If you watched Australian Story earlier this week, you would have seen the inspiring story of young Samuel Symons. Eldest son of Red and his wife Elly, Samuel died last week at the age of 27. He was first diagnosed with cancer at the age of four – but managed to live an extraordinary life nonetheless.
If you haven’t seen the show, you can find it on ABC’s iview platform.
Samuel lived virtually his whole life with the inevitability of death very much in his face. That said, he didn’t let it dominate his thinking: “I was too busy trying to stay alive and keep living, that I really just didn’t care about death, and never have and never will.” What a great way to be in the world.
Would that we could all care less about the prospect of dying. Maybe a lesson we can all take from young Samuel’s life is that it’s okay to think about death. Indeed, perhaps thinking about the inevitability of death can help us all live a fuller, deeper and more satisfying life.
As financial advisors – and especially as life insurance advisors – we know full well that talking about death can be difficult for many people. Sometimes, it almost seems like people think that talking about death will somehow make it happen! So, at the risk of sounding preachy, and without wanting to be morbid at all, why don’t you take some time to think about the fact that one day all of us will die? We promise this won’t make it happen.
The American author Stephen Covey suggests that a great way to give focus and meaning to your life is to imagine the eulogy at your own funeral. What would you want people to say about you at the end of your life? If we accept that people will only say those things if they are in fact true, then you can see how this little thinking experiment can bring meaning and focus to our life. If that is what I want people to think, then that needs to be the way that I live.
Another great way to become less fearful of dying is to read Australian nurse Bronnie Ware’s wonderful book ‘The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.’ Bronnie worked in palliative care, nursing people in the last months of their life. As you can imagine, this gave her the opportunity to have a lot of very deep and thoughtful conversations with her patients. From these conversations, she was able to distill things that people most regret not having done earlier in their lives.
We won’t spoil the whole book by telling you all five of them. But here are two that stood out for us. Many people regret having worked so much during their lives. We guess when you are faced with dying, and realise that you can’t take your money with you, you realise that it did not make sense to keep working if you already had enough. Secondly, many people regretted that they didn’t stay in touch with more of their friends. Perhaps they were too busy working! Like the others, these are simple regrets – and often regrets the can be simply avoided.
So, again without being morbid, why not spend a bit of time thinking about your own inevitable death. Obviously, we hope that that death will be many decades away. But realising that it will come one day will help you fill those decades with many years of wonder.