obituaries

Starting a New Year with Death

Do you read the obituaries? I do. In fact, I do it very often.

I have a habit of reading the obituaries. It’s weird, I know – it’s not a common past time for most people. Before you strike me off as another nut case, please hear me out.

Each time I read the obituaries, I will look out for young faces, people in their twenties, thirties and even forties. With an average mortality rate of between 70 to 80 years, these folks had a really short life. It’s such a shame.

OBITUARIES ARE REMINDERS

Each time, I’ll ask myself what it feels like to be in prime of your life and have it ended prematurely. Did they feel shortchanged by life? Did they feel any regret about dreams still unfulfilled? I guess if given another chance, they would probably want to change something; maybe go and actually do something that they have been dreaming of, but never really got around to doing. Maybe they like to tell someone how much he/she mean to them.

Reading the obituaries is a constant reminder to me that our time is limited; a reminder for me to appreciate life, to love life.

It’s also a reminder to me to go out there and do the things that really matter. Maybe I should stop playing it safe. Maybe I need to take some risk and hopefully do something remarkable. Maybe I’ll fail. Maybe I’ll succeed. I don’t know. But I know that as long as I don’t try, I won’t know. I certainly wouldn’t want to die one day thinking “if only I had tried…”

DEATH’S MESSAGE TO US

I’m 30 this year, and I expect to have at least another good 30 years to go before my time is up. However, I am also keenly aware that the outcome of this expectation is not up to me to decide. I can be gone anytime, maybe tomorrow.
Fortunately, I have a few encounters with death throughout my life:

  • When I was four, my father passed away due to heart disease. He was in his thirties. That was my first encounter with death.
  • My uncle died in his thirties as well.
  • My aunt died of a rare illness in her forties.
  • A friend’s sister died of bone cancer – she was not even twenty.
  • An ex-schoolmate of mine collapsed while running. He never woke up. He was twenty-seven.

Yes, you didn’t read wrongly – I said ‘fortunately’. Through these encounters, I have learned that death is a very real thing. It’s not something that just happens to somebody else only. It can happen to you and people around you.

I’ve come to appreciate the message that Death gives us – our time is limited, value it. No matter who you are, what you do, the color of your skin, or the amount of wealth in your bank account, we all share a common destiny – the appointment with Death.

DEATH IS POSITIVE, REALLY!

The topic of death is still a taboo in our society. I guess most people don’t like to talk about this eventuality as there is a lot of negativity surrounding it. I can certainly understand the discomfort to discuss this openly.

By talking about the social taboo – death around the New Year period, I’m taking a risk. Indeed, I am. But I feel it’s important to get the message out.

The New Year is the time when many people are having a fresh, new start. It’s the time to review the past and look forward to achieving more in the coming year. It’s the time to anticipate, be eager and positive; not to be talking about something as solemn as death.

I disagree.

Death does not need to be negative. It’s like a glass half filled with water; you can either see it as half empty, or half full. Yes, death can be positive as well.

When viewed as half glass full, death helps us to prioritize the truly important things. It also gives us the much needed kick-in-the-butt.

THE MYTH OF ‘SOMEDAY’

For me, death has taught me to appreciate the value of time. It has also taught me to stop putting off important things to ‘someday’. Maybe some of the following will be familiar to you:

  • Someday, I will go on a nice holiday with my family.
  • Someday, I will go have a heart-to-heart chat with my Dad/Mom.
  • Someday, I will travel the world.
  • Someday, I will do a job that I love.

Sometimes, for some people, ‘someday’ never arrive.

I remember the last time I saw my ex-schoolmate who collapsed and died, was at a wedding. When parting, I said we should really catch up and chat over coffee someday. Although we really wanted to catch up, it was a casual comment which I soon forget. It was back to life as normal and the usual hassle-bassle of my life took my focus away.

A few months later, I received a phone call and the news of his death. Funny, the next time I saw my friend was at his funeral.

Indeed, for some people, ‘someday’ never arrives.

STARTING THE NEW YEAR WITH DEATH IN MIND

My friend, as you go about setting goals and resolutions for the New Year, bear in mind Death’s message and stop putting things off to someday.

  • Write down your list of things that you have been putting off.
  • Write down another list of things you want to STOP doing.Write down also the action plan to stop doing these:
    • Pay someone else to do it.
    • Delegate to someone else in your team to do it.
    • Negotiate with a teammate who’s willing and happy to do it.
    • Just stop doing it.
  • Take out your calendar and schedule those things you want to do into a specific date (hopefully not too far from now).
  • Talk to your family and friends about your dream and your resolution. Commit yourself. Put yourself on the line by announcing to the whole world what you plan to do.
  • Take small and incremental actions starting today to fulfill those resolutions:

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

  • Don’t be afraid. Don’t think “what if I fail?” – it cannot be as bad as “if only I had tried…”

With that, I hope that 2008 will be a more fruitful and meaningful year for you. Happy New Year!

Lawrence Cheok writes about living a balanced life and provides tips to improve your career, relationships and money at A Long Long Road. Other than writing, Lawrence does business development and project management in his day job.