I don’t know whether it’s my Southern culture or the influence of my grandmother’s Eastern European heritage, but I grew up to have a pretty straightforward view of death (coupled with an occasionally morbid sense of humor). Death is something my family has always talked about honestly. So it’s not particularly surprising that I’ve thought about my own death.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t sit around pondering it, but I’m aware that death can be unexpected. Maybe that’s because I have a heart condition (not life-threatening, it just slightly increases my odds of dropping dead. You can read about it here). Or because the news itself is a constant reminder that life can be ripped away at any moment. Or it’s because of those let’s talk about life insurance cards I get from my insurance company around my birthday every year. (Um, thanks?)
Whatever the cause, I realized that if death did come for me unexpectedly, I needed to be able to say goodbye to some people I love. Or, more accurately, they needed to be able to hear goodbye from me.
So I opened my laptop one day to write my potential goodbyes. It’s a weird thing, sitting down to write letters to be read after your death, ones you hope you’ll have to keep updating for a few more decades. How do you even start? “Dear Loved One, these words are coming to you from The Great Beyond and thus you must heed my Jacob Marley-esque warning…”
A strange thing happened as I wrote: I began to appreciate my life more, every angle and nuance, even the frustrating edges. It’s not that I took it for granted before—I try to never take my life for granted—but with every word, I started to value each second that much more. Every goodbye I wrote, every attempt to comfort a loved one, made me more determined to appreciate the good AND the bad in my life, to embrace each moment. (No, I’m not going skydiving or anything. I have no desire to get closer to death. Heart conditions and skydiving are generally not a recipe for living.)
It’s a strange perspective-shifter, preparing for your own eventual death. It’s one thing to acknowledge it by creating a will. It’s another thing altogether to write personal letters, and it’s an exercise I highly recommend.
Life is precious. We say that all the time, but too often we don’t act like it. We complain about unpleasant moments, vent about temporary frustrations, whine about momentary setbacks. But those things, they’re part of the life we declare is precious, so they too are precious.
One day I’ll be gone. So will you. What do you want your loved ones to know?