Three Words That Can Change the Way You Feel

0124-0610-2618-0055_setting_sun_and_earths_horizon_from_space_o-600x396Because I’ve already began to hear from several people  that the holidays are stressful and that they are often faced with dread, I’d like to repost a blog I wrote at the beginning of this year.  I feel a deep stewardship of my experience and hope to keep reminding others that this is the only moment you can be certain you will have.  Don’t dread them.  Don’t wish them away.  Don’t fill your thoughts and days with feelings and activites that don’t elevate your spirit.  That you will have the holidays ahead with the people you love and care about will be the greatest treasure you could hope for.

2nd Tuesday, January 12, 2015:

“Five years ago this morning I died.  Five ­­­­years ago, this afternoon my family was cautioned that after 40 minutes of CPR and defibrillation and open heart massage and  the hours of cardiac surgery and thirty transfusions that followed, it was possible I would not have brain function.  And yet here I am, the white light, the machines and tubes, the walker, the days of bewilderment, my fears about the loss of part of my sight, my puzzlement over the event itself and my confusion about my impaired spelling and time sequencing skills largely behind me.

Several months after I was out of the hospital I woke up during the night and sat up wide awake from drifting nothingness, and the thought arrived: “You do realize that you do not get to stay, don’t you?”  I was not dreaming that I remember; I just woke up, sat up and the sentence arrived in my consciousness.  It was just a sentence in my thoughts from the misty vacuum of sleep.

“You do realize that you do not get to stay, don’t you?”

I remember getting out of bed and going to the kitchen and putting peanut butter on a bagel.  I remember turning off the lights and looking out of the window at the sky above the frosted woods behind our house.  I remember noticing the stars – which were fairly clear that night – and feeling so grateful to be able to look out of a window, if with only the sight of one eye and of being so grateful to be confused about time and to have the cognitive ability to realize that I was.

Last week someone told me he was happy that Christmas was over, adding, “I hate the holidays.  There are all of these things you have to do; all these people you have to see and places you have to go.  I couldn’t wait for it to end.”

Hating, dreading, disliking, regretting, fearing, “having to do” – wishing the time to pass – are all choices we get to make.

People have asked me three specific things about my cardiac arrest and subsequent experience, one of them being if I feel differently than I “did before.” I used to look forward to a lot of things being over.   I know that I used to think and say, “I have to” about the most ordinary of responsibilities and opportunities.


I don’t feel that way anymore.

There are so many everyday things you become grateful for “getting to do” when you realize – in every moment – that “you do not get to stay.”

A good question to ask ourselves any morning that we are so fortunate as to wake up, to get out of bed, to move our arms, to know where we are, to remember our names – is, “What ordinary things do I “get to do” today?”  A note on the bathroom mirror that says – I Get To – can be a helpful reminder of a small behavioral change that can help us find gratitude and peace and even joy in the things we sometimes feel we “have to do” every day.”

 I wish everyone an incredible holiday and terrific year in 2015 and I hope you’ll feel free to share this blog with anyone who you believe – in the weeks ahead – might be thinking that they “have” to go somewhere, see someone, get someone a present.  Getting to love.  Getting to show it.  Getting to say it.  One more holiday.  One more breath.  What great things “we get to” do.


Fred Swan

Fredrick Swan is an artist and an author whose career has encompassed years of working as a child and family counselor, an individual therapist and serving as a field instructor at a graduate school of social work. Aware that he is one of the few people on earth who has lived to explore the meaning of their own death in the context of their life, he is currently writing a blog to inspire others to reimagine their lives. His artwork has been shown in the Northwest for a number of years, has appeared in two seasons of a television series, a movie and is in collections of people living in the United States and Europe. Fredrick writes and paints beside a creek just outside the diverse river port city of Portland, Oregon. The father of four, his art work and blog can be found at “Parentheses – A Memoir of My Life Before, During, and After My Death” is available on Amazon where you can read a preview of the book and its reviews.