The Last Day of Your Life

Magic! between the trees

I know it’s a rather morbid idea, but every once in a while I like to imagine what the last day of my life will look like.  It’s more a matter of intellectual curiosity than grim preoccupation.

I can actually trace back to the moment when I started doing this.  It all started with a phone call I received a few years ago.  A friend of mine called me up and said he had some bad news for me.  It was more than bad news though; it was terrible news.

This is What Happened

Apparently a mutual friend of ours was flying a plane when suddenly the engines gave out.  It’s a small Cessna aircraft so the only passengers were himself and his co-pilot.  As his plane dropped in free fall, he would have known he wasn’t going to survive.

His last actions on Earth were to steer the plane in a direction away from as many people as possible.  This would have been hard to do since his plane crashed onto a busy road in a residential area of Chicago.

He and his co-pilot were killed instantly on impact.  There were no injuries on the ground.

I hadn’t seen this friend in almost three years since I graduated college.  But still, his death had a huge impact on me.

To put things mildly, death is an unpleasant idea.  Even though I know it is inevitable and will one day happen, I hate thinking about it.  It’s something that will happen much further into the future.

I’d much prefer to think of life as something to celebrate.  Why not just live for today?

That’s the way I used to think before the accident.  Live in the moment and enjoy every moment.  It’s great to be alive.

Here’s the thing: I still think like that.  Life is glorious and each day I wake up to see the sun overhead, I feel nothing but gratitude.

Before and After the Accident

But before the accident I felt as if I was just paying lip-service to the idea of living for today.  At the time of his death I was working in a job I couldn’t stand and in a relationship that simply wasn’t working.  Is that what it means to live for today?

His accident made me face some difficult, painful questions.  For me, the biggest question is this: If I die tomorrow in an accident, will I be thankful for the life I’ve built for myself?

This was an extremely hard question for me to answer.  For many parts of my life, I quickly answered yes.  Some parts I answered no and a handful of other areas of my life were uncertain.

That’s not good enough.  I want to say yes to everything.  I want to say I’m thankful for everything I’ve built for myself in my life.

In a completely unselfish act, my friend steered the plane away from people on the ground so no one would get injured.  So when I think of the last day of my life, I wonder if I’ll get to do anything as thoughtful.

On the last day of my life, I wonder if I will have built an amazing life for myself.

On the last day will I have people around me who love me?

Will I still be paying lip-service to the idea of living for today?

I’m optimistic.  Eventually I quit that job I hated.  I stopped that relationship that wasn’t working and found a loving, beautiful one with a wonderful woman.

I owe a lot to my friend.  In a way, he saved me just as much as those people on the ground.  You might think I’d be sad thinking of the last day of my life, but strangely enough I feel hope.  For now I still have enough time to build a beautiful life.
photo credit: fatboyke (Luc)

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Comments

  1. You have to know your destination before you can get there. We’re all destined for the grave. But it’s the path we take before we get there that determines whether we die full of regret or full of peace.

    So it’s good to be mindful of where we stand along the path to our “last day.”

    Cheers!

    • You make a great point about being mindful of where we stand. We all have our paths to follow. It’s just good to make sure our last day isn’t filled with regret. But that means asking the hard questions about where you’re at now.

  2. Excellent post, Steve! I love your philosophy of saying yes to everything. I try to remember that in my daily life too!

  3. I never really thought about what the day of my death would look like. Yeah, I’ve wondered how I might die, or when, but somehow, this scene of your friend dying tragically, made me wonder about real possibilities and the idea that we REALLY don’t know how we will die. It could be suddenly like this. All the more reason to live in the moment.
    Also, when I think about the questions you pondered–will I be happy with the life I lived–I think, the only thing I’m going to care about is the people. My family and close friends. I’m going to want to make sure they know I love them, make sure they know my important messages. Thinking about that makes you really realize the importance of making “these people” more of a priority. How much does all the rest really matter? It does matter, but this thought gives me perspective about that other stuff.

    • Yeah, we never know when it will happen. Might as well live in the moment while we can.

      I’m glad you got to put things into perspective. People are really important and it’s good to let them know how much they mean to you. Family and close friends make things so much better. It would be great to let them know that.

