Death is something we don’t like to think about. I, for one, can’t really wrap my mind around the fact that one day I won’t be here any longer. The idea that I’ll be gone, and life will carry on without me, just doesn’t make sense to me. I secretly harbor a tiny belief that I’m going to live forever, if only because I can’t believe the opposite is really true.
Is this all a little too macabre for you?
I actually think about death a lot. It’s not even a middle age thing. Ever since I was involved in a minor motorcycle accident when I was 18 I’ve been aware that life can end at any moment. When a close running friend died unexpectedly a few years ago, it only served to push the point home even further. In the blink of an eye, someone’s entire life can be extinguished. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with the thought that one day I’ll be gone, and it puzzles and saddens me.
I used to think that if I could choose my own death, I would like to have time to get used to the idea. I would gather my friends and family around me, looking wane but still fresh, staring death bravely in the face, and tell them something wise and unforgettable before I crossed over to the other side. How melodramatic. I’m sure it’s rarely like that. Now that I’m getting older, I think I’d rather choose something quick, something that happens so fast I won’t have a chance to be scared or feel any pain. Sort of like death coming up from behind and whispering “boo” in my ear before it whisks me away.
Of course, the point is that I already do know death is imminent. It is, after all, inevitable for all of us; we merely don’t know exactly what the timeline is for when it will happen. That means I better put my house in order while I still have the chance.
This morning I came across an article that made me think about any regrets I may have when I die. I’ve heard people who’ve worked with the dying say that no one talks about their money, possessions, or how many hours they worked when faced with death. I like to think that’s true, and I’ve used that knowledge in the past when asked to do more and more unpaid work at my job, and made to feel guilty for saying no.
Here are the top five regrets from the article and where I stand on them:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. I think I’ve actually done pretty well with this one. I’ve always tried to be true to myself, even when others didn’t agree with or understand why I did certain things. I generally haven’t cared much what others thought of the way I lived my life, and I still don’t.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard. This would have been true up until last May when I quit teaching after 20 years. I wish I had quit sooner. All those years of stress, working 10+ hours a day, and evenings and weekends spent grading papers, making charts, and designing lesson plans certainly took their toll. I loved teaching, but I’m glad I’m done. Life is slower now, less stressful, and makes more sense. I’d rather have less money than more stress.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. I don’t see this as a big regret of mine. I can be blunt at times, and I’ve certainly been known to stick my foot in my mouth, but I do believe there are times when nothing said is better than the wrong words. I suppose there are still some things that need to be said, but not expressing them doesn’t come from fear. It comes from an acceptance of what is. Sometimes words won’t help.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. Agreed. I haven’t always been the best about staying in touch with old friends. I’ve always been the type of person who needs a lot of time to themselves, and I’ve lost friends because of not wanting to give up time away from my children, or myself, to do things with them. I do have regrets about some friendships that weren’t nurtured, but only a few. Surprisingly, I’ve reconnected with a lot of old friends on Facebook, and I’ve really enjoyed catching up and filling in the gaps.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.This would certainly be number one on my list. It seems so simple, but I’ve struggled with this in the past. I take things too seriously. I wish I had said can’t less in my life, and more yes, I can. There will always be something to worry about, but that doesn’t mean I have to. In other words, I need to lighten up more and just have fun. It really shouldn’t be that hard.