Coming into contact with death has a way of turning someone’s life upside down, and I’m not just talking about grief.
One moment you’re living your life, doing your thang, and if you’re like most of the population, putting your biggest dreams on the back burner. You know you’re gonna write that book, start that online culinary school, or book that trip to Marrakech one day. You just have to straighten up your finances, join the perfect business mastermind, or learn French first.
Then something happens that makes you far more acquainted with death than you ever wanted to be. For some people it’s an accident or illness that puts the grim reaper on their radar and makes them oh so aware of how short and fragile this life can be. For others, it’s the death of someone they love.
Whatever the catalyst, the result is the same: All of a sudden you’re so lucidly, painfully aware that this life is.not.forever. That in actual fact you only have a finite number of days on this earth to live the life you truly want to live, and you don’t have any way of knowing how many those days will be.
Scary, ya? When you really look that fact in the face it’s freakin’ terrifying. But if you have a little bit of heart and courage (and I know you do) you can use it to catapult you into a life that makes you wanna jump on the nearest table and dance for joy.
A Brush With Death Can Change Your Life
As a death coach, I’m fascinated by stories of people who get up close and personal with death, and use the experience to live an extraordinary life.
Take Sebastian Terry for example. When he was just 24 years old, he received the tragic news that his friend Chris, also 24 years old, had died suddenly overnight. He found himself asking a lot of questions about how Chris had lived and whether he would have changed anything. He concluded that his friend was delightfully happy with his life – but Terry himself was not. And so started one of the most touching, inspiring, bucket list stories I’ve ever heard. Terry realised he wasn’t happy, and so asked himself “what would make me smile?”
The result? A bucket list of 100 items that kicked off over 7 years ago with marrying a stranger in Vegas (Elvis impersonator absolutely included) and has now evolved to include beautiful random acts of kindness as well.
Or how about Benedict Cumberbatch, the velvet-voiced actor of Sherlock and Marvel Cinematic Universe fame? When the actor survived a terrifying gunpoint kidnapping ordeal while filming in South Africa, he told Vanity Fair that the experience made him “more impatient to live a life less ordinary”, adding that when you think you won’t get to experience a cold beer or the sun on your skin again, it makes all of those experiences “hit you as firsts again. It is, in a way, a new beginning.”
My dear friend Darius Bashar can certainly attest to the power of death to make us rethink life. When Darius received the devastating news that someone he adored had leukemia, his perspective on life shifted dramatically. He writes:
“This experience brought me to the realization that there is a “last breath” looking for all of us. This wasn’t some poetic concept anymore. It was fucking real! One day I will LITERALLY take my last breath. It could be 50 years from now, or it could be 50 mins. There is no way to know for certain and nothing you can do to prevent it from eventually finding you.”
Darius’ new awareness of his limited time on earth spurred him on to the realisation that he had many, many beautiful photographs left to take. He started rising at 4:00 AM so he’d have time before his work day to take the pictures that were calling out to him.
What do these three have in common? They came close to death, looked right at it, and decided to make a change.
Don’t Wait For Deathbed Regrets
No one wants deathbed regrets. I can’t imagine anything more soul destroying than reaching the end of my life and realizing I hadn’t lived it in the way that nourished my spirit the most. When people reach the end of their lives, they don’t regret not working hard enough or not spending enough time vacuuming. They regret not going after their dreams, not saying “I love you” more, not getting their visions out of their heads and onto the page / canvas / songsheet.
Death coaching gives you the chance to think about what your deathbed regrets might be RIGHT NOW so you don’t ever have to live them. Like my client Corrina. When Corrina got the chance to go to a friend’s wedding in South Africa, her first thought was how hard it would be. It would take so much to arrange, and then there was the cost. With a price tag around $5000, the trip wouldn’t come cheap.
It was then that I grabbed Corrina’s intake questionnaire and read back her own answer to the question “at the end of your life what would you most regret having done?”. She could hardly believe it as I read her own words back to her “not taking my son to one of my favourite places in the world.” That place was South Africa. By the next time I spoke to Corrina, she’d booked and paid off that trip.
I Dare You To Write Your Own Eulogy
Writing your own eulogy is one of my favourite exercises to do with my clients. Not surprisingly, many of them are resistant to it. Some even fear that by writing it, they’re inviting death in. If that worries you, let me take that big ol’ burden off your shoulders. Talking and thinking about death doesn’t invite it in. It’s not Dracula.
I’ll tell you what writing your eulogy does do, though: It brings your deepest desires into sharp focus. Like my client Dan. Dan was hesitant to write his eulogy at first, but when he did, he unleashed a storm of creativity and desire. After writing a heart-stirring song for the little kid inside him, Dan realised that his biggest regret would be not releasing his music to the world. That’s why he penned an amazing Christmas song (Christmas On Our Own) AND sung it in front of thousands of people that same year.
So here’s what I want you to do: Take a leaf out of Dan’s book. Or Corrina’s, or Sebastian Terry’s, or Benedict Cumberbatch’s. Look at your life. Imagine it’s ending. Write down the eulogy you’d most want said about you after you’re gone.
Now ask yourself honestly – are you living with that vision? If you’re not, this is your alarm call. It’s time to get up, make some changes, shift some priorities, or work on your boundaries to make sure your dreams don’t die along with you.
Want to dive deeper into living a life you’ll be proud to leave? You can book a Discovery Session with me right here.
P.S. Need a little added inspiration? Check out wecroak.com! I frickin’ love this app. Based on Bhutanese folklore that says the way to be happy is to contemplate death five times a day, the app sends you five reminders a day that you’re going to die. Just like real death, they come without warning. Each time, the app encourages you to pause, reflect, meditate, and make sure you’re living in true alignment with your soul.