How do you know you are really alive?

End of Life Matters

End of life Doula Melissa Murphy, a companion, guide and resource supporting our community in end of life matters. 

The opportunity to give more attention to my inner landscape during the period between Christmas and until days after the new year, had me living moment by moment. This time also led to my thinking about the preciousness of such things. Perhaps you’ve had a good dose of it too, but this particular experience included one evening where a cluster of moments flooded to mind. It happened while lovingly watching our dogs lying on their plushy bed – bellies up – by the woodburning stove. I chuckled and cooed like I usually do, then found myself grabbing a notepad to write these things down; deciding to share, so all of us might consider routinely tapping into precious moments too. I’ll share some that arrived in that moment of moments and consider myself extremely fortunate that these happened many times during the year gone past: a sense of connectedness with the unseen that can happen after a deep meditation, the magnetic pulse of being at a live gig enveloped by the soul that is music, inhaling the incomparable fresh air found in the woods or out in the hills, the full body bliss of sitting in a hot sauna or being abundantly sun- kissed, the sense of weightlessness after the cranial part of a massage or while lying on a mat in post-yoga corpse pose, laughing and crying intensely with belly tension while simultaneously trying to catch my breath (thanks to an Italian American comedian), surrendering into really intentional hugs that go on for several breaths, sinking – weighed down by the many welcoming layers within my bed, feeling small: gazing at endless stars fused into the blackest sky over our home.

Lately when I’ve met friends, I’ve heard something like “you’ve got the right idea to living” or “you have quite a life.” This is likely because many of the things that I love in life and that I’m comfortable sharing – the natural world, travelling, and usually taking photos of the same – regularly make up the content on my personal social media. I’m also drawn to stories and have an appreciation for evocative poetry, prose and arts. I immerse myself in these things as often as I can because one day, maybe tomorrow, I won’t have this time, the stability in health, or even be alive to do so. Supporting people around death, grief and end of life, while reflecting deeply on my own impermanence leads me to these loves in life again and again.

I recently came across a talk called ‘Dying each moment towards a precious life’ that was given by writer and artist Claudette Glasgow who suggests “noticing when you feel joy”. From listening to their talk, it seems to come down to the following questions they have posed: Am I wasting my life or making it meaningful? What gives my life meaning? What offers me peace? How can I do more of it?” The seemingly never-ending to-do list was mentioned as a way many of us live – which I definitely relate to (interestingly more so as I’m getting older and as time goes on!) While I’m unlikely to give it up altogether, reframing moments as the essence of living has offered a clear, calm perspective paired with this existence where so much is unknown.

As usual, whenever I start thinking about the topic for my monthly column, I begin to notice similar threads of inspiration, so I’ll leave a few more as part of this feast for thought:

“Once you realise that life is a thing that always ends with unfinished goals, the question becomes, what do you want to spend your life pursuing, completely divorced from the idea of catching it?” – The CryptoNaturalist, poet

“What if this is the last New Year of your life? How would that impact your choice (of resolutions)? Why wait? Why not do those things now?” – Kathryn Mannix, author and palliative care doctor

“Let’s say you find out you only have six more months to live. You’re really alive if you wouldn’t change anything.” – Nara Petrovic, ‘genuine humanness’ researcher

It was decades ago that I was at an event and received a tiny piece of paper – like a message that you might find inside a Chinese fortune cookie. It read the same as the title of this column: ‘how do you know you are really alive?’ For a long time I kept it alongside a pile of stationery or taped to a journal. I’ve since lost track of it, but never forgot those few words. I hope they resonate with you too.

To learn more or to connect with Melissa, email her at or visit She also welcomes your questions or ideas for future columns.

WCP Staff

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