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Living A Year As If It Were Your Last

Carpe Diem. FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). No matter how you phrase it, the meaning is the same – live every day as if it were your last. It’s a sentiment we all know. Yet few of us truly embrace it. But inevitably, life comes to an end. If we never face that simple truth, we may not be living up to our full potential.

More importantly, we may find ourselves unfulfilled when the time comes to leave it. Learning you have only a limited time to live changes everything. It forces us to re-examine our life and the choices we make. It's terrifying and can push us into fear and chaos.

However, it can also help us choose to live more meaningfully and with purpose. Whether you are facing a deadly prognosis with limited time left or if you want to embrace your life to the fullest, this is the guide for you.

Why Should You Live Your Life As If It Were Ending?

“I wish I had more time.” That is one of the things most common sentiments expressed by those faced with a terminal illness. It’s natural to feel that way, especially faced with the inevitability of that time coming to a definitive end.

When you consider how to live as if you were ending, it's crucial to understand the purpose of doing it. The best thing we can do with our time on Earth is to live well. What that means to each of us is just as unique as we are to one another.

However, at the heart of it, there is a single core desire. We all want to live a meaningful life. When we face the possibility that any day may be our last, it's time we start prioritizing our time to make that desire a reality.

It's equally important to understand what this kind of life is not. This guide isn't advocating for you to quit your job and ignore your responsibilities. Living your life as if this were your last chance doesn’t mean ignoring the consequences of your actions or making choices that will hurt others. It is the opposite.

This experience should be about embracing your life and renewing yourself and your connection with the world around you. The most important aspect of this philosophy is to embrace the present while being aware of how our actions today are building toward the future, even if it’s one without us in it.

How Should You Prioritize Your Time?

As soon as you choose to live as if this were the last year of your life, everything changes. Giving thought to the end of your life seriously – especially if you have limited time – changes how you perceive it.

It comes with a new set of challenges, concerns, and a shift in priorities. Any way you do look at your situation, it’s time to consider those priorities.

Preparing for the end of your life is a challenging prospect for even the most well-organized person. It can become overwhelming if you aren't cautious, especially when you haven't given yourself a chance to prepare.

One way you can learn to prioritize is to break down items into smaller, simple tasks. You can separate priorities into two categories: your needs and your wants. By focusing on each type separately, you can organize based on what you need to do and then by importance.

PRIORITIZE YOUR NEEDS

Needs are crucial tasks you need to complete. They are necessary to planning your end-of-life care, your future, and the future of your loved ones. These are things that can have repercussions on others as well as yourself.

Many of these won't feel important now but can have lasting effects beyond your lifespan. We're going to go over a few that should give you a great place to start with your planning.

Financial Affairs

The simplest place to start with assessing your needs is with the financial aspect. Do you have a will? It's the most important document you will ever write.

A will is a legal document that expresses how your property should be distributed after your death. It also defines which person – known as the executor - should manage the property until it is distributed and carry out your final wishes. While some people might think a will is only something wealthy people should consider, this is not true.

Without a will, your property will be handed out depending on the laws and regulations in the state where you reside. Whatever the state decides for this distribution, it likely won't be what you desire or, in the worst-case scenario, it could even be the opposite of what you had in mind.

These decisions can include dividing your property between your surviving spouse and your children unequally, they may disregard any wishes to give funds to charity, and your property may even pass on to the state instead of any intended recipients.

In short, a will is an incredibly important document that you should consider writing as soon as possible. Want to know more about writing your will? Check out our Writing Your Last Will and Testament Guide.

End Of Life Care

If you know that you have a limited time left to live, you need to consider what that means for your future. Specifically, you should start researching what your diagnosis or situation will mean moving forward. Knowing what to expect, including physical or mental changes, can give you a better idea of how much assistance you'll need in both the short and long term.

It also lets you make decisions about your treatment plans now instead of in the future when you may or may not be able to make them for yourself.

End-of-life care includes these basics as well as decisions about possible hospice care, where you would like to die, and any other major decisions. Making these plans early helps your family or any potential caretakers make sure your wishes are respected.

Pre-Planning Your Funeral

No one enjoys planning any funeral, but this is an important task that you should have a hand in deciding for yourself. Would you like a traditional burial? Would you prefer cremation? What about choosing your urn? What kind of funeral would you like – a religious ceremony or perhaps something small at home? 

There are many options available to you, so take your time and explore any that might suit your needs. Pre-planning a funeral may seem difficult now but there are many guides, including our own – DIY Guide to Planning Your Funeral – that can help take the stress and guesswork out of the process.

