If today was your last day...
My mom called me last Sunday to tell me that my father had been admitted to the hospital with sudden, acute heart failure. They had only just returned from a vacation to Germany a couple of days before, and the shock and disbelief were palpable. I immediately drove to Ohio to spend time with him and to support my mom as he was facing heart surgery.
In the end, it turned out that a virus had attacked his heart, which is now functioning at only 24% capacity. To save his life, doctors implanted a medical device that will not only monitor the pace of his heartbeats but will give him an electric shock to start it back up, should his heart go into irregular and shallow beats. The doctor gave his odds of recovering his heart’s strength at only about 50%. As my father, who has always been an athlete at heart, was grabbling with this new reality, the doctor told him that he will likely die suddenly in his sleep. As the doctor told him, “a beautiful death.”
Spending this past week with him and my mom, watching the fear settle deep into my mom’s bones, and listening to my father talk about their upcoming trip to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, I was struck by the fragility of life. Being told that death may come suddenly and in your sleep, allows you the freedom to take a really good look at your life. It also brought up the question, what would you do differently if you knew that today would be your last day. The reality, of course, is that none of us are guaranteed another day. It’s easier to see when it is put in front of us, as it was for my dad. But none of us have any more certainty than he was given.
If today was your last day….
Who would you love?
Take a look around you. Who are the people in your inner circle? Are they people that deserve to be there? If today was your last day, are you looking at the faces that you love? Do you see love reflected back? We have a choice every day in who we love and how we are loved in return. We cannot control another’s behavior towards us, but we can decide if we want to participate in the way they love. Take a hard look at your relationships. Are there changes you could make today to improve them? Are there relationships that should have ended a long time ago, but you are holding on? You deserve to be loved and to feel safe. If that is not your current reality, can you be brave enough to require more?
What would be left unsaid?
How often do you hold back what it is you wish to say? What if today was your last day? What needs to be said for you to feel at peace? What stops you from saying it? Are you afraid of showing vulnerability? Are you worried that the sentiment may not be returned? Are you scared of the other’s reaction? Having words inside of us left unexpressed is one of the hardest feelings we can experience. If you have ever visited a group event with a medium or watched one on TV, you know that the most frequent questions are, do they know how much I loved them? Do they know how sorry I am for the hurts I caused? What if today, you freely shared with people how much you love them? What if today, you took the opportunity to apologize and ask for forgiveness?
What would you be doing?
If today was your last day, would you be doing what you are doing today? Would you spend your time watching Netflix? Would you spend your time working overtime and coming home late again? Would you be arguing over the never-ending stream of bills? Would you be angry with your child for their dirty room? We spent most of our days getting angry, frustrated, and irritated over things that truly don’t matter. We spent our time planning and working for a future that may never come while ignoring the present day. No, we can’t all run out and quit our jobs and travel around the world, but we can make an effort to be less focused on things that simply don’t matter and spend more time doing the things we love with the people we love.
I was astonished by my father’s refusal to see himself as a sick man. After his discharge from the hospital, he immediately set about scheduling his follow up appointments, and then asked me to go for a walk with him. Walking around the block with my handsome dad, I felt the same pride I had as a child, watching him navigate the world with dignity, integrity, and quiet strength. I will root for him to make it to Thailand next year while helping him to see the preciousness of each new day before him. I also made a commitment to myself to not let things be left unsaid.
In honor of my dad, I will ask myself every morning. If today was my last day, who would I love, what would I not want left unsaid, and what would I be doing? How about you?