What If Today You Knew You Were Going to Take Your Last Breath?

George J. Ziogas

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You take a ragged, shuddering breath. Instinctively, you know it will be your last. What do you make of your life in those final moments? Did you do it well? Did you do it right? Are there regrets?

Goodbyes are a complex affair, especially when it’s you who is dying and you know it’s going to happen. People go through a range of emotions — do I tell my family? Do I tell them how much I love them, do I impress upon them how they’ll be okay even when I’m gone?

The uncertainty of death is scary and it’s confusing. Maybe you should hide your tears and focus on enjoying your last days. Your last day. None of us will escape death. At some point, we’ll all succumb to it and we’ll all return to the ash from whence we came.

In religious circles, death has been thought about extensively. From the idea of it being an opportunity to it being a penalty or the next chapter. Is it worse than life? Is it greater than life? Is it the end goal versus the obvious result? Is it merely a transition to another life? Do you go to heaven as an eternal resting place or do you begin again in a new life?

If it’s transitional, why wouldn’t you celebrate your last day?

If it’s the end of a chapter, why wouldn’t you celebrate what you’ve experienced before going onto a new experience?

Death is about letting go and that’s the bit we struggle with. As social creatures, we form profound bonds with our families and friends. The idea of being apart from them is difficult to accept, whether you’re the one leaving or the one being left behind.

One could argue that it’s the one who leaves who has it best, their pain will end. Those left behind? They’re the ones who have to find a way to go on in the face of heartbreak.

What if today you knew you were going to take your last breath?

What would you want to do first?

Who would you call? Who would you visit and spend your time with?

What would you do with the last moments you have to spend on this earth?

It might sound morbid, but ultimately, your answer should provide you with some insight into who you are and how you’re living. Your answer should tell you whether you’re living well.

Are you wasting your days on unimportant matters when you want to focus on other things? If every answer you give above is something you have on the back-burner currently, then you know you haven’t been living at all, you’ve just been surviving.

I’d like to share a few responses from the people around me.

What if today you knew you were going to take your last breath?

I spoke to a pastor friend, someone who deals with death quite often. That seemed like a great place to start. His answer was particularly interesting to me because he focused on the gift of prior knowledge.

The knowing what was coming would give him the gift of saying goodbye to his wife and children. It would allow him time to let them know how loved they were. It would allow him time to call all of the people he held dearly. It would give him the chance to write letters of goodbye, to spend time with his family, and to just be with them the way he enjoyed most.

In all honesty, that’s how he spends most of his time anyway so that answer felt accurate to the person I know him to be.

My cousin is a funeral director, so he felt like a good person to speak to next. He didn’t need to give it much thought, he’d load his dogs into his old truck and hit the open road. He’d smell the fresh air, run in the field, and then return home to throw a massive barbecue with all his friends and family. As someone who deals with death and deep emotion on a daily basis, I appreciated that his response would be to take some time for himself before he threw a celebration.

It struck me that of the two people I’d spoken to thus far neither expressed regret, no one would rush to apologize for their wrongs or worry about whether they had lived life well enough. Did I choose the only two people on the planet who have no regrets? Which made me wonder what I would do if I knew I was going to draw my last breath.

After considering it for some time (a luxury I’d not have if someone turned up and told me I’d take my last breath later today), I realized that while I’d have regrets, I’d be far more focused on encouraging the people I love. My mind would be on the happiness I’ve experienced and how I could make my passing easier for the people who contributed to that happiness.

That answer is probably different than my answer would be if someone said I’d die in ten years. Ten years would give me plenty of time to address mistakes, deal with regrets, make apologies, and do things right. The reality, however, is that I don’t have to know when it’s going to happen to do any of those things.

There’s nothing stopping me from doing the right thing right now. There’s nothing stopping me from making positive changes in my life right now. Which made me realize that every day is an opportunity, an opportunity to let my family know how much I love them. An opportunity to be kind, to motivate and encourage.

I don’t need to wait for an angel to land in front of me and tell me it’s coming quickly. I don’t need a doctor to diagnose me with an illness that gives me a year to live. I’m in control of the life I’m leading right now and I’m in control of my thoughts, words, and actions on this earth. And, as long as I’m walking it, I can choose to use that time wisely. The only way to be regret-free at the end of my days is to live my life well.

We all have bills to pay, we have to work to live, but so often we lose focus and live to work instead. That won’t be me.

From here on out, I’m going to live as though I’ll take my last breath today…

I’m going to dance like nobody’s watching when my favorite song comes on.

I’m going to laugh like I haven’t a care in the world. I’m going to love as I’ve never loved before.

I’m going to pour my passion into my life, into my family, into my community, into the world. Because ultimately, not a single person on this planet has the guarantee of a tomorrow. That’s a choice that I can make for myself every morning that I wake up.

So, what if today you knew you were going to take your last breath? What then?

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