Local doctor signs meaningful book
February 23, 2012
When Dr. Karen Wyatt was working as a hospice physician in Ogden, Utah, one of her patients turned to her “with urgency, to say, ‘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 is too late.'”
And yet, it took Wyatt not only decades, but also the threat of her own personal health crisis to write and publish the seven lessons she teaches in her 174-page book, “What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying.”
Wyatt propelled herself into the hospice world to confront her own feelings of grief over her father’s 1989 suicide. She expected the work to be sad, but it ended up revealing a completely different perspective on death: In spite of their demise, the hospice patients seemed “fully alive, so appreciative of life, cherishing everything,” she said.
It opened her eyes, making her realize she wanted to live in appreciation instead of taking life for granted – and teach others to do so.
After 18 years of working in hospice in Utah, she and her family moved to Summit County (in 1999). During her first couple years in the county, she worked on the first few chapters of a book describing what she had learned and sent it to agents, only to get rejected with the basic sentiment that “no one wants to read about dying.” She got discouraged and gave up.
After working with High Country Health Care, she became the medical director of the Community Care Clinic and once again got “too busy” to bother with a book – until she met a woman at a fundraiser who had psychic abilities. She didn’t put much stock in “psychics,” but the two became acquainted, and one day, the woman confronted her, saying, “There’s something you’re supposed to be doing, and you’re not doing it,” adding that if she didn’t follow through, she’d soon become ill, Wyatt said.
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Wyatt instantly knew: She already felt a “drain of life force,” and the book had been haunting her. So she left her job two years ago and began writing. She assumed she’d self-publish, but at a self-publishing conference, she ran into an agent who wanted to represent her, and within a week, she had a publisher (SelectBooks).
Through her book, Wyatt intends to ease people’s fear – and open up the conversation – about death and dying and present spiritual ideas she learned from her patients in a way that anyone can understand.
She organizes her stories of patients and her lessons around seven central themes, encouraging readers to: embrace difficulties, let your heart be broken, hold no resentments, dwell in the present moment, manifest your highest potential, let go of expectations and face fears.
Wyatt writes from an inner knowing: She has walked the walk and speaks from her soul. Rather than taking a preachy or intellectual stance – all dangers when writing a “personal growth” book – Wyatt simply states what she believes with all her heart. She points out how society has removed itself from death by essentially hospitalizing it; how our world is facing serious crises and is in need of consciousness and transformation; and how facing death can help us live a more enjoyable life.
Many of her readers have found solace in her book. For example, just recently a woman dealing with recurrent breast cancer said it helped ease both her fear of living and of dying by allowing her to cope with uncertainty.
“Taking away the fear has enabled her to live every moment that she has right now,” Wyatt said.
Wyatt uses the seven words Jesus spoke on the cross as he was dying to present her seven lessons, and though a couple readers have gotten hung up on what they viewed as a Christian slant, Wyatt says she used it as an organizational thread, as opposed to a religious theme. She also mentions Buddhism in her book and intends to appeal to all spiritual perspectives.
“Whether you believe anything else, he was a human being who was dying (who) spoke these seven words,” she said.
What really matters are the insights people discovered as they wrestled with illness and death – universal truths about suffering, love, forgiveness, living in present-moment “paradise,” life’s purpose, surrendering and impermanence.
So why read about death when you’re fully alive? Because it just might help you live better. And, as Dr. Larry Dossey, author of “Healing Words” and “The Power of Premonitions,” writes in Wyatt’s intro pages:
“… if you find yourself resisting reading a book on these matters, hey, you’re probably someone who needs these seven lessons the most.”