At the risk of being morbid, I’ve chosen to write about death—or, more accurately, about some of the things we commonly think about when someone dies. We often struggle to find meaning in someone’s passing, particularly when that person is young. We wonder what lessons we can take from how that person lived (or died). We may decide we are going to do things differently, live our lives better. But do we really?
This piece, then, is my own attempt to record some of the lessons I’ve learned in order to help keep them at the top of my mind. The challenge is to always remember to be fully engaged and present in life, instead of relying on death to be a prompt or catalyst.
So here we go.
Talk to the people you care about.
It sounds so simple, yet it doesn’t happen often enough. We text. We don’t call. We don’t make time to see people. We behave as if tomorrows will never cease.
Don’t leave important things unsaid. Let others know the impact they’ve had on you, how they make you feel.
Ask questions. Find out what others want you to know about them or their experiences, and share your knowledge and your journey with them as well.
A woman I know recently described to me what it was like sitting with her dying aunt, telling her how much she meant to her and what she had learned from her. I’m certain that moment meant as much to the woman as it did to her aunt. Conversations like that don’t need to wait for someone’s deathbed. We don’t always have the privilege of saying goodbye. Those kinds of talks can take place anytime, anywhere.
Be in pictures.
Recently, a young mother in my community succumbed to cancer. People commented on all the pictures that were displayed at the wake. They were so grateful to see so many images of the woman smiling, with her family, among her friends.
Interestingly, many of the women who knew her, like so many people I know, commented on how they often found themselves stepping out of the frame when photos were being taken, fearing how they might look in them. They resolved to be in more pictures, regardless of how they looked, realizing that photographs are a gift to family and friends, capable of capturing a person’s essence and a time shared.
Be aware of the impact you have.
See your time as precious, and honor it by being present and consciously choosing how you occupy it.
Recognize that you make your mark, and your actions—no matter how small—have a ripple effect. When you hold the door open for someone, smile at another person, or say “good morning” or “thank you very much,” you are impacting others positively. You have no way of knowing if that’s the first kind thing that person has experienced that day, if your gesture is what changes the course for them, or if they then choose to smile at the next person they come into contact with, paying it forward.
Being impactful doesn’t have to require a lot of time, effort, or money. We can make choices each day that we can feel good about and will leave our world a little brighter.
When we are reminded that we won’t live forever, some of us pledge to create more fun or laughter in our lives. Then we return to the busyness of everyday life and forget to provide ourselves with opportunities for playfulness.
Humor can be an excellent strategy for coping with stress and a way to join with others. Being silly is a way of letting go of the pretenses and false expectations we often saddle ourselves with. It is how we can plug back into the energy of being young and free. Let go of what you think others might think; you might find they are eager to join you in your silliness.
Honor your time.
We can fool ourselves into thinking we have “all the time in the world.” As a result, we procrastinate and put off things that are important to us. We “waste” time, meaning we are not deliberate in how we choose to spend it. There is nothing wrong with taking a nap or binge-watching Netflix, as long as that is something you’ve expressly selected to do with that time, as opposed to suddenly finding that four hours have gone by and your original intention was to study.
Make your moments count. Do the work you need to do so you can spend time doing the things you enjoy, seeing the people you love, and learning about the things that interest you. See your time as precious, and honor it by being present and consciously choosing how you occupy it.
Leave a legacy.
It’s never too early to think about what you will leave behind. Your legacy is limited only by your imagination. Your legacy could be a mantra you live by; something you’ve created, such as a poem or song, recipe, painting, film, or patchwork quilt; photos of you or photos you’ve taken; a tree you planted; a gift you gave; or the solution you brought to a problem.
Your legacy can also be how you make the people in your life feel. You may already be mindful of this. If not, you can choose to work toward this goal from this moment forward. Don’t wait.
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