Charlotte de Vreeze-Nauta explains why we should live every day like it's our last.
I am currently facing a few big decisions in the more professional area of my life: stay on the current path or change direction.
Although I have always been quite good at making decisions, I now find myself unsure of what to do and it is rather unnerving. So, it seems that I must deal with it using the best method I know: ‘the deathbed debate’.
I discovered ‘the deathbed debate’ when I was a student. Whenever I had to study for an exam that I wasn’t interested in, I would start philosophising. Why am I doing this? What is the purpose of it all? Am I wasting precious time on something I don’t really care about or is it necessary in a way that I can’t quite see yet?
Of course, at the time, this philosophising was a mere excuse. I was just lazy or hungover – or both – and not inspired to do any studying at all.
However, it did teach me about the more important questions of life: ‘What really matters in life? What will be my most cherished memory when I am on my death bed? What is it that I will be most grateful for when I am about to breathe my last breath? What will be my biggest regret? With whom do I want to be surrounded?’
These are questions that we should all be asking ourselves. If you want to die peacefully and with a content smile on your face, you had better ask the questions while you can still change the course of your life. Do something about your future regrets right now and not plough on in whatever area of your life that you aren’t happy about.
Critics might argue that these questions are only for the well-off. For people that can afford to think about their life, change their job, however uncertain the outcome, or even start from scratch to find what makes them happy. After all, it requires a certain amount of savings or security to change, take a pause and rethink one’s priorities.
Someone that is born in the lowest caste in India, just to name one harshly dealt hand, will not have many possibilities to ‘rethink’ their life. They will not be able to challenge the limited amount of work opportunities, or the choice for a husband or wife outside of their caste, nor the future path for their kids. All of it is pretty much determined from the moment they are born.
If you look at it from that point of view, doing a ‘deathbed debate’ with yourself might be considered a luxury.
However, I do not think that that is the case at all. The deathbed debate is about things that matter to all. It concerns life’s bigger themes: love, friendship, happiness, health. These questions are important for every person, regardless of how well-off someone is.
So. Where does one start?
It is a personal choice, and I started with love. Who do I want to spend my time with? Which people matter most to me? By whom would I want to be surrounded when I am facing death? Well, easy. My husband and children. So, finding love and having children was my greatest wish in life. And I am lucky enough to have that wish granted.
The greatest thing about the deathbed question is that it does not only answer your main question (I want love) but provides you with a clear direction on how to live your life (be kind and love back).
If my biggest wish is to be a wife and mother, I had better make sure that I am wanted as such. If I am a shitty mother or a nasty, bitching wife, chances are that my husband will leave me and my children may not be too considerate when they need to decide my fate, choose my doctor, and decide in which home for the elderly they will stick me once I become too much of a burden.
So, by answering this question, I define, at least partly, how I want to live my life, what I want to spend the most time on, and where my priorities lie. The deathbed debate can bring so much clarity.
Some people refer to them as life’s questions, but somehow it is only when your life is on the line and the end is imminent, that answers become clear, regrets are in your face and a list of ‘if only’ pops up. It may be semantics to some, but I think it is more: in doing the deathbed debate you imagine the end and it is at the end – even if it is imagined - that you find your answers.
Of course, there is a caveat to this. You can’t live every day as if it your last. Because if I knew that today were to be my last day (knock on wood that it is not), I would not care about the laundry, I would not be bothered with this article and I would definitely not care about the groceries to be done, the weight I need to lose or the single hair growing out of my chin to be removed. I would spend my last day with my husband and kids, creating our best memories yet.
If you lived every day like it’s your last day, at some point it would be a bit annoying not to be able to put on clean underwear, not to be able to pay the rent because you didn’t give a damn about your job, and not to be able to feed the family because you couldn’t be bothered with stupid groceries on your last day on earth.
It is in our nature to make plans for the future. Only kids (and maybe a few adults) can live in the moment and not think about what tomorrow will bring.
So, find a balance between practical tasks that just need to be done to not be stuck with empty bank accounts and overflowing laundry baskets, but keep sight of your bigger picture based on your deathbed debate.
Life is short so make it count.
And on that note, I will skip work, laundry, groceries and other tasks today and go out and enjoy the sun (I am sure it is shining somewhere).