Why Not Live Each Day as if it’s Your Last?
Death is one of life’s greatest teachers.
That may seem counterintuitive, but it’s a cornerstone of religion and philosophy around the world and throughout human history: we can discover a lot about living by paying more attention to dying.
And as an emergency medicine physician, I see it almost daily.
It’s very easy to disassociate from a dying patient or victim of tragedy. In fact, it’s a coping mechanism. But they are as human as me or you.
Truth be told, they might even be more so. Whether it’s trauma or a heart attack or a blood clot or cancer or whatever else that is threatening their very existence, they are fighting for their life. With a rapidly deteriorating consciousness, they are still fighting to survive.
Nothing else matters in that moment but survival.
It's incredible to witness the system mobilizing every resource in order to sustain life. There's this moment — just prior to their passing — where you can actually feel the patient shift into relinquishing the battle, maybe even acceptance of the impending defeat. When the struggle is lost, the body and mind know it.
Many don't make it through a life-threatening event or illness.
But some do.
The Will to Live
Some regain a completely normal capacity to live. Yet if you were to ask them, as I often do, their lives are completely altered.
Their perception of the world, their values, their priorities — everything — shifts. Nothing is taken for granted anymore and everything is put back into question.
This is where you might see heavy smokers quit cold turkey, a renewed commitment to exercise, or a drinker never touch a drop again.
They see love and the way they want to conduct their lives differently. Quality of connections are more profound. The food tastes better. The air smells sweeter.
It may sound cliché, but they reclaim an appreciation for life that they may not have had before.
This is important to acknowledge. Post-traumatic growth is substantial and incredibly potent. It's great at shaking off those things that may have seemed important but fall by the wayside when looked at through a different lens.
But why do we have to wait for a near-death experience to change our point-of-view?
The Power to Change
Why do we “need” a difficult struggle, death of a loved one, or life-threatening moment to have those perspective shifts?
It all seems so incredibly clear when confronting our own mortality. But here’s the thing: we don’t need to be literally staring death in the face for it to happen. Why? Because we all die. It’s the one stark liberating truth.
Know that, accept that, and something beautiful happens: clarity & epiphanies surge through. Life suddenly seems so simple to do correctly.
You can redefine your life, you can rewrite your script, you can seize the day. Right now. At this moment.
Try journaling about your last day of life. Go into as much detail as possible. What would you do? How would you feel? Who would you want there beside you?
In doing so, you can quickly see in black and white what’s important to you in death so that you can prioritize those things in life.
Take a close look. You either:
- A. Expose a deep fear of death — potentially making you apathetic and numb — that prevents you from living your life to the fullest
- B. Realize that acceptance of your impermanence allows you to gently, assertively, and playfully embrace your life.
Take comfort in walking amongst the future dead. None of us can choose how and when we die, but all of us can choose how we live. So make your choice.
An elder from the Lakota Sioux once said "Hoka hey!", today is a good day to die. He understood that the key to embracing life's journey is in coming to terms with the finish line.
And that finish line can come at any time for any one of us. The next day — the next breath — isn't guaranteed.
So claim your day, claim your play, claim your way.