Please raise your hand if you are not going to die.
If you haven’t found the fountain of youth and we haven’t perfected anti-aging technology, then you my friend are going to die. But you are not alone, so am I, and so is your mother and your father and your brothers and sisters and even little Johnny down the street.
Now that I have reminded you of your own mortality. Does this change anything in your life?
What if I told you that you were going to die tomorrow? Does this change anything in your life?
Why is this? Why does a timeline, or a “deadline” (pun intended) make a difference for us?
I believe that a deadline changes the quality of the preceding moments. Some moments in life merely pass, forgetably, almost as if unattended, but other moments are imbued with great meaning and even urgency, particularly if we know that those moments are to be our last, as with a departing friend or dying lover. These last moments are often the ones in which we feel most alive and most present.
Should we rob anyone of these meaningful moments?
No. The mere thought seems cruel and deeply inhumane.
Yet, if we do not speak of death and its reality, and especially its proximity, then we have robbed ourselves and our loved ones of the power of last moments.
When a doctor does not speak the truth and does not say the words, “Yes, you are dying,” then you are robbed of the opportunity to live fully in the present, savoring each song, each touch of a child’s hand, and the heft of your favorite book.
What human would rob another of the most touching and beautiful moments of life?
We do this all of the time, to ourselves and those whom we love, if we don’t speak the truth about death and its timing. In private, we ask the doctor “not to tell her how sick she really is.” Yet, the words, “You probably only have another month left,” could prove to be among the best therapies that your doctor could ever give you. Because of those words, each day, each hour, each second of that month would be seen in a different light than any time that had ever passed before. Each moment cherished, devoured hungrily, and deeply savored. Precious time, never squandered, but focused only on those things which matter most.
Death, the ultimate deadline, allows us to cherish both life and time more fully.
There is no reason why we cannot consciously apply the urgency that death brings to our everyday lives. Indeed, we should.
Steve Jobs was fond of saying, “Live everyday as though it is your last … and one day, you will be right.”
And I love this quote by John A. Robinson, RN, from his book, On My Journey Home: “Make the most out of each day you have. Do not live to die, die to live each day to its fullest. Say what you need to say and do what you need to do, because at any time, that chance can become history without warning.”
In the coming year, let us be more focused on the use and cultivation of our time and our life. Let us savor it, every drop.
Monica Williams-Murphy is an emergency physician and author of It’s OK to Die.