I’ve recently attended a couple of events and read Being Mortal by Atul Gawande on the topic of death and dying. Morbid, I know. Interestingly the biggest take away from these events was that death can actually teach us a fair amount about living. However, before I share what death can teach you about living, here are some of the interesting things I learned about the end-of-life phase.

  1. We’re all going to die. Despite the inescapability of this fact, it seems many people think they can make it not true by avoiding it. Instead of burying our heads in the sand, we should face it and prepare for it so that our ending can be as good as the rest of our life. One speaker at the EndWell symposium pointed out that by viewing it as a new beginning instead of a final ending, we can approach this life transition with less fear and more acceptance. 
  2. Advance planning enables a higher quality of life at the end. As pointed out in Being Mortal, our healthcare system is organized around fixing health problems, right until the end. At some point, fixing the problem may not be the best solution for a dying client, but instead making them comfortable and able to have the highest quality of life. Advance planning goes beyond having estate documents in order. It involves communicating preferences on end of life care, what they want their legacy to be, how they’d like to be remembered, etc.

Now, for the insights that dying can shed on how we live our lives now:

  1. Be present. Don’t ruminate about the past (which can’t be changed) or ponder the future (which isn’t guaranteed), but instead focus on enjoying each precious moment we are granted on this earth. Live life to its fullest and make sure you are doing things that make you truly happy.
  2. Focus on what’s really important. “I wish I’d focused more on my investment returns” – said no one, ever. The list of things people most regret when dying include things like not spending more time with loved ones, wishing they hadn’t worked so hard or had the courage to express their feelings, etc. Make sure you are clear on what’s most important to you and are setting meaningful goals for your life.

So, whether it’s being more intentional about how you would like your end-of-life to unfold or living your life more fully today, there is a lot we can learn from death.