  4. Like you, the passing of a friend from my past changed my views on life.

    I haven’t thought of what I’d want my last day of life to look like. I desperately hope it doesn’t involve being hooked up to machines and having to listen to hospital sounds.

    There is still so much more I want to accomplish. I guess that is good, though, I’m way too young to coast to the end of my life had already peaked.

    I definitely will be thinking about this post for a while.

    • I hope that’s not how my last few days go either. For the most part though, I think what matters is what’s going on around you and what kind of life you’ve built up. There’s still so much more to do and explore.

  5. What you’ve said makes me think a lot about what the author or Feel the Fear and do it anyway says – that we should be 100% committed to what we do and not fear what happens. I took this to mean do what you want to do. You say to live an amazing life: that’s true, but what is considered an amazing life. To me an amazing life would be doing all the extreme sports I’ve wanted and become good at them. It means doing all kinds of things – getting grades, jobs, opportunities I want. But all of that is just achievements. Life isn’t just about achivements. Life is about 10 things (and maybe more if you can think of them) and these are: Health, comfort, knowledge, excitement, adventure, good company, achievements, opportunities, fun/laughter, and relaxing :) It’s difficult to have an amazing life. You have to remain focused and clear on what you want to do. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time we are given”.

    • You make some great points. You have to be clear on what you want. Saying that you want a good life isn’t the same as defining what that good life would be. There are a lot of different factors that go into it.

      I’d put everything on your list of ten things on my list too. Being too narrow and focusing too hard on just one or two of those things might you make you miss out on the bigger picture of what life has to offer.

      • Hi Steve, I just watched a few speeches motivational speeches on YouTube. I managed to find one by Steve Jobs, I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but it reminded me of this. The truth is I didn’t.fully understand what you mean and I don’t think I’ve understood it even now. What I have learnt though is that life is scary. That I’ve been focussing too much on success and achievements, not enough on life. I’ve realised that to truly be great you can’t leave a single thing out. Remember everything or you can’t have an amazing life. I have to take every chance I get, planning, prioritising, and commiting. The thing I most want in life is tranquility and peace – I’m happy with life but there is so much more. I have what it takes and can, but feel I’m heading in the wrong direction. I think that to be truly happy you have to be free to do things the way you want. Something that is very difficult and just ends up being worse. One way I solve this is telling the truth like you do. It’s not the things that we do that we regret and that hurt the most but the things we didn’t do. With anything there is always a chance of doing things the way that works. It’ll be alright; do the things you can because you can – not annoying things, but embrace every experience with thought, logic, and heart. Have the heart of a champion and just like all great people – Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, Arnold Schwarzenegger it’ll be alright. Don’t worry, to have an amazing life you need a plan, you need to do what you have to do, and prioritise, but above everything else you need balance. If you go to far in one direction you’ll miss your stop – I like to think of life as a train where we all head to one destination, choosing to get off at whichever stops we want before we get there. The train will wait for us, and we can choose to spend all our time focussing on only one thing, or we can look out our windows and see what’s out there. That’s why I think wrestling is so great – the people with the most heart, the best plans and even balance it all come face to face and we leave with only one winner. What do you do when even with balance and planning you fail? I do not know and I’m not sure anyone knows. The problem with life is that there are too many variables. The thing is is that when we get second chances we take them. We plan where we get off, grabbing it with both hands, and we tell the truth. Do it because you can, follow your instincts and trust your instincts because they lead us to bigger chances that will grant us our final and most satisfying day filled with good experiences. Each chance and opportunity leads to experiences even better and we never need to balance good experiences. Thank you for letting me have this experience and good night.

        Sorry for the huge wall, having a huge brainstorm and just seeing how it goes. It’s a fun experience which I enjoy and obsess with balance. One thing I remember is to always measure things and remember P Poc Plan prioritise, obsess and commit. Sorry for wittering on and I hope you reply. I did it for me and not for you. I hope you can offer me some advice because even after all that I still feel lost.
        That sort of thing seems to happen – I come to a conclusion in my head and then start to over think and doubt myself. Uli need some help with this. I have a plan but don’t have one at the same time. Anyway thanks for all these posts and advice Steve. I’ll be busy until late June with exams.

