This is Your Last Day on Earth—Start Talking

Posted by on July 11, 2011

A few months back, my daughter and I were going to a tea house with her best friend and her best friend’s mom. We were early so we sat in the parking lot listening to a This American Life podcast while we waited.

I didn’t catch the whole story but it seemed to be about a dying mother who, thanks to annual letters she had written in advance to her daughter before she died, managed, for better or worse, to shape and impact her daughter’s life from beyond the grave.

Listening to this story made me sad. My own mom had died unexpectedly in an accident when I was 13. In all the years since her death, I’d only ever thought about all the things I’d never gotten to say to her. It NEVER ONCE occurred to me that maybe there were things she would have liked to have said to me before she died.

How is it possible that I’d  never considered this?

And it got me thinking of all the things I’d want my daughter and son to know if I was going to die tomorrow. For days afterward things popped into my mind faster than I could even remember them. I needed a BRAIN TIVO…

This thought process was sort of a living book of things both practical and sentimental—things needed to get by in life, things to prop you up when life is hard, things to remember when you doubt yourself and of course, innumerable smatterings of of “I love you” and “I’m proud of you.”

Here are just a few of the not-too-heavy ones:

  • Don’t air your dirty laundry or talk shit in public. You NEVER know who’s listening.
  • Think before you speak. This is a skill that will benefit you for the rest of your life.
  • People learn how to treat you FROM YOU. Teach them properly.
  • Don’t lend out books or clothes you can’t bear to live without because it’s very likely you’ll never get them back.
  • Look people in the eye when speaking to them. I know it’s hard sometimes but force yourself to do it.
  • Life can be horribly unfair sometimes. Do what you can to improve things and look for solutions instead of dwelling on the injustice of it all.
  • Everyone has problems. Just because you don’t know about them or see them doesn’t mean they don’t have them so don’t waste your time being envious of how great someone elses’ life SEEMS to be.
  • You can’t learn if you’re always talking—listen at least as much as you talk.
  • You’re stronger than you think and you will get through it, whatever it is.
  • Don’t waste time thinking you’re not smart enough, pretty enough or anything else enough. One day you’ll look back and kick yourself for wasting so much time not loving yourself just as you are.
  • The power of a smile cannot be overstated.

My intention was to start writing all these things down and then life got in the way and well, you know…it never got off the ground.

Like all the legal stuff I still haven’t gotten around to (living trust, guardianship, durable power of attorney, living will etc etc etc), it’s on my to-do list (and I could use a little ass-kicking if you don’t mind).

But more than that, if you knew you were not long for this world, what words of wisdom, love, caution. advice etc would you want to leave behind for your children, both now and as they grow up?

Obviously, you’d tell them you love them but what else?

If you’d rather write about this on your own site, come back and share the link in the comments.


26 Comments

  • Laurie says:

    I would want my most special people — my parents, sister, brother-in-law, cousins, aunts, uncles, close friends — to know that it was just them existing, the day-to-day of that, that made them special to me. People worry so much about what they do and don’t know, that a lot of times we forget to just be.

    That said, looking back over the past 40 years, I’d want the young kids I know to a. take more chances before they’re tied down so they can figure out what they really want to do. Don’t worry about hte perfect job or house or partner by the age of 25. Take the internship. Take the job in California. Try it out. You can always come home. And b. HAVE MORE FUN. Don’t worry so much. Have fun when you can, real fun. Enjoy life.

    There is always another day to worry, and when the real hammer comes down — illness, loss, pain, death — that’s when it comes most clear that the little day to day stuff was just the tiniest of potatoes.

    Dig? (So now I follow my own advice as often as possible and have as much fun as I can , because I’m not dead yet. ;))

    • IzzyMom says:

      I totally agree with having fun before settling down. I did that and by the time I got married, I was totally ready for the stability and predictability of marriage. Also, not sweating having it all together by 25…I totally DID do that and for what? I ended up staying home with my kids anyway!

  • Suebob says:

    I love Laurie. That is all.

  • Suebob, I second what Laurie said too. :-)

    Love this post! You’ve got me thinking…

    • IzzyMom says:

      Would love to hear your thoughts. I’m hoping listening to what everyone else is saying will spur me along to start AND finish this still-merely-a-concept project!

