Living Each Year Like It Is My Last

Colorful sunrise with a neighborhood in the foreground.
Photo by author’s husband Daniel O’Day. Used with permission.

Since there are no guarantees, we should make the most out of every day

Life is uncertain; thus, we should make each moment count by finding beauty in the simple things, engaging in activities that bring us pleasure, and spending time with those we care most about.

This could be my final year

I turned 62 in January, and a suspicious spot under my toenail inspired me to approach this year like it was my last. The spot was benign – not Bob Marley’s rare melanoma. Since I had a first cousin die at age 18 from melanoma, my paranoia was not unwarranted.

At any rate, I am still treating this year as if it were my last: 

  • enjoying simple pleasures: a good book, a ripe avocado, a sunny day
  • treasuring personal relationships: family, friends, colleagues  
  • appreciating material comforts: my home and garden, my collections of books and artifacts, my pension
  • sifting through old journals to eliminate the content I don’t want my family to read after I’ve passed
  • curating the photos and documents I want my family to remember me by
  • digitizing home videos
  • labeling the many “treasures” I have accumulated by attaching a note about its history and significance 
  • using the good china
  • wearing the expensive jewelry 
  • editing my semi-autobiographical novel
  • volunteering for non-profit organizations
  • recording my thoughts and beliefs on my personal website and on Medium – if I have something to say, it better be now or it could be never

My biological parents lived until their mid-70s, so I likely have more time. But as Benjamin Franklin said, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”

Organizing my life’s collections 

A couple years ago I wrote an article about Swedish Death Cleaning: the process of getting rid of all the things your children won’t want to deal with when you’re dead. Since then, I have been giving away books, donating clothes and miscellany, and gifting items to people who will appreciate them. This should not be perceived as a morbid activity, but rather like getting your home in order before embarking on a long journey.

Not every day will be spectacular 

Life is messy, especially as we age. Housework takes longer. Yard work can be painful and exhausting. Doctor appointments, professional duties, and family obligations can interfere with dream vacations and passion projects. What matters is finding whatever joy is available in the most common of circumstances.

Cross items off your bucket list 

Do what you can, while you can still do it. Make a list and prioritize what is most meaningful and most feasible at this point in your life: a trip to Disneyland, dinner at a special restaurant, attending a particular event. I have dream vacations to Argentina, Norway, and New Mexico. There are books I want to read, concerts I want to attend, and a thousand places I want to revisit. Yet, the adventures I am planning this year involve seeing family in Washington and Florida. Spending time with my grandkids and my brother are more important at this point than experiencing new scenery. Maybe next year – assuming there is one for me – I will go to Norway.

Have reasonable expectations 

There are activities that most people age out of: skydiving, zip-lining, and hiking the Appalachian Trail. My neck is fused; hence, roller-coasters and most amusement park rides are out of the question. I can’t even drive (as a passenger) on a winding road without wearing my neck brace. Over age 60, it is probably too late to pursue a law degree or a career with the U.S. State Department. Let’s face it, after a certain age you will not get a call back even if you are professionally qualified and healthy enough to meet the job requirements and expectations. However, rather than concentrating on what we can’t safely or realistically do, we should focus on all the things we can still accomplish.

What you desired ten years ago may not matter today

I have always wanted to snow ski. Given my health limitations, downhill skiing is out, but cross-country is feasible. When long road trips and wilderness expeditions are too much – money permitting – I can travel by train or go on a cruise. I am happy just meeting up with friends for a meal or a show, engaging in a creative activity, or simply reading a book. My son-in-law’s mother died from cancer a month ago. Her last weeks were shared with family and close friends. At that point, nothing could have made her happier.

Enjoy each day

We could live until age 100 or die suddenly in our sleep tonight, so it is best to be prepared. Organize your possessions, reach out to people you care about, and make internal peace with the people and events that disappointed you. Accepting that an end to this life will ultimately come does not grant you the permission to be reckless. Enjoy the occasional dessert, opt for the better concert seats, splurge on the grandkids or treasured pet, and take that trip you’ve always dreamed about; just don’t give yourself permission to eat a box of bon bons every night, blow your savings on needless Amazon purchases, or ruminate on what could played out differently in your life.

Life is hard

When we are young, we struggle to find ourselves. During our middle years, we struggle with the family and career obligations. In our older years, we face the loss of loved ones and often our own deteriorating health. Even on our worst days, there is some happiness to be found: the beauty of a sunrise, a memory from times past, or the knowledge that you were there to comfort someone on their worst day.

Treasure each day like it was your last.

(c) Joyce O’Day 2023. All Rights Reserved.

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