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Taking Stock and Making Deals

January 21st, 2013

I have been attending more funerals these days. I attended the funeral for a friend’s mother last week, and this week I’ll attend the funeral of a former high school classmate.


Whenever I hear of someone’s passing, or attend a funeral, I experience sorrow and compassion. But immediately following these emotions, something happens to me.

If you could do me a favor, think for a moment about the last time you attended a funeral or learned of someone’s passing. After the sorrow, what comes up for you?

For me, I experience this sudden urgency about my own life. I reflect on the people in my life, the work I’m doing, how I’m spending my time, and so on. I start making promises and deals with myself. Examples include: I’m going to be more present in my children’s lives. I’m going to listen more to them and play more with them. I’m going to tell Jerry more often how much I truly love him. I’m going to spend more time with my parents and my other family members. I am going to thank all of those who have made a difference in my life. I am going to be a better friend. I’m going to tell people how much I like, love and appreciate them. I’m not going to take this day for granted. I’m going to do this thing, or that. And so on.

I’m inspired, and the deals are made.

But then soon after, the awareness and urgency wears off.

My mission at Epic Life is to help others live as if they’re dying — to make each day count, and to “take stock” frequently. Because, while it’s a cliche, it’s also a fact: we have just this one life. None of knows for certain we will have tomorrow. This bothers me because I love my life and if I live another 40 years it won’t be enough.

I’m not afraid to die. It’s just that I love living and have a lot of living still to do.

What if we could live more often in the awareness and urgency that I describe above? I think it would be an amazing gift to do so.

I recently read 30 Lessons For Living, by Karl Pillemer, a professor in human development and gerontology at Cornell University — and director of Cornell’s Legacy Project. One of the chapters I refer to often is about how to live a regret-free life. Pillemer’s advice, collected from more than 1,000 people who are over the age of 65, includes: 1) Always be honest; 2) Say Yes to opportunities; 3) Travel more; 4) Choose a mate with extreme care; and 5) Say it now.

I like #5, in particular, because I think it’s common for many of us to procrastinate about the things we really want, and need, to say.

Another inspirational source that I watch once a month is Ric Elias’ 6-minute Ted Talk about when his plane was going down. In the video, Elias shares what he learned when he thought he was about to die. It’s great stuff from someone who fortunately lived through the experience. May his words inspire the rest of us.

What are the promises you want to make, and honor?

  • Kathy Swanson says:

    Great stuff to practice. It becomes easier to implement the older and wiser we become, but still a challenge to be consistent.

  • Leslie says:

    My father was a minister so I grew up with “death and dying” in my house every day. I know we talked about it all the time as the phone would ring day or night and especially if it rang in the night it was not usually good. BUT it made me respect and want to have a minister or priest or someone of the cloth in my life at all times! So when you ask what does death make me think about…well I guess it makes me think about my Dad and how much I miss having him around!

  • Shelli says:

    Thanks for your comments, Kathy and Leslie! Leslie, I’m glad this caused you to reflect on your father… In knowing what you’ve shared about him, it’s obvious to me that he lives on in you and your generosity and yearning to be of service to so many.

  • Ric Elias’s Ted Talk is so simple, isn’t it? Nothing he said surprised me. In fact, I’ve had many of the same thoughts and feelings without having to sit waiting for a crash. So how do we sustain the feeling of knowing what’s truly important without living through the potential tragedy? I think you’re on the right track, Shel, with your consistent contact with nature and the miracle that it is. I also think that being still, alone, and quiet on a regular basis connects us to what’s important. And on the opposite end of that, I think that talking about what’s important is helpful.
    I’m with you, it’s not dying that scares me, it’s what I’ll miss when I’m gone that freaks me out. I feel like my life is a huge banquet dessert table and I keep getting to go back to it and choose another delight. What scares the hell out of me is that I might not get to that yummy looking tira misu at the end of the table!

  • Shelli says:

    Sharon, thanks so much for your great comment. It is awesome that you love your life and value it every day. And I LOVE the dessert table metaphor! I, too, think stillness and time in the wilderness (being present) helps one to live more on purpose and with greater clarity and appreciation for life. I guess, for me, the “urgency” about my life that comes up when confronted with loss or death, is what brings the awareness of wanting to live my best life to a higher level than normal. Thanks again for reading this blog, and for contributing to it!

  • Leann says:

    ,I have watched Ric Elias’s talk several times. When life gets busy and stressful I can wake up at 3:00 in the morning and start to sweat the small stuff. Ric’s Ted Talk can help put those small worries back where they belong.

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