How Death Can Breathe New Life Into Your Relationships
Let me ask you…
When you’re really sick, who do you want by your side?
When I was young, I often got mind-numbingly painful migraines. In those moments, I wanted nothing more than my mom to sit by my bed and massage my forehead until it felt better.
When I was in my early 20s, I got a terrible case of swine flu. At that time, I just wanted to be left alone which then made me realize the girl I was dating probably wasn’t the one for me.
Now in my early 30s, I’ve had to be admitted to the hospital for severe dehydration after a bad reaction to anesthesia. What made me feel better was having my wife right by my side.
When you’ve come face-to-face with death, what really matters?
When I was 21 years old, I was racing another car down I-95 south of Boston in the rain. As I rounded a curve, I faced dead-stop traffic going well over the speed limit. I had no time to slow down and plowed into the car in front of me and my car flipped through the air.
Then my car wrapped around an enormous tree in someone’s backyard and smashed into their fence. Every area of the car was destroyed — except for my driver’s seat.
Thankfully, no one else was injured by my foolish and irresponsible driving.
So what was I thinking as I was gliding through the air, facing certain death? What did I think when I stepped out and had to figure out what to do next?
I felt an overwhelming wave of contempt for the unethical people I worked for. This led to me quitting that job and pursuing what I do today, full-time.
At the end of the book, he talks about how he almost died at the top of a mountain. And it was that moment that finally made him realize that he wanted to fully commit to one woman, who is now his wife. Let’s just say I was crying on my long flight home after reading that one.
If you’ve had similarly intense experiences, you’ve also probably gained some life-altering insight.
Because I’ve found that somehow in those overwhelming moments of misery when you shouldn’t be able to think straight, you find perfect clarity.
That’s why I believe that the acceptance (or at least the awareness) of death can help us prioritize what matters — the relationships we have.
How can you use tragedy to gain clarity?
Without tragedy, I don’t think we truly understand the importance of our relationships. We don’t fully accept how fragile and fleeting they really are. We don’t feel a sense of urgency to invest in those connections.
And I want that to change.
So in lieu of suffering through real-life traumatic events, I just want you to use your imagination. (This is a variation of an exercise suggested by my colleague, Jason.)
Close your eyes and picture yourself sick on your deathbed…
Who do you wish was there holding your hand? Whose energy in the room would bring you a sense of calm and relief? Who would you miss deeply if they stepped out of the room?
Really put yourself there and try to feel the weight of the emotional weight of these experiences — even for just a couple minutes.
Who are you thinking of? It could just be one or two people.
Maybe it’s your partner. Or your childhood best friend or college buddy. Maybe it’s your kids.
This is who really matters.
(Note: If this exercise doesn’t work for you, imagine someone else you know on their deathbed. Who you want to be with in their final moments?)
How do you spend quality time with the people you love?
I want you to reach out to those people right now, today. Not tomorrow or later this week. It takes a few seconds to send a text and start a communication channel.
Then I want you to make plans to spend quality time together, face-to-face.
Even if they are far away, you can start with a phone call right now to plan out when you’re going to take a future trip to see each other.
Then put these plans somewhere concrete, like in your phone calendar. Send a calendar invite to the other person if you have to. Set extra reminders to go off for yourself.
Then commit to seeing them.
When you do see that person you care about, remember that you’re supposed to spend QUALITY time with them.
That means you’re fully present and not half-checked out. That means having a real date night with your wife where you actually sit together and have a conversation — not hang out at the dinner table independently on your phones.
Quality time means deepening the connection with that person by showing them a real part of you that they haven’t seen before. Or really digging into what’s been going on in their lives and how they’re feeling.
In life’s toughest moments, we realize people are our solace. But please don’t wait until you’re sick or near-death to start cherishing those relationships.
I’ve watched a lot of people I know get sick or pass away in the last few years. Those experiences make it crystal fucking clear what really matters most.
Because you can always stream that show later. You can always read that article tomorrow. You can always get back to your social media feed.
You know what you can’t get back? The time you wished you spent with someone special.
I’ve definitely regretted the times where I binged a TV series or put dozens of hours into a game. But I’ve never regretted spending quality time with the people I care about. Not once.