What To Do When I Die

September 21, 2015

My Mom was crying when I called her.

I woke up this morning to a text message that simply said “please call”. That means something serious has happened.

“Clay died last night.”

She barely managed to get the words out through her tears. Clay is the oldest son in a family who grew up across the street from us. He took a party drug, his heart stopped and he died the same night. He wasn’t an addict, wasn’t a trouble maker, just a normal kid with the wrong mix of chemicals.

He was nineteen.

This news was especially devastating for my parents because of how close they are to Clay’s family. Over the last ten years since my sister and I have been away from home, they have become like second parents to Clay and his younger brother and sister.

Every time I called home and asked what’s new, they would tell me stories of what the kids were up to, just as if they were my own younger siblings. They were so close that one day Clay’s mother and father told my parents that if anything ever happened to them, they would want my parents to take care of the kids.

My first reaction after getting off the phone with my Mom was to check Clay’s Facebook profile. His parents hadn’t shared the news with people other than immediate family so all I saw was a simple message from his brother, posted 2 hours ago, saying “I love you”.

Social media gives us a way of witnessing how abrupt and unexpected death can be. As I considered the possibility of me experiencing an untimely death I thought about my will. I have a legal will, but what I really want to leave behind is a message that represents me, that speaks to how I want to be remembered, not just a record of who gets my guitars.

Often after someone dies we say “that’s what Dave would have wanted” but do we really know? We do our best to extrapolate what that person would have wanted based on our interactions with them, but it’s hard to do them justice.

I wanted to write something to speak for me in the event of my death, whenever it happens. I’ve been meaning to do this for a few years but I put it off, because I didn’t plan on dying any time soon.

I’m sure we can all relate to the absurdity of that thought.

I decided now is the time to write this, and I have my friend Clay to thank for the inspiration. Thank you Clay.

What To Do When I Die

All I’ve ever wanted is for my life to make a difference.

It could look like a simple act of kindness, a piece of writing, a message to a friend or just a passing smile. I don’t do it because I think it makes a difference in the grand scheme of things, I do it because it’s the most wonderful feeling in the world.

When I die, I would love my death to reflect my life. Just as I lived to make a difference, I want my death to be a final contribution to the people I care about, and that care about me. After I die, here is my simple request.

Don’t try to remember me.

Let the grieving process work, it’s important. But when it’s over, when the flowers have died and life becomes still again, have my death make a difference in your life, and don’t make it about me.

If you need some ideas, seriously consider the fact that you really don’t know how much time you have left. Every morning that you open your eyes is an opportunity, a gift, and one day it will all be over.

The best thing you could ever do is allow my life to inspire yours. Instead of spending your energy memorializing me and trying to remember who I was, live your life more fully.

Go climb a mountain.
Grab a paint brush and pour your emotions out onto a canvas.
Do an extra 10 minutes past when you want to quit.
Start that blog you’ve been meaning to write.
Take a week off and travel to that place you’ve always wanted to go.

Do something inspiring and know that I’m watching, and happy that you’ve chosen to celebrate your life, instead of mourning my death.


“What To Do When I Die” is one of the writing prompts in this week’s episode of Darken the Page entitled “What Do I Write About?” You can find it on iTunes.

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