        • I love comments like this. You have a lot to say which is great. I love your metaphor that life is like a train. It’s true. We’re all heading in a direction and we can stop at any point and get off. We just need to make sure we’re heading in the right direction. And that can be tough. What is the right direction for anyone? It would be so much easier if someone could just point us in the direction we need to go. But it doesn’t work like that, does it? The way I look at it is that you should try to shift your life into a generally better direction. As long as you’re heading to somewhere better, you can always change course as needed. It’s when your life is heading into somewhere bad that it’s hard to change to somewhere better. I don’t know if that helps, but you can always leave another comment or even email me for more.

  6. Your post reminds me of a wonderful Longfellow poem – A Psalm of Life. Great message about how even though we are all destined for the grave, life shouldn’t be about living with that as our only goal. My favorite line – “let us then be up and doing with a heart for any fate…” And I love the suggestion that we should strive to live lives that may be inspirational to others who come behind us.

  7. The strange thing about life is that it’s finite but we don’t know how much of it we have left. Putting off living well and delaying making the best of our lives is the tragedy of many lives.

    • Yeah, with a finite amount of time, there’s no reason we should put things off for long periods of time. No one should delay making the best of their life.

  8. It is amazing that your friend was so thoughtful even before he took his last breath. It is also nice that he inspired you to take positive steps. You have written brilliantly in this post.

    It takes the death of someone close for us to stop and reflect about our lives. Our mortality makes us question and think about how we can live in more fulfilling ways. I certainly would like to live purposefully.

    Thanks for sharing, Steve!

    • I’m glad you like the post, Evelyn. It’s interesting how someone’s accident like this can make you question and reflect on your own situation. He definitely made me question things and prompted me to live better and more fulfilling.

  9. Hi Steve, this was a powerful post with a powerful message but I think most people do as you once did and just pay lip service. They say one thing but end up living another way.

    I had a similar experience that changed my life so that I am constantly thinking about my life in terms of living it with as few regrets as possible.

    It was when…

    My father was hit by a car and lay on his death bed for 3 days when I was 21. It’s a morbid thought but his death helped me too.
    The only problem is that some people have seen my actions as reckless because they do not conform to conventional standards and sometimes i get sucked into their limiting beliefs but not for long.

    Plus when you have a family, there is a fine line of living responsibly and living your life to the fullest..But it can be done as long as you continually work for it.. .

    • Hi Annie, it’s interesting how going through something like that can change a big part of how you see life. They are sad, but changing events.

      It’s hard when you other people see what you’re doing as reckless. I’ve done a few things people would say is reckless. It’s hard not to get sucked into their limiting beliefs, but you just have to take everything one step at a time.

      But like you said, there is a balance to make between living responsibly and living it to the fullest.

  10. Steve,
    I also had a wake up call because of a loved ones death. Today we (my husband and 2 of our children) are living a life that is carefree from material things and adventurous. It is unconventional in the eyes of many but, it is a life worth writing about. We still have to work, but our work isn’t our life.
    Thanks for sharing,
    Gail

    • Gail, the unconventional way of life is usually the one worth writing about. After all, if everyone is doing it, there is nothing notable about it. I’m glad you can make an adventurous and unconventional lifestyle work. That can be tough sometimes. Enjoy your journey.

  11. Steve, that was a very personal story and thank you for sharing it. Without a doubt, that question is probably wondered by nearly everyone on Earth. It’s hard to gauge whether or not we’re truly living life.

    I really hope I am living a good life and that I’m not simply deluding myself. Delusions can be quite powerful at times for me and something so close to home such as your experience can really make a person wonder. I’m sorry for what happened. It is great that he did not let fear take hold of him and paralyze him. Instead, he took action to save as many lives as possible.

    • Yeah, they are universal questions. I’m sure most people ask themselves these very questions at least once in their lifetimes. This was just my personal experience facing those questions and I didn’t like all the answers I was giving back to myself. It was a very eye-opening moment in my life.

      Delusions can be a powerful thing. It’s good to be aware of them so that you’re truly living the life you want to be living.

  12. I’m so glad I found out
    about this blog , truly an inspiration . Tx Stevey.

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