What you think about when you’re dying

Dateline May 22, 2016: Before I write this, just to be clear, on most days and times I’m not laying in bed waiting to die. But, there have been somewhere between 20-30 times where I have laid down in bed not knowing if I’d ever get up again. Five of those times I passed out. Recent lab tests also show that I may have something called a paraganglioma, which doctors refer to as a “pharmacologic time bomb.”

So while I’m not laying on my death bed 24x7, I can tell you what my thoughts have been when I laid there, now knowing if I was about to pass out or die.

A will

First, because I have a little bit of money (not a lot, but some), my initial thought was, “If I live through this, I need to have a Will drawn up so I can control how my money is disbursed when I die.” So that was a first thing I did. I’ve also lived long enough to revise it once. The first Will was, “I need to get this done asap, here are my rushed thoughts,” and my second one more accurately reflects what I want after a little more consideration.

There’s only this moment

The second thing I can say is that all you really have is this moment. Even if you’re not into Zen and mindfulness, that statement is true. I’ve passed out five times now, and all I try to do in those last moments is to pay attention to the present moment, whatever it is. The first time it was like, “Oh, f---, what’s going on?,” and subsequent events were more of, “Just breathe ... just now, what do you smell? ... what do you hear?”

If you’ve ever worked in a job where you were the last person out of the building, and right before you left you would look around, then turn off the lights and close the door, that moment is just like that, except that this time when you close the door, you’ll be closing it for the last time. When this happend last week I thought about the movie, The Family Man, and how Nicolas Cage took his dog for a long walk, then sat in a chair near the end of the movie, trying not to fall asleep. What you go through is just like that.


A by-product of having only this moment is that when things are at their worst, I appreciate things in the current moment more than ever. A big one for me is listening to my favorite music, where the thought is, “If I’m doing to die, I’d like to go out with this song playing.” For other people it may be reading a book or poetry, enjoying a favorite food, or something else, but I think the underlying theme is enjoying whatever it is that you enjoy, with an extreme appreciation for it.

Memories and regrets

If you’re really paying 100% attention to the present moment, there is no room for thinking. But ... if and when you do find yourself thinking about things, I’ve found that my thoughts are:

  • Thinking back to pleasant memories in my life. Playing baseball, sleeping in the girls dormitory in college, bartending, selling my business and wandering around Alaska, helping other people. In my life it basically comes down to memories of friends and experiences. (And a few dogs, like Zeus.)
  • Regrets about things I haven’t done. For me, most of those are related to people in my life I wish I had spent more time with, or wishing that I could have helped more people.

An important part of “regrets” is that I never thought, “I wish I had worked more,” or, “I wish I had kept my house/apartment cleaner,” things like that. If I have any regrets, they are about not spending more time with people I care about, and not doing things I enjoy doing.

(I’m sure it’s also very possible to have regrets for things that you have done. I’m sorry to drag my dad into this, but I have to believe he had regrets for some of the things he did.)

A series of moment strung together

What I can tell you from my own experience is that life is a series of moments that are strung together, and one day that string comes to an end. If you have time to think in those moments just before the end, you’ll find yourself reflecting back on those moments, primarily the pleasant memories and the regrets. Hopefully you will have used your moments wisely.

All of that being said, I hope to be writing this blog for another decade or two, but if not, that’s what I can share with you today.

The last thing I’ll say is something that I learned many years ago: If your best moments are sitting on your couch and watching television, you really need to get the hell out of the house and get a life, before you no longer have a life. As a wise man once said, “The trouble is, you think you have time.” For God’s sake, whatever your fears are, make a Bucket List and get out there and make some memories.