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Life is like a day

I probably would have been more happy if I’d…

Happy Day

This morning I read this in the Guardian:
This Marie Curie advert may herald an age of death acceptance, by Andrea Gillies. She discusses the latest TV advert for Marie Curie cancer care, where the emphasis is not on cancer but end of life and the speed of life. The advert “journeys through the span of life from baby cot to death in 90 seconds”
This line stood out for me:
“Life passes this fast, from first shave to last rites, from first awkward kiss to last soulful and sorrowful one. It is likely to make the casual observer burst into tears. “Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know…”…”

It seems strange to me that people avoid the subject of death in order to avoid unhappiness because it’s possibly the acceptance of death that makes many people more contented and more able to get on with their lives in a satisfying, purposeful way.

Take me for example (if you can bear to). There are things to do today: things I have to do, things I ought to do, things I want to do; things that can’t wait, things that can wait, and things that I will feel sad about if I don’t do them. There are also plenty of things I will regret doing and there will be time lost that I will regret losing. Life is like this.

At the end of life – if we get the chance to know when it is ending – we will probably think about what we did or didn’t do. At our funeral loved ones will probably talk about what we did do. What do I want that to be?

I am the only one who will think about and talk about what I wanted to do but didn’t at the end of today, and at the end of my life. A year ago, if I was to find out I was about to die, my biggest personal achievement regrets would have been not being more in touch with the earth, not making a successful go of growing my own veg, not being more green, not giving something back to the planet. I would regret all the time spent worrying about appearances and housework, and time wasted. (No, my bucket list isn’t very exciting to some!)

I want to leave a small legacy at the end of every day. I want to say I was thoughtful to society, a good influence on my children, that I and my family ate healthily, that I did one or two things to make me glad I had today – such as enjoying the sunshine, playing the flute, taking photos, writing, or gardening.

Today I have some work to do for our shop and the family, I ought to eat, I want to sow my lettuce seeds, I want to play the flute. I need and want to get outside in the sunshine and walk the dog. I will not be glad or satisfied or leave a small legacy if I vacuum or clean or faff about on the Internet or worry about the way I look and end up not having time for things I will feel pleased I’ve done.

In my life I want to be useful to the shop and the family. I want to eat well and take exercise to perhaps prolong my life and it’s quality, I want to have said I fed my family on home-grown veg and wasted less money at supermarkets, I want to be a good role model for my children by taking time to experience life-enhancing enjoyable things and challenge conventional habits. I won’t leave any kind of legacy if I don’t remind myself every single day that this is my life today, I am living it now. My children will think that they too have all the time in the world and that life is somewhere out there waiting in the future.

Imagine, for a moment, that this is it. It’s all over. What would you say?

Off the top of my head, right now, I’d say:
I wish I’d written more.
I wish I’d done more yoga and kept the weight off my stomach
I wish I’d done something to make my children proud
I wish I’d kept chickens*
I wish I’d had a positive effect on the world in some small way
I wish I’d worried less about a whole host of needless and shallow things
I wish I’d been nicer
I wish I’d sat down at the kitchen table and talked to the kids together about sex education and sexual equality
I wish I’d been greener
I wish I’d read more books.
I wish I’d kept up with my music
I wish I’d spoken to my mother more often
I wish I’d got out and dirty more often instead of being inside and clean

I can begin or do something about a lot of those things on the list today.

Bucket lists became popular after the Jack Nicolson and Morgan Freeman film – but they often involve quite ambitious and wild experiences. A year ago The Top Five Regrets of the Dying the work of Bronnie Ware – a palliative care nurse – became a very popular talking point and was shared a lot on the Internet. People mostly seemed to regret working too hard and worrying about expectations instead of allowing themselves to be happy and spend more time with their families. We put off the things that make us happy (I know I do) and continue to do things we are used to doing instead of questioning why we are doing them. I suggest the reason we are not questioning why we continue to do things that don’t make us happy is that we haven’t allowed ourselves to think about death, about how short life is and about how suddenly it can all be over. Fear of change has us pretending to ourselves and to others the research suggests.

Life is today. Death could be at any time. I have regrets now that I can’t do anything about but maybe it’s time to stop adding to them, and stop assuming there is a limitless pile of “one day”s to fall back on.

I’m glad I wrote this. I don’t regret it. I will be pleased at the end of today that I didn’t put it off.

(*Would have to move house to keep chickens so that one might not happen!)

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Chickens stink. Rabbits are nicer.
    Loved this post — I’m at a stage when I don’t have enough time to do everything (a sign of happiness in itself?) and the balance is elusive. I don’t know if I’ve got any of my balancing right but I like the Lennon quote here.


    • Oh, yes – Very satisfying! Nice one, John 🙂


  2. Yes! I love this post, Rach. It’s good to stop and think every so often and reassess your life and what it is you want from it and what it is you want to put back into the world during it.

    When Dad died in 2003, it made me stop and think about what was really important in life and what I actually wanted to *do* and since then, my priorities have been through a seismic change for the better. There is more writing, reading, music, outdoors and time spent with the people that I care about in my life. No chickens though but we do have more moles than Duncton Wood!!

    Good luck and have fun working on that list of yours! x


    • Thanks, Kath. I’m sitting here getting soil all over the laptop – so something went right today!


  3. Lovely piece but perhaps it wasn’t the smartest idea for me to watch that advert and read this piece so near to Mother’s Day?
    I have one big regret in life at the moment. I just hope not to have more. This one is taking up far too much room.


    • I’m sorry, Pete. Allotted “special days” are so difficult. I have some deep regrets about my dad and wish so much that I could change things. It is much harder for my mum though because he was her reason for living and so she has no sense of urgency to get the most out of what time she may have left anymore. She regularly relives everything she regrets – so much so that she almost lives in the past. I guess I see it as something I can learn from.


      • It’s always going to be incredibly difficult for anyone who loses a soul mate to find a new purpose. It certainly was for my Dad.
        My only regret with my Mum was that my strong relationship with my Dad overshadowed my relationship with her to some extent. I think we put that right at the end as much as you can ‘fix’ these things but I think she would’ve come into her own in the last few years when things were falling apart a bit.


  4. Amanda O'Dell #

    I’m glad you wrote this too! Death has had a big impact on what I’m doing with my life (decided to have children then study & work as a teacher after being in New York on 9/11, then started thinking seriously about my own health and family when my Mum became ill). What you’ve really brought back for me though is sitting with my Mum through her last night. I had a book in front of me to give me something to sort-of do, but I wasn’t really reading and she wasn’t very aware that I was there, but my siblings seemed to see that it as a bad thing that I could sit and watch her go through that, but I can’t imagine not having done it. If I were ever in that situation then I would certainly want the comfort of loved ones around me, but it would be good to remember that more often in day to day life.



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