What if I died today?
The thought goes through my head occasionally. It’s certainly not unusual when you’ve seen illness and end of life from such a personal place. No one gets out of life alive, so what if today is my day?
It’s a shocking thought. I lost my grandfather when I was 16, my mother when I was 31 and my first husband when I was 38.
But, maybe, that’s the exact question we should be asking ourselves.
Maybe life would be more joyous and fruitful and meaningful if we dealt with our own demise.
One of the greatest lessons that I learned through my first husband’s daily battle with a rare blood clotting disorder is to have no regrets. To count small things and every day as precious.
Because, in a moment, everything can change.
I remember during one very long treatment day at the cancer center where he received his blood “cleansing” treatments, that I began to notice everything as if it was moving in slow motion. People were coming in for chemotherapy, others were waiting for testing, and volunteers were giving out magazines and juice.
I saw people going about the usual cancer clinic routines. But, behind the hustle and bustle, there was a slower, more precious movement of life.
I witnessed small kindnesses like a husband helping his wife sip smoothies because cancer had taken her tongue. I saw genuine compassion like a nurse helping a patient deal with the prick of a needle. I saw our own nurses joking and laughing with my husband to distract him from the fact that we were on hour number two of a four-hour treatment. And, this was our third treatment of the week.
When living with, and around, chronic illness, we will miss the preciousness of life if we don’t focus our awareness on the small joys. And, on some days, small joys might just be the only joy we experience.
Yet, the same is true for all of us — healthy or ill. The question that no one wants to ask — “What if I died today?” — is the perfect uncertainty that could bring it all into focus.
Over the course of those five years, I never knew what each day would bring and if the next day would change my world, and his, from us as a “We” to just “Me”. At the time, we used this unexpressed question as a motivator to take advantage of small moments and pleasures. Lazy afternoon naps, special desserts, and visits to the museum meant so much more because they stood out against a background of illness.
Rather than look at the question as a sad one, what if we looked at the question as an opportunity to answer with a resounding “YES” to possibilities? What if we were challenged by this question to ensure that we told those whom we cherish most how much we care about them?
In Bronnie Ware’s book, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying” we are given a glimpse into what others, given the chance to reflect on their life, say were their top five regrets.
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
“What if I died today?” is a call to make the best of wherever we find ourselves today. To live the life that we have to the fullest. And, to not have any regrets.