You may find that you don’t have many strong feelings about the matter. That’s okay, too. Just know that it can help your loved ones extensively if you have a plan in place for them to follow even if they are grieving after you pass.

Guardianship Of Dependents/Pets

This is another reason to consider writing a will. If you have children – or even a beloved pet – it is important to consider what will happen to them after your death. Who would you choose as their guardian? Who would you not want to be given legal custody of them? These two questions are equally important once to consider when you come to this point.

Without a will and if there is no living parent, any children could become dependents of the state instead of being placed in the care of a chosen guardian. Even if you have a surviving spouse, they may have to go to court to be appointed the guardian of a minor child, despite any prior relationship with them.

This is also an issue when it comes to any pets you have as well. It’s highly unlikely you would like to see your beloved dog returned to a shelter.

Organ Donation

This is fairly self-explanatory. You can donate any organ or tissues – including your brain, heart, and even your bone – to medical science after your death.

If you would like to do so, make sure you register as a donor. Another route, should you be interested, is Donating Your Body to Science.

PRIORITIZE YOUR WANTS

Once you have settled your legal necessities, you can think about the things you want to do with your time remaining. With the needs taken care of, you’ll find it easier to focus on these things and to make a plan for the other important aspects in your year of living like it’s your last. To help you prioritize these wants for yourself, try asking these questions:

What Is Most Important To You?

When you consider it, this isn’t an easy question to answer for most of us. We may wonder how to make a list of all the things in life we hold dear. Take your time with this. Previous answers probably won’t be ranked the same. Some may not even make the list at all.

There is no right answer to this question, as ultimately it comes down to your needs and wants as well as where your priorities shift. For this, you don’t need to focus on concrete desires as much as your family, career, experiences, or any other broad strokes.

What Things Do You Want To Accomplish?

What do you want to do with your year? If you could make one thing happen, what would it be? Asking yourself that question can help you discover what is most important to you and, in the process, discover what you'd like to do with the time you have left.

It's time to consider all those things you've been putting off “until things have settled down” or “until I have time.” This is the time to get started.

What Do You Want To Do With The Last Year Of Your Life?

As you’ve likely guessed, reprioritizing your life comes with examining how you’ve been living and then determining how you want to live going forward. For many, this involves the creation of a bucket list. A bucket list is a colloquial term for several experiences or achievements that a person wishes to accomplish throughout their lifetime. Many of us have a mental list to take stock of these things. For others, the. bucket list is a physical list of items we check off as we accomplish them over time.

Creating a bucket list can be a great exercise in prioritizing the things you want to accomplish and determining what is most important to you. It can also help you learn to move forward from the past and look ahead into the present and the future. Remember, much of this philosophy is learning to live a meaningful life.

Part of our guide to making the most out of your year of living as if it were your last is helping you discover which of these things are most important to you as well as helping you achieve them. That's why we have some suggestions for you to consider when you are making your list.

Some of these suggestions fall along the lines of a traditional bucket list. Others, you may find, are not quite so physical experience-oriented. Here are some of the many ways you can live your life in a way that gives meaning while still indulging in all those little things that makes it worth living.

1. VISIT SOMEPLACE NEW (OR OLD)

Have you ever dreamed of seeing Paris? Tokyo? Barcelona? Or even visited the opposite shore of your own country to feel the sand between your toes? Many of us do, and yet many of us will never take that plunge.

Travel is one of the most common items on a person’s bucket list, as there are few among us who wouldn’t like to experience an adventure at least once in our lives. Maybe it’s time to do just that. Take the trip you’ve been planning for years (even if it was just in your head).

You don't have to spend your life savings on an expensive, decadent globe-trotting adventure to satisfy this urge. With a little patience and some careful planning, you would be surprised at the traveling you can accomplish on little more than a shoe-string budget!

An adventure doesn’t necessarily mean visiting someplace new, either. It can be something as simple as returning somewhere meaningful to you – or your entire family – to experience the pleasure it brings to you one more time.

2. START A JOURNAL

As you find yourself facing the beginning of this journey, there is a lot to process. You'll work through your wants, needs, and responsibilities waiting for you. You'll process confusion, anxiety, and a lot of other overwhelming emotions. That's where the importance of starting a journal comes in.

It can only do you good to record your highs and lows as they occur. It doesn’t need to be a daily affair to be effective. It only matters that you write down your thoughts consistently.

Journaling gives a written record to look back upon and reflect as you move forward through your journey.

Rereading what you've written in the past can give you greater insight into your emotions, as well as how far you've come. It allows you to look at your accomplishments and put them in perspective, especially when you may be struggling through the day.

