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