Live Like You Were Dying

Morning drive

It was an odd place for deep conversation. I ran into my friend Rob in the hallway at a large Internet Marketing seminar. “Hey Rob,” I greeted him with enthusiasm, “It’s been a long time.”

“Craig,” he said with hesitation, “I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch lately, but my mother passed away.”

“Oh Rob, I’m sorry to hear that,” I replied sincerely as we sat down amidst the hustle and bustle of seminar attendees.

“Thank you. I appreciate it,” he said with gratitude. “You know, seeing you write about your dad in your email newsletters really helped.”

I nodded and thanked him. Back in 2009, the year after my father passed away, I wrote a series of ‘personal notes’ that I shared with my fitness readers. These included the many lessons I learned from my old man (mostly by watching him and learning what not to do – a topic for another day, perhaps).

As Rob and I continued our conversation, he said something that brought back vivid memories of the final day I spent with my father, one that reminds me to make the most of today.

“It was the strangest thing,” Rob started to describe, “When my mom was in the hospital those last days, she hardly recognized anyone. Then one day, she sat up and we had this really great conversation, as if everything was fine. The next day, she passed away.”

His story hit me hard. I had the exact same experience with my father.

On a beautiful sunny Saturday morning, September 6, 2008, to be exact, my father, who was very sick with cancer, wanted to go for a drive. That’s how we had spent most of our time together in the last 18 months after he was first diagnosed with his illness. We’d hop in his truck, and I’d drive him around through the countryside to “check out the corn” or to visit his old buddies.

About a month before this sunny September drive my dad had been rushed to the hospital with severe abdominal pain. He and I rarely spoke about his illness, and frankly I don’t think he ever accepted that he was dying, but I talked to his doctor who said my dad might be able to make it to Christmas. That was my expectation as we set out on our drive that late summer morning.

It turned out that Dad was in great spirits that day. He was moving better than he had been in weeks. This gave me a false sense of hope that he had turned the corner with his recent struggles and that he’d be this way for weeks.

Our first stop that morning was at a cousin’s house to check out their new barn, and then we visited a gentleman who often sold my dad tractors. (That was my father’s hobby, collecting and restoring old tractors.)

It was one of the best Saturday mornings of my life, and my optimism increased for a fall filled with similar drives through the countryside. We finished off with a trip to the local burger drive-in where my dad wanted to pick up a couple of milkshakes (that’s about all he could tolerate eating at this stage).

Once we arrived home, he went to lie down, and I went out to the mall to buy him a new TV. I had my eye on a nice big 40-inch flat screen that would keep him entertained throughout the night when he couldn’t sleep.

When I arrived home with his gift, his condition had already started to change. He wasn’t really in the mood to watch TV and just wanted to sleep. That was fine, and we agreed upon another drive in the morning.

But he never did get a chance to use the new television set.

The next morning he woke up at 6am with severe abdominal pain. I brought him to the hospital where he was admitted, rushed to intensive care and placed on mind-fogging pain medications. We never did have another comprehensible conversation after that, and he passed away just two days later. Fortunately, my mother was able to get in contact me with at my home in Toronto, and I raced back to the hospital with fifteen minutes to spare so I could see my father one more time.

During the subsequent funeral home visitation for my father, I recounted this story over and over again to those who came to pay their respects.

My aunt nodded her head and explained this ‘great day phenomenon’ is a common occurrence. For some reason, many terminally ill people have a short-term revitalization for a day just before death.

They perk up, they move with ease unknown to them for months. They are alert, even chipper. They give optimism to their friends and family, and one more chance to visit with the person everyone used to know.

They lived like they were dying.

They took advantage of whatever the source of energy it is to give everyone one last memory. They gave one last glimpse of all the great days that had come before.

It happened for my friend Rob with his mother, and it happened on that sunny Saturday in September for me.

Whatever the source of my father’s vitality that day, it gave me one last important memory to hold onto – to remember what really matters in life.

Listen, I hope you’re in the greatest of health, but I also hope that you are taking time for what really matters in your life.

Our minutes are not best spent surfing over to another news website, or watching another television show, or arguing on the Internet.

How we spend our time is the most important decision we will make in our lives. What we do with each minute of every day determines our legacy, what our children will remember, and what we will leave behind.

Live every day with purpose. Live every day according to your mission and your plan. Have a vision for what you want to accomplish, and act in congruence with it.

