A river in winter with the Rocky Mountains in the background.

Imagine Your Last Day

Our lives are full of clichés: “I could drop dead tomorrow.”, “Nobody lives forever.” and “Live every day as if it were your last.” are just some of them. They are so much a part of the vernacular that we rarely appreciate the weight of these words or what they could mean to us.

Is a “Normal” Day a Good Last Day?

What if today was my last day? I am writing this in the evening. I can see a silent snowfall from my window. Family members are making noises in different parts of the house, the dishwasher is running, and the dogs are anxious to go for their nightly walk. Early this morning, I showered and dressed as I always do. I made coffee in the kitchen and sighed at the thought of having to make a school lunch AGAIN. Children – they need to eat every day. Who knew?

I saw some clients, took the dogs to their favourite park, had some meetings, ate dinner with the family and cleaned the kitchen.

Oh – and I am dreading my hydro bill next month after the most recent cold snap.
I forgot to call my friend back – and I promised I would. Today.
My stepson left the dinner table, angry, because I insisted on no cell phones at the table.

Seems like a normal day. Is it my last? And if it is, was it OK?
Yes, yes, it was.

If today is your last day, is it OK so far? Is it better than OK? Whether you are perfectly healthy and anticipating years of life ahead of you or diagnosed with a life-limiting illness and facing an uncertain future, “making every day count” is a common cliché. As cliché as it is, I believe it has some merit if we take it to heart.

Good Days Lead to a Good Death

As a death doula, I support people in having a “good death” – whatever that means for them. And if we all must have a last day, what can we do in the days, weeks, months and years leading up to our deaths to ensure those last moments are good?

Putting a little bit of delight in every day is a wonderful start. When I begin to work with a new client, one of the first things I do is identify a little daily delight. I encourage my clients to make room for their happiness. We want to start to do this now. Not when death is days, hours or moments away.

Good Days Require Effort

We can do the inner, spiritual work to find meaning in our lives and to invite peace and tranquillity into our hearts (more about that in another blog), and we can also do external work – to adorn our lives with little things that we absolutely love – and remove physical items that we don’t absolutely love. I recently came to the conclusion that I will never use all of my pretty Christmas ornaments and that someone else will really enjoy them. Off to the second-hand store they went, and now there is one less thing for my family to deal with when I am gone. I am mindful that my treasures are my family’s trash after I am gone, and I have started to do the work of curating my space and removing things I don’t use or don’t need. If you haven’t looked up Swedish Death Cleaning, I suggest you do. At the very least, you will have fewer things to dust.

And just as Swedish Death Cleaning is not something you ideally leave for other folks to do, planning for a good death is not something you need to wait for. You can feel more empowered in end-of-life by realizing that you have control over your senses and what you want around you.

Some Suggestions

Scent

What is your favourite scent? I love the smell of oranges, autumn in northern Ontario, and the warm scent of sweetgrass. I have a sweetgrass essential oil. Most days, I dab a drop of sweetgrass oil on my wrists between meetings and commitments, and my brain and body relax. It’s a five-second interlude on a busy day where I delight in something. I hope that someone puts some sweetgrass in my room as I am dying.

White Blossoms

Sound

What do you love to listen to? Is it the voice of a loved one? Rock music? The sound of the ocean? Your favourite music is medicine for your soul. Have you made yourself a playlist on YouTube or Spotify? And have you shared it with your loved ones?

Touch

What would you want to touch on your last day on earth? Is it the stuffed elephant your favourite aunt gave you when you were five or the baby blanket your grandmother made you? Is it a rosary? Is it the warm embrace of a sibling or a grandchild?

Sight

What do you love to see? Do you love to see your dog’s eyes looking back at you? The mountains or another favourite view? Do you love to see your bedroom – neat and clean and perfectly arranged? Make a wonderful sight a part of your precious day. Print and frame that photo you took of that purple-pink sunset.

Trees On The Horizon At Sunset

Taste

I have a client who is close to the end of life. She often asks for just a bit of lemon meringue pie or a nibble of a gingerbread cookie. Once in a while, we eat pierogies that I pick up at a local Ukrainian deli. She says her recipe for pierogi dough is the best, and she was kind enough to share it with me as part of her beautiful legacy. There is indeed a secret ingredient! 

If you had to have a “last meal, ” what would it be? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to enjoy your favourite flavours once a month or once every six months? 

Gratitude

Most of all, practice gratitude. Gratitude that you have had today. Gratitude that you had yesterday. Gratitude that you are free to be whoever you want when you wake up tomorrow. Gratitude even for the outrageous hydro bill – because that means you have electricity and are richer materially than 99% of humanity.

Gratitude | Louie Schwartzberg | TEDxSF

If you delight in even one of your senses and practice gratitude each day, I promise that today will be a very good last day.

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