Rick Bergh reflects on purposeful living in face of dying

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, February 2, 2017

In his latest book, Cochrane author Rick Bergh guides readers in living purposefully in the present in the face of their own mortality and that of loved ones. Photo supplied

Rick Bergh is a thanatologist.

A what?

You know, one who specializes in issues related to thanatos – the Greek word for “death.” Through narrative therapy informed by his 30 years of professional and personal experiences in death, dying and bereavement issues, the former pastor of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Cochrane helps people transform denial and fearsome anticipation into a rewarding engagement with purposeful living.

Rick’s thoughts on purposeful living in the face of death remind me of that verse from Psalm 90: “Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” That wisdom is not merely about life after death. No, it’s about living life lovingly and responsibly now.

Which brings me to Rick’s latest book, Looking Ahead: How Your Dying Impacts Those around You.

This is Rick’s third in the series prompted by the death of his beloved first wife, Pamela Faye Bergh, from cancer in 2008. The other two in the series are Taking Notice: How a Cancer Journey Can Magnify What’s Important in Life; and Finding Anchors: How to Bring Stability to Your Life Following a Cancer Diagnosis.

In Looking Ahead, the popular speaker offers suggestions on how those faced with their impending death can help their loved ones feel more comfortable with this phase of the journey – ways by which the dying can transform a private experience into a precious time of family sharing, for instance.

And yes, Rick also considers practical matters, such as directives, wills, funerals and removing obstacles to a peaceful passing.

But it’s his chapter 10, “How to Continue the Story When You Get Stuck,” that really holds my attention.

It begins with a quote from Rabbi Harold Kushner: “We don’t have to be afraid of dying because it’s not really death that scares us. We are afraid of not having lived.”

“When I spend time with people who are dying, I know their narrative is not finished yet. So I engage them in a way that continues their story,” Rick says. “There are more experiences, more encounters and more living to happen right to the end. It is streaming life, right in front of you. We don’t want the story to freeze as it nears the end.”

The narrative therapist notes that drawing out these final chapters and reflections is not just for the dying, however. “It’s for those who live on after you’re gone.” It’s about legacy building.

“Legacy building means much more than simply a list of your accomplishments,” Rick says. “It is less about achievement than it is about life lessons and wisdom that can be passed on.” What has given you purpose for living?

One thing’s for sure: there’s real purpose for reading Looking Ahead. It’s available locally at Tea & Other Things, at Chapters in Calgary, and online at Indigo and Amazon.


© 2017 Warren Harbeck

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