Love deeper, speak sweeter, and give the forgiveness you’ve been denying.

Live passionately, live honestly, and live the best life that you can.

What can you do today to ensure that you are living your life to the fullest?

[Ed Note: Craig Ballantyne is the author of Financial Independence Monthly, a complete blueprint to helping you take control of your financial future with a web-based business that you can operate from anywhere in the world – including a coffee shop, your kitchen table, or anywhere around the world where there is Internet access. Discover how you can achieve the American Dream and your financial independence here. You’ve never seen anything like this before.]
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  • tony nwadialo

    My Dear Craig,
    When my mum passed, I couldn’t get my mind off the purpose, if any, of that one-day of grace before her passing. That was when I let a friend introduce me to religion, Eckankar, which taught me the HU song of love that could put me to sleep with a power beyond my words. In that respite, I met my mum in a dream and she said to me: ‘I wanted you to come visit me here so you’ll see what really matters in life’.
    Perhaps someone else grieving as I did might wish to visit the departed relative with help from

  • Eric Murr

    My parents are in their 70’s and this day is on the horizon. Keep writing with honesty about things that matter, Craig. Loving openly is the only way our world will survive, and it desperately needs more of it. I enjoy your column. Keep it up.

    And one additional thought about “Live like you were dying”…. I think it was Zig Ziglar who bookended this idea nicely by urging us all to treat others like this was their last day on the planet. Our compassion multiplies 20 fold when we consider this idea.

  • During my 24 years of working in the healthcare field I have witnessed the ‘great day phenomenon’ with many of my former patients. They are doing just awesome one day and then someone calls my office the next day to tell me that they are ‘gone’.

    As my parents are also in their 70’s and not in the best of health, I get unnerved almost every time I get a call from back home (Nova Scotia). There will be no running to the hospital in 15 minutes for me as I would have to fly all the way from the west coast to the ‘best coast’.

    Moments with family are truely precious. As much as I have tried to get home every summer to enjoy what might be a final visit with…mum…dad…cousin Mabel…or even one of my otherwise healthy siblings…it is just not financially possible with our family of 6.

    It is therefore my hope that by following the tips and resources that you share here at ETR…I will one day actually finish my info product, help more folks create their Ultimate Bodies…from the inside out…and hopefully never again worry about the cost of a plane ticket to visit the family back home…or…make that emergency trip home when ‘that call’ does come.

    That is my ‘Canadian Dream’.

  • Tall Tom

    What a decent way to look at life.

    Everyone is dying. Some are dying slowly. For some it happens when they least expect it…in their prime.

    I am sorry for the loss of your Father. I hope that you are at peace with it.

    But let me assure you that even I have learned something from your writing about his final days. I guess in that way his legacy has impacted more people than he ever knew.

    Live like you are dying…

    Tall Tom
    I Cor 13

  • Darren Casey

    Thank you Craig. My dad passed away age 50, not long after attending your TT event and this has made me look back with a smile how much my dad kept up his spirits and was always joking and smiling right until his last breaths…
    When he told my mum, me and my bro he loves us, a few mins before he went onto the defib machine into a coma, yet his last words were of fun, when he said via hand gestures to my mum ‘make sure you use my phone for texting as its cheaper and take my wallet you’ll need it’ ha. Always funny my dad.
    Thanks for sharing your story and it’s a great reminder how not only people can make us smile while they experience their worst times, but also to spend more time with family and less time pissing around wasting time.

  • Heidi

    Wow .. I receive your emails, Craig, and always enjoy them and your writing style as a beginning PT. I look to your style for inspiration. Anyway, my mom was just diagnosed with cancer this month and it’s been an extreme life changer. I’ve had that Tim McGraw song stuck in my head and reflecting on it. Thank you for sharing your story, and I hope you have found peace … Thank you.

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Thank you for your feedback, Heidi. Stay strong.


  • DAS

    I don’t have to live like i’m dying: i do because i am. I had a similar experience with my mom in her last few days, as did your article report. Being a man of few words but enjoying the opportunity to speak, let me say that: getting married to raise a family, and doing this with laudable success, i now feel the need to be single in order to maximize my creativity. Still in love, but not enjoying it as much—again, i find myself at the crossroad…to be, to do…how go i…

  • Dr. Kevin


    You’re a good man.

    Thank you for enriching our lives with your insights and experience.

    Dr. Kevin

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Happy to help, thank you Dr. Kevin!