I get it that death isn’t a topic that anyone particularly enjoys talking about. Death reeks of loss, heartache, and the unknown. It reminds us of the inevitable: we, too, will someday wake up for the final time. But what if we embraced that fact to wake up and create our most fulfilling life?
How would you live differently if you knew in a year you would be dead? Who and what would you make time for? What would you stop worrying about? Who would you be?
Thinking about our death pushes us to think about our life more honestly.
I’ve experienced death many times in different ways, but there is one specific death that changed the course of my entire life. I want to tell you about this amazing person, because maybe she can change the way you think about yours too. I think she’d like that.
One day in my freshman year of high school, I was crying in the bathroom during lunch; I had been mentally/emotionally struggling a lot that year. I panicked when the door opened and a girl walked in, figuring she’d judge me. But she instantly gave me a look of concern, asked me what was wrong, and hugged me. She had the warmest, friendliest presence and genuinely seemed to care. I was so shy and awkward that I just quickly thanked her and left.
A month or two later, she died in a car wreck.
I’ve never forgotten her. And I’ve especially never forgotten how much her kindness encouraged me in a dark time in my life. It turned out she had left that impact on many people—and not just her friends and family. People who barely knew her, like me, all had stories of her open heart and contagious joy. Her compassion knew no bounds. She had treated everyone with such love that it stuck with them.
But what stuck with me most was a post she had put on MySpace less than a month before her death:
“Always tell someone how you feel. Mean what you say and say what you mean, even when it’s hard, because opportunities are lost in the blink of an eye and the regrets can last a lifetime. I mean…We all think we have time…we’ll just do it later…but didn’t your life go by soo fast…it scares me how fast mine went…and I’ve held myself back from others…and I regret so much…I just wish that we’d learn…”
I don’t know what hit me deeper: the truth of her words, or the fact she talked about her life in the past tense right before she died. All I know is that these words set the foundation for how I would live my life from that time forward. These thoughts are so ingrained in me that sometimes I forget I never knew their truth. I am so eternally grateful that Kaitlin shared her light with the world around her; not only for myself but also for everyone she touched.
Finding the Silver Lining
We know how much death takes away from us, but what about what it adds to our lives? Knowing that there’s an end to this life can be incredibly motivating, if you choose to view it that way. You realize the value of your time, your words, your decisions, everything about each day. You learn to prioritize who and what you spend your energy on. You alone have the power to create your life, solely based on how you choose to perceive and react to the people and situations around you.
When you know your time is short and not guaranteed, you’re more likely to get to the point with both those you love and the life you want to live. Like Kaitlin said, tell people what you mean instead of beating around the bush, and stop holding yourself back. Don’t let the things you didn’t say and didn’t do be the things you regret when your life is flashing before your eyes.
Death may take a lot from us, but there are a few major life lessons that its inevitability can teach us so that we live more fully and happily.
You affect people more than you realize.
Even the smallest of interactions can leave a lasting impact. You don’t have to be best friends with someone to make a difference in their life. The person who influenced me the most was someone I didn’t even know; we had exchanged less than twenty words! Many people complain that they don’t feel a sense of purpose—but it takes very little effort to be a decent human being, and for some people fighting tough battles, that makes a huge difference in the course of their life. You have that power. You have that light. What greater purpose could there be?
Let go of the little things.
Have you ever worried about something, but as soon as something worse happened you wished the first thing was all you had to be worried about? Death tends to put your problems in perspective like this. But you don’t need death or something horrible to happen to you to switch your perspective: You can do it on your own. The next time you are worried about embarrassing yourself or feeling awkward, consider how small it is in the long run. This tactic will add so much peace to your life, because you won’t be wasting your valuable time and energy stressing out over every little concern.
Stop caring so much what others think.
One of those “little things” to let go of is the opinion of others. Obviously it’s healthy to a degree to care what your loved ones think, but that’s not what I’m referring to here. I’m talking about all the time and energy you waste by worrying if people out in public are going to judge your looks or what you say. I used to spend hours and days worrying about a speech I had to do. And does that really matter now? I highly doubt that anyone in my 8th grade English class remember how much I blushed and stuttered during my “How to Pot a Plant” speech. And if they do…well who really cares?
When you let go of worrying about what others think, you give yourself the freedom to live fully as your true self. And who doesn’t want to live like that?
Make time for those you love regularly.
It’s commonly said that when you have a near death experience, your memories with loved ones flash before your eyes. Did you love them fully? Did you say everything you wanted to say? Do they know what they meant to you? When we acknowledge that our time with loved ones is not guaranteed, we appreciate the time we do have with them even more. Don’t take them for granted.
Cherish this life on a daily basis.
It’s so easy to allow days to blur together. We tend to do a lot of waiting—waiting for the weekend, waiting for vacation, waiting for better weather. We are rarely content with now. Living life to the fullest doesn’t have to mean partying hard, skydiving, and traveling the world. It can be as simple as fully appreciating every moment—chatting with a coworker about her weekend, reveling in how cozy your bed is, sharing a quiet evening with your loved one. Each day has its own purpose, no matter how small that purpose may seem. Practice finding it…the more you look, the easier it is to see.
No one wants to die. However, we have no say in that matter. What we do have a say in, though, is all of the moments leading up to it. How will you live yours?
This post is dedicated to Kaitlin Watson. May you rest in peace. Your love and light will live on in the lives of those you touched forever.