Part of the mission of On Her Own is to compassionately witness the bad things that happen to people, and to honor their pain and loss by learning from their experiences. Sometimes, that means taking a look at their actions that may have led to their death or injury, and understanding what they did well or not so well, so that we can get ideas about the skills we need to work on, and the details we need to notice. Sometimes, one of the lessons is that we can do everything right and sometimes, we will still be attacked, we will still be hurt, we will still die. We may, in fact, decide that we would rather that than what would be required of us if we fight. Regardless, what is always available to us is choosing how we get there.
I’d like to reach a little further back in time, before the run-up to the day we die – for whatever reason – and talk about another aspect of preparing for it. I’d like to talk about what we’re doing today, when that time may still be purely theoretical.
See, last week I lost a beloved coworker, a colleague who was an integral part of our department’s successes, who was personally liked and professionally respected. His passing was and is distressing, but there’s a piece that we are all drawing comfort from: Jerry was happy. He was living a full life that he clearly enjoyed, surrounded by people he loved, a career he found fulfilling, and activities and material things that he took joy in. He was consistently grateful about and delighted in his beautiful family and his talented team, not to mention his favorite college sports team (Go Baylor Bears!) and the house he’d just found after several years of apartment living. I can’t speak for Jerry’s inner life, but I suspect he left us with few regrets beyond not sticking around longer to see the next adventure. Instead, he left us with a legacy of brilliance, kindness, authenticity, and humor.
And as we reminisced about him, I couldn’t help but think: how wonderful it must be, to face the end with that in your hands and heart, to know that you have surrounded yourself with who and what you loved, and to have done the things you have wanted to do. How wonderful it must be, to complete a life lived as completely yourself. How very much I want to be able to say the same on my last day on earth. How Jerry’s other legacy was a reminder to embrace possibilities, pursue happiness, and appreciate what you have.
It’s easier to do all of that when we know our death date. Unfortunately, as I was forcefully reminded with Jerry’s passing, it can come without warning, without expectation. We may not have time to set our affairs in order, to make peace with what we’ve done – or what we haven’t – and with what we’ll leave behind us. That’s why it’s important for us to always remember that today could be our last day, this hour the last we breathe. Knowing that, can we face that moment with satisfaction? If not, and I suspect most of us cannot, what can we do today to get closer to that state? What would it bring to the meaning of our lives if we made our daily decisions with that goal in mind? Who could we become, if we lived today knowing we might not have any tomorrows even as we fight for them, for next weeks, next months, next years?
While it’s true we can’t read minds and that secret hurts and regrets may fester, I’ve learned that authenticity and gratitude do much to heal them: Authenticity in being who you really are, doing the things you really love, with the people you really care for. Gratitude in being thankful for all that you have, even if it might not be all that you want, because part of the treasure is the ability to chase after more. When today holds what we seek, yesterday becomes simply the path we have walked to get here and tomorrow becomes the possibility for more. In the meantime, we can work to soothe those inner bruises and feed those silent dreams, by doing now what shouldn’t wait, lest we run out of time.
The concept is encompassed in memento mori and its reverse, memento vivere: remember that death comes for all; remember that we must live. In doing so, we honor those whose lives have reflected those truths, and we honor those whose passings remind us of them. What will you do today so that you can remember?