  • NatashaB40 says:

    Let the drama go. Don’t live in the regrets and what ifs. Live every day like it’s your last, because you never know. Love with all of your heart whenever the opportunity presents itself. Be true to yourself and confident in who you are – there’s no one else like you. Trust your intuition; it will save you! Know that in everything you do and no matter what decision you make that you are loved, always.

  • Jared Karol says:

    For me, this is simple. . . since my kids are only two, I would leave a note that said “always do what you think is the right thing to do and don’t let that be influenced by how many people agree with you” and then as they grow up they’ll define for themselves what that means. Thanks for this post–got me thinking!

  • slouchy says:

    I’d want to tell them never to live their lives for anyone but themselves.

    • IzzyMom says:

      I think that’s one that bears repeating over and over, although if I told it to my daughter and didn’t die, she’d probably throw it back in my face as kids love to do if it suits their agenda :)

  • roo says:

    At this point, it’s entirely possible that, were we to have one of those terrible TV hospital drama moments, my son might live even if I died.

    In that case, I’d want him to know how much I wished I’d had a chance to hold him, and that I loved him for forever, even though we’d never met.

    And… I need to stop writing this now, because it’s making me cry.

    • IzzyMom says:

      Sorry for making you cry. The TAL podcast made me cry, too. I think it’s a pretty heavy topic that most people don’t want to think about (right up there with wills and guardianship designations).

  • sheenramirez says:

    I like your post here. I actually am afraid to think about this but let’s face the fact that we don’t know our limit.

  • yves leopold germaine says:

    Sorry to hear that your mother passed at such a young age. This is a touching story, Just like the “P.S. I Love You” movie. The late husband, before he passed wrote to his wife every single day how he loved her and that he’ll know she would have a difficult time moving on with life without him. He knew his wife very well. It’s very touching how people could love and care so much for their love ones. However, I do agree with NatashaB40′s point of view. Live life the the fullest and love like there’s no tomorrow! :)

  • Meagan says:

    What a great thing to think about! Thank you for sharing!

  • Beth says:

    Here’s one for you. The morning before Katie was born, as we were leaving, I stopped, turned around, and wrote Ben a quick note. I don’t know why I did it, but I felt like I absolutely had to write him a letter and I did. Not twelve hours later, I was bleeding out, they were trying to put in a central line and I ended up on a ventilator and in the ICU for several days.

    I will NEVER know what compelled me to stop to write that letter, but that experience has made me acutely aware of recording both of their histories and writing to who they will be as well as to who they are. I want them to know what they were like as kids and I want their kids to know what they were like as kids. If I’m not here to tell the tales, what I’ve written for them will be :)

    • IzzyMom says:

      Holy mother of all things good & decent… If that’s not the ass-kicking I asked for then I just don’t know. Thanks you for sharing this, Beth.

  • “People learn how to treat you FROM YOU. Teach them properly”

    I hope it’s okay but I’m stealing this one.

    The one I preach constantly is that there are consequences for every choice you make both good and bad so think about what your willing to live with when you make your decision.

    Just before my first son was born I read somewhere that this was the greatest lesson a father could pass on to his children. It’s always stuck we me.

  • Bethany says:

    I see what you mean. There is so much practical stuff I’d love to tell my kids—things that took me a lifetime to learn that I’d want them to know if I wasn’t there to lecture them about it ad infinitum.

    -The right thing is almost never the easiest thing. Do it anyway.
    -You catch more flies with sugar than vinegar
    -Attitude is everything
    -Don’t participate in gossip. It always comes back to bite you in the butt.
    -To my daughter, you don’t have to be “nice” and take shit just because you’re a girl. Society tells you that and it’s crap. Stand up for yourself.

  • Bethany says:

    Oh and here’s your kick in the ass: Do all that legal stuff, IzzyMom. You’ll sleep better knowing it’s all taken care of.

  • Headless Mom says:

    This is great. I’m getting a writing bug so I may partake. I’ll let you know.

    My fave? “People learn how to treat you FROM YOU. Teach them properly”

    I wish I could beat that into a few people’s heads.

  • beta dad says:

    I remember that episode of TAL. It was pretty crazy! And awesome, like every other episode.

    Man, this is some heavy stuff to think about. I might have to write a post and link it. If I can remember to get around to it. It’s a great idea for a project in introspection!

  • Sharon says:

    Awesome, thought-provoking post. Thanks for making me think about all this.

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