Many of you are familiar with the term “bucket list”. It’s a wish list of things people want to do or experience before they die – before they “kick the bucket”.
I recently came across what I find is a much more appropriate way of describing this – the list for living.
Isn’t it interesting that it takes most people a slap in the face and being told they have less time to live than the average person before they start figuring out what they’re all about and what they want from life?
This is usually when the bucket list comes into play, with people writing out what they want to do with the time they have left.
The thing is, we are all going to die. Some even sooner than those unfortunate enough to receive the bad news that they have cancer or a degenerative motor neurone disease that will kill them.
Everyday life and the most mundane of activities can lead to imminent death – for instance, traffic accidents, fire, or falling asleep and drowning in the bath. These things happen.
I spoke with a therapist recently who used to provide pallative care to people in the last stages of their life.
I wanted to know what people tend to do when they find out they have a short time left to live.
For example, if they are in a deeply unhappy marriage, and have young children, do they persist with the marriage in the hope that the children remember happy family times when they’re gone?
In other words, do people tend to choose a life of sacrifice for what they perceive as the greater good, or do they finally live a life true to themselves, throw in the metaphorical towel and play out their last few months as they wish?
And when they are faced with their dying moment, what clarity does death bring with it, and what do people tend to realise or regret?
The therapist told me this following story by way of reply.
She was with an elderly woman who was dying. This woman had always wanted to plant many colourful flowers and enjoy her garden. Her husband never allowed it. He wanted a flat lawn of grass – nothing else, and that’s how they lived.
The therapist was there when the woman went quiet, let out what she thought was her last breath, and the therapist was getting ready to call the nurse and leave. But then the woman opened her eyes and spoke.
She said she had been somewhere nice and light, and was asked how well she had loved. The woman then seemed to fall asleep again. The therapist waited. A while later, the woman woke up and said: “He asked me how well I had loved myself.” She then became agitated and slightly distressed. “I should have planted those flowers, I should have planted them.”
The woman died regretting not being true to herself and to what was important to her.
The thing about bucket lists is that they can seem to be rather consumer-orientated – a lot about sights and sensations and buying into things. Perhaps even buying your way out of how you’re feeling.
What’s really needed is for you to spend time with yourself – to be alone and figure out who and what you are; knowing the deep reality of yourself.
What’s important a lot of the time is experiences and simple things, not cramming stuff to do into your life. For instance, not swimming with dolphins or climbing a mountain.
I believe we should all make this list, and dedicate time to getting to know ourselves better. This isn’t me being morbid and homing in on death. It’s quite the opposite – I’m inviting you to start living.
Life is finite. Each of us has limited time, so why not live a deliberate, mindful life that we’ve thought through, and to be brave enough to pursue what’s important to us.
And yes, of course I’ll mention that what we do every day with our money either takes us closer to or farther away from what we really want. But first, spend time figuring out what that is.
Don’t wait for an encounter with death to decide how you want to live life with all its colour as well as drama.
Nima Abu Wardeh is the founder of the personal finance website www.cashy.me. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org