(Heavy topics ahead – death, regrets, the meaning of one’s life. It’s OK if you want to come back to this later!)
Part of this month’s set of goals is an end-of-life checkup, or as I like to call it, a “deathwalk.”
Having taken my first in 2018, it changed my life. Here’s how I do mine so maybe something similar will change your life too.
A deathwalk shouldn’t take more than a weekend, maybe even a day. I’ve already done mine in March and the majority of my revelations came in a night and a morning – everything else was exploring the best ways to fulfill those things!
My first deathwalk was with a great friend who talked me through imagining my own intimate ceasing, but it required a lot of exposure of thoughts and admittance of stark failures and regrets. Not everyone has such friends or should put such friends through that. For me nowadays, a journal is an excellent place to dump thoughts out, draw maps of meaning, and record lists of what could make the last days of a life worth living.
The privacy in a journal is nice, too, since deathwalks can be very emotional times 😭 But please, don’t get lost on the walk – it can seem overwhelming (death, time spent so far), so keep in mind that without obligations, so much can be reclaimed! You are the ultimate decider of change for your life, so nothing has the power to overwhelm without your say-so. (And it isn’t really real – you’ll live for a long-time yet!)
The aim of a deathwalk is to explore oneself to figure out what and who is important with limited time left. It requires a fair amount of convincing yourself that you really are to die (I mean, you’ve gotten at least this far).
Some imaginative steps that help me are to think of coming home from a doctor giving the Nth-opinion that yes, your illness, though without symptoms, is incurable and will claim you in a short time.
I avoid thinking of world-ending events (e.g. asteroid) because that would affect how others act too. Here, I think of a permanence in the world, that those I care for will continue on for at least a while after my death.
One day left alive is too short – why not just do all the vices available and give over to hedonism? A year is too long (read any statistic showing how New Years resolutions repeat), let alone the unimaginable length that is a lifetime.
Three months, a season, seems the most doable option. There’s enough time to travel, visit people and place but not everyone everywhere, prepare affairs, and settle in for what would be, well, the end.
While airing out the bucket-list, this is a time to keep three things in mind:
- There are only three months to do things in.
- You won’t be 100% efficient with your time (and who wants to rush when they’re dying?).
- You have the assets and means you do (i.e. money in the bank) – this likely means no visiting the Moon in the timespan, and serves as a cap on expectations.
I put together top-10 lists for different aspects of my life this most recent deathwalk. However, knowing how long they would take, I had to cut to top-4. Further, with a little googled estimation, I could confirm how much each thing cost to make sure I was betting on realistic assumptions vs. shooting for the Moon.
One of the biggest things overlooked is the legal aspect of death. Long story short, when arrangements are missing, it’s a mess at best, traumatic and frustrating at average.
Get a list of all your assets together and where they are. Do the same for your liabilities. Write up your passwords and usernames for different services and social medias. Let a handful (literally five or fewer, but more than one) of your most trusted confidants know where they could find this information.
Go one step further at your earliest opportunity to legally draft, sign, and witness a Last Will and Testament through a lawyer. It’ll cost a few hundred dollars, but you are making sure 1) a legally professional format and wording is used, 2) a copy is kept at a legal office, and 3) the professional can help pen Living Wills and funeral arrangements!
Keep your info up to date! Take me: I made my Will three years ago. Reading through it again, everything is in order, except my passwords were old and my list of tangible assets (the list that says “X thing goes to Y person”) was never filled out!
Shame on me. Don’t let it be a shame on you to do this necessary chore. Be the person that reduces the suffering of others after your passing.
After getting the chores out of the way, a deathwalk addresses who should be included in the last months. The figures that first come to mind are usually the 90% of folks who would be the right people to at least see. Commit to seeing them now, or at least plan the steps necessary to go to them should the deathwalk come to pass in reality.
It might also come to mind people not seen or talked to in a while – these folks ought to be reached out to. If that’s a bit too much, such as if the last parting was antagonistic, write letters to them.
Whoever is thought of, write letters to them. Apologize. Get down how much they mean to living and have changed life. Then put the letters away without sending them, somewhere where they can be found and mailed should three months have been a generous estimate.
In this way, affairs with others are put in order.
What do you want to do?
Seems easy, right? Ask it again: What do you want to do with only what’s left to you?
Here is where some serious trimming comes in. What do you feel obliged to do (other than getting your paperwork in order)? Scratch those. What is a might be what you want to do? Nix those too. Sometimes a list of things not to do can be more valuable than picking between what to do.
What’s helped me is to look back on what has brought the most passion, the most feeling, the most blissful, forgetful joy. Those are better guarantees for enjoyment than many hypothetical experiences. (e.g. A trip to a new country is outweighed by re-watching that feel-good film from childhood.)
And of course, there’s what’s on your mind already. How would you spend your next Tuesday if there were no obligations for it? Keep those allures close.
Be prepared to cut the least important things for the most important things. Remember: There are only three months left and only so much funding.
After figuring out how to spend the next three months and a well-deserved breather, look ahead.
Keeping the findings of the three-month deathwalk in mind, what is to be made of the rest of life? Preferably, the themes of the deathwalk percolate forward for years.
Regardless, the exercise certainly will have shown things that are weak in life. Is the 9-to-5 worth the effort being put in? Statistics would say no-way.
Undoubtedly, some changes will be uncovered that ought to be made. Figure out how to make the transitions necessary to secure that preferable life. It may not come today or next month or possibly even this year, but walking the long-term to death will show a better way forward than what’s present.
It’s important to live a life worth living, and nothing puts living in perspective like the prospect of timely, tangible death. To prepare for that eventuality, deathwalks expose what needs to be put in order to make the most of our time for ourselves and others.
Deathwalks have served me greatly, changing the very foundation of how I live my life. Only being human, I forget at times and fall into ruts that were not dug for me, so periodic reacquisitions of perspective are a necessity. Like visiting a doctor, visiting ourselves is a huge part of wellness.
This entire post has been pretty high-level, and for that, apologies! The intimate nature of “going for a walk” demands it, but if you’d have more to add, or have done similar things in your life, please share! I super-enthusiastic to know how others go about finding themselves and putting necessary things first.
Thanks for getting through the content! Will aim for something more blissful next time. With that, cheers!