaning of life and the reason that we’re here and the more meaningful aspects of life.”
The book has especially resonated with the aging group of baby boomers, Wyatt said. It’s helped them to look at death and all of the decisions that come with end-of-life planning and face the situation with less fear.
“When people are feeling lost or discouraged with life, it’s helpful for them to read these reminders in the book that we’re really here to learn about love and how to connect with other people,” she said. “It’s really helped them find their way again and find meaning and hope in life.”
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