How to live like you’re dying

Dear Daughter,

This past weekend, one of my co-workers passed away from complications following surgery. Just a few weeks ago, she was walking around like normal, not aware that her days were coming to an end. And now she’s gone.

Similarly, a long-time family friend recently was told she has an aggressive form of cancer in her liver and has only four to six months to live.

The stories of these two women have been a bit of a wake-up call for me. A reminder that tomorrow is never guaranteed. Everyone imagines they’ll die when they’re old and feeble, and somehow that makes death less scary. But sometimes the Lord takes us earlier. Sometimes He takes us suddenly. We have to be prepared for either possibility.

The thought of death is frightening. Overwhelming. It can make us go into denial or live in a perpetual state of fear. But it’s important to think about death in a healthy way. There are two things we can learn from death:

Life means more. Sometimes life is fun, flashy and fulfilling. Most of the time, however, it’s boring, slow and unsatisfactory. But imagine you knew you were going to die soon. Suddenly, everything would seem much more significant. Even a trip to the grocery store would have greater purpose and meaning. When we take our life for granted, when we feel like we’ll live forever, we’re more inclined to complain, procrastinate, hold grudges… But if we were to treat every day as if it’s our last, all of the things we complain about would seem so silly. We don’t have time to get hung up on every petty little detail. We need to focus on what’s good and beautiful and meaningful. We need to find the good and beautiful and meaningful in even the smallest of tasks and in even the most difficult people.

People mean more. While it’s challenging to think about our own death, it’s far more difficult to imagine the death of a loved one. As your mother, I sometimes think about the bad things that could potentially happen to you and it drives me to a state of panic. I can come to terms with my own death. I can’t bear to even think about yours. But the people we love WILL die one day. Hopefully not for a long, long time, but it could possibly be today. Knowing this makes our loved ones that much more precious. Yes, people are complicated. And sometimes annoying. But they are put into our lives for a reason and must be treated as such. When you’re fighting with a friend or family member, think about how you would feel if suddenly they weren’t here anymore. Your attitude will shift, I’m sure.

Death seems like a negative thing, but really it’s a positive. If it makes you hug your loved ones a little tighter, treat them a little more kindly, it’s a good thing. If it makes you savor even the most menial task, if it makes you appreciate even the rainiest of days, it’s a good thing.

Death is good because it reminds us that life is good.