3. WRITE THAT BOOK

Another popular bucket list item is a simple one. Finish your manuscript. Whatever you've been writing or even have rattling around in your head – this is the time to finish it.

It may be a chapbook of poetry you've never let anyone see. You could be spinning a traditional whodunit crime thriller mystery. Perhaps you've always wanted to create an epic fantasy world filled with battles between good and evil.

There is no project too small or too large. We all have something worth saying, even if we only do it for ourselves. Sit down and write. What do you have to lose?

4. FINISH THAT ONE THING

We all have unfinished business hanging over us. What have you been putting off? There are always things weighing on our minds and affecting our mental health.

It's time to take a look at those half-finished projects, old promises, things left unsaid, and things you've been putting off indefinitely. Write them down, look at the things you may regret not getting done, and then make plans to do them. You'll feel better without it weighing you down.

5. LEARN A LANGUAGE

One thing many people regret doing is not taking the time to learn more. Choosing to learn a new language is both fun and challenging.

You may consider one that is practical in your everyday life. It may be one spoken around you or one that could even help your career prospects. You may choose a language close to your personal history, perhaps one that your ancestors would have spoken.

Alternatively, you can choose the one you've always liked or been fascinated by in the past. It doesn't need to be practical to be fun. The point is to find something you enjoy and want to do.

6. PICK UP A HOBBY YOU'VE ALWAYS ADMIRED

If you've ever told yourself that you couldn't possibly do something because you aren't skilled in it or could never be skilled in it, stop doing that. Here is the secret no one tells you – no one is simply good at something.

Musicians, artists, and writers may make it look easy but they will be the first to tell you that skill at any time comes with hours and practice and taking the time to learn how to do it right.

There is no end to the things you can learn to do no matter what age you are. Maybe you’d like to paint, garden, or even pick up woodworking. What is holding you back from doing it? Even the most expensive hobbies have some entry-level leeway to learning to do it on your own. After all, you need to look no further than YouTube to find tutorials on just about everything.

7. PLAN YOUR MEMORIAL

There is nothing to say that you can't plan your memorial while you are still living. It gives you the chance to decide what you want and, more importantly, how you would like to be remembered. You can choose a venue, music, and even how many people you’d like to have there.

You can incorporate many things into your memorial, including the creation of a memorial keepsake that you can give your loved ones now or leave for them when the time comes. One of the most distinctive types of keepsakes is thumbprint jewelry. It is a subtle, custom piece of jewelry that uses your unique thumbprint to craft a custom item that leaves a piece of yourself with your loved ones after you are gone.

You can create a simple pendant with only your fingerprint – this thumbprint pendant for example - or you can incorporate your signature into the design like this Signature Oval Thumbprint Pendant. It offers your loved ones a unique way to remember you that they can keep close at all times. 

For more information about thumbprint jewelry, check out our article - Giving the Unique Gift of a Fingerprint.

8. WRITE YOUR AUTOBIOGRAPHY

Tell your story as only you can. How many stories have you never had the chance to tell anyone else? What pieces of your family history do you feel others should know? This is the perfect time to share all those family stories and beloved memories that make up your life.

No one’s life is “too boring” or uninteresting. Everyone has a story to tell – why not tell yours? Even if you won't publish it, you can leave your autobiography to your family and those who love you.

Don't doubt for a moment that they won’t cherish such an amazing and insightful gift. You will leave behind a piece of yourself that your family can pass down through generations.

9. LEARN TO FLY

Why not do something completely out of the ordinary? Take the plunge. Do something you've always wanted to do that sounds completely out of your comfort zone. You'll often find that's simply not the case.

If you are afraid of heights, you don't have to earn your pilot's license. You can learn to SCUBA dive, challenge yourself with mountain climbing, or even take a martial arts class. It's never too late to do the exciting, adventurous things you've always wanted.

10. BE HONEST ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS  

One of the things we often come to regret is not being honest about how we feel. Sometimes we hide these emotions from the people around us and sometimes we aren't open with even ourselves about them.

Part of leading a meaningful life is learning how to process your emotions and being honest with the people in your life. Even when those emotions are negative, it's important to express them healthily. Hiding for yourself – and the people who love you – only hurts you in the long term.

11. MAKE AMENDS

If you can do so in a healthy way (without risking your mental health), reach out to the people in your life that you have become estranged with. You may find that, with your new perspective on life, old grudges don’t seem as important as they once were.

This can be old friends or estranged family members. It can even be old colleagues that were once close. If it’s a relationship that was meaningful to you at some point and you’d like to rekindle it, don’t put it off. Reach out and make the effort.

Granted, you must be willing to respect the other person’s wishes if they do not feel the same way. Additionally, make sure you are doing this because you want to make things better, not because you want or expect something from them.

12. FORGIVE YOURSELF

Regret is a powerful emotion. It hangs over us, clouding our judgment and affecting our decisions. It can hold us back and make moving forward impossible. That's why learning to forgive yourself is such a powerful and important thing to do.

Everyone makes mistakes. It is part of what makes us human. Acknowledging our mistakes can be a powerful tool in living a meaningful life. It requires empathy, compassion, and understanding.

You must learn to think of your mistakes as learning experiences and incorporate the knowledge that you won’t make the same ones again. Instead of dwelling on those mistakes, think of the growth you’ve experienced since those moments.

Show kindness and compassion to yourself the same way you would to someone else. Let yourself move forward. You deserve it.

13. GIVE A GIFT

While there's no greater thing to share with someone other than your time and your company, it's also true that gifts offer lasting comfort to those we leave behind. If you’d like, you may even want to consider distributing some of the keepsakes or other items you had intended to leave to your loved ones after your passing.

Instead of gifting it as part of an inherence, giving it now means you are offering more than just the physical object – you are creating a memory shared between two people who love one another. Many times, a gift is more meaningful if given in person. This way it carries a story for the recipient.

Why not take a beloved photo of yourself and your loved ones and immortalize it into a keepsake they can keep with them long after you are gone? Photo jewelry – which has become increasingly popular over the last decade – offers that opportunity. By creating custom jewelry, you are giving them something one-of-a-kind that makes the experience even more meaningful.

For example, the Memories Heart-Shaped Photo Pendant engraves a photograph right onto the metal. You can choose a treasured photo of you and your loved one together or a complete family portrait to share with multiple recipients. These pendants and charms come with the ability to engrave custom messages on the metal as well.

This allows you to make your gift even more profound by sharing an expression of your love, an important date, or a meaningful phrase that the recipient will be able to hold close forever. If you have questions about photo jewelry, check out our Photo Jewelry FAQ.

14. KNOW YOURSELF

Mindfulness is a gift. It is a gift that you can only give yourself. Many of us never take the time to truly know ourselves. We know what society expects of us. We know what kind of people others want us to be. But we don't know ourselves.

One of the kindest things you can do for yourself is to take the time to figure out what makes you the person you are. Increasing your self-awareness increases your emotional intelligence, helps you make better decisions, and lets you connect more deeply with others.

Taking the time to get to know yourself and develop a greater sense of self-awareness will help you in your daily life and bring you inner peace. If you understand yourself, you are far more likely to move forward and make progress to living the life (and leaving the legacy) you've always wanted.

15. LEARN TO SAY YES

While it might seem unkind to say, this is the time to relax your expectations and the limitations you impose on yourself. If you’d like to make the most of the time you have on this Earth, you should take a few risks.

They don’t need to be something as outlandish as bungee jumping or shark-cage diving. However, it’s important to learn to say yes to new experiences and explore facets of yourself you’ve kept hidden.

Who Do You Want To Spend Time With?

As you begin prioritizing your time, you may find yourself prioritizing the people in your life differently. It’s normal to do this, especially as you find you want to make your time more meaningful.

IMMEDIATE FAMILY

This is likely immediately obvious. We’re most likely to prioritize spending time with our immediate family over many other things – including our career and our outer circle of acquaintances – to make the most of our time left with them. Sometimes, we may feel like withdrawing from others when we are facing death. It’s important to remember that we are all stronger together.


CLOSE FRIENDS

For many of us, our friends are our family. There is no distinction between the groups we spend most of our lives with. Make time for your friends and focus on deepening relationships you already have as well as maintaining the ones important to you. There’s no shame in leaning on the people we love when we need to.


ESTRANGED RELATIVES & FRIENDS

As we said in making our bucket list suggestions, there is no time like the present to reach out to those we’ve lost touch with. At the very least, it gives you both a chance to rekindle old friendships and close ties. It also lets both parties live without regret when the time comes to say goodbye.

Living A Full Life Frequently Asked Questions

Few of us are fully prepared to be put in a position where we have been given a year to live. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions surrounding what to expect, how to tell loved ones and more.

How do I tell my family I'm dying?

Like many things in life, there’s no right answer to this question. There’s also not a wrong one, either. Everyone’s situation is unique. What works for one person may not work in another person’s situation. However, we have a few suggestions to help you with this difficult conversation.

  • Know That You Are Not a Burden. It’s easy to tell yourself that you are protecting your family from pain by keeping this information from them. That’s just not true. The worst thing you can do is hide your situation from the people who love you. Even more importantly, you may find yourself feeling relieved and less anxious after you tell them.
  • Tell Them in Person. The best thing you can do is tell your loved ones the news in person. While you may not always know how they will react – they might cry, be numb, or even seem unable to accept the news – it will help all of you to have this conversation face-to-face. If you can, tell those closest to you individually so that you don’t become overwhelmed, either.
  • Don’t Do it Alone. If you can tell even 2-3 people in advance, you may be better equipped to hold a larger family meeting and explain the situation to everyone else. By telling some of your loved ones – like your spouse, parent, closest friends – before you approach others, you have a built-in support system that can help you get through these emotional conversations.
  • There’s No Right Time. You may feel the urge to find the “right moment” to talk to them and hesitate to do so when it’s not perfect. Recognize these feelings of anxiety if you continue to find yourself reluctant to have this discussion. Be straightforward and, if you need to, start with the facts. The sooner you do it, the better you will feel.

How do I tell my children I'm dying?

If you have a young child at home, you may feel like your heart is breaking when you have to explain to them what’s happening to you. Much like telling anyone else, this is a difficult situation. First, you should start by taking them into a safe, comfortable location without distractions. It may help to bring another trusted adult along with you but you can also talk to them one-on-one.

Give them the most accurate information you have in the most age-appropriate way. They may not be able to understand specifics but hiding things from them will only lead to confusion or fear as your situation progresses. Don’t be afraid to show emotion but do be prepared for your child to struggle with how they process this information.

Most importantly, include them in conversations about your health and the future. Children - even very young children – will pick up on changes around them. Hiding the truth or pretending as if life isn’t changing for them could make your child more anxious and afraid, not less.

What kinds of things can I do with my family when I know I'm dying?

If you are asking this question, it’s likely you already know the answer to this question. The best thing you can do with your family when you’ve received a terminal diagnosis is to spend time with them. Many of the things you can do are dependent on your diagnosis and current level of independence.

The best thing you can do is to let them know how much you love them. Sharing your love and appreciation for one another is going to stay with them for far longer than any single experience. However, that isn’t to say that sharing experiences doesn’t show your love, either.

When it comes to more tangible ways to spend time together, you may consider taking a trip together, learning a new skill, or taking some time to tick things off your bucket list as a family. Giving them the gift of memories is often the best thing you can do.

What is a great bucket list idea?

If you asked this question to a hundred different people, you’d likely get a hundred individual answers. Everyone has ideas about what makes the perfect bucket list; much of that depends on their priorities.

We have an answer that we think might help you with your own: change someone's life for the better. It doesn’t need to be grandiose gestures (though it could be). It could also be something as small as telling someone you love them. It could be inviting them on your bucket list travel adventure or writing them a letter. People never forget how you make them feel. Make one item on your list incorporate that sentiment.

Do I really need to write a will?

Yes. While it can be frustrating and stressful, it is the most important thing you should do when you begin to think about your final months. Doing so will make sure you control how your legacy carries on. You decide who will get your property once you are gone. You also ensure the safety and wellbeing of your dependents and spouse.

If nothing else, making sure you have handled the basics of estate planning – taking inventory of your assets and writing a will – will help ease your loved one's journey through grief and loss after you’ve passed.

Why should we live every day like it's our last?

Because it teaches us to live for ourselves. There’s more to the philosophy than simply living each day like it is the only day; it's about overcoming your fears and reaching for the things you want and need in life.

Every new day is a gift, even those most difficult, heartbreaking, and painful ones. By living each day like this, it helps live in the present while looking forward to the future.

Living Life To The Fullest

Seize the day. It’s a nice thought, isn’t it? In truth, it’s a far more complicated thing to do. When you live each day as if it were your last, you learn to overcome your fears and conquer the things holding you back. It’s more than just indulging in any impulse desires to throw aside responsibilities. It’s about the journey to becoming the person you want to be and living the life you want.

“Forever is composed of nows.” ― Emily Dickinson

There’s more to life than just living for the moment. When you face the reality that your time on Earth may be short – and even definable – it’s even more complicated. While it is important to live each day as if it were your last, it’s equally important to understand that this means living in the present while looking to the future. After all, that is what you are building towards – a future that you leave your mark upon in a positively, meaningful way while accomplishing your goals.

April 5, 2021 by Jeri K. Augustus