You are dying. Your physical being is lying in a bed in a room surrounded by your loved ones, clinging to life with each shallow breath. Your mental being is somewhere else, perhaps in a different world or living a new, healthier life in one of your final dreams. Your death will probably be described as peaceful and maybe beautiful if such a tragic event can be such a thing. The end could come at any moment, and you helplessly wait for it with everyone else. Maybe you’re afraid. Maybe you’re at peace with your fate. Nevertheless, while you exist in the company of those you love most, you can comfort yourself with silent reminiscence.
Remember your life and the way you lived it. Maybe you were adventurous. Maybe you had a great sense of humor. Maybe you had a smile that could light up a room. Maybe you were the most introverted of the few people you wanted to know; adversely, maybe you were the most extroverted of all the people you knew. Maybe you liked to sit down and do nothing, or maybe you couldn’t begin to imagine the thought of sitting down and doing nothing. But you are still loved, and you are loved for who you are and not for who someone thinks you are. Your life and the way you lived it and the things you did throughout it are your legacy, and if you’re happy with that, then you’ll certainly die a happy, satisfied person.
Remember your family and who they are to you. You might be surrounded by your family, and they might be looking down at you as you try to make out who they are. You might not have all of them there, but maybe you believe that you’ll see them in another plane of existence and hold that belief dear as you slowly slip away from this plane of existence. Maybe you think about your mother and the unconditional love and affection with which she showered you over the years. Maybe you think about your father and everything he taught you about life and being an adult in today’s society. You can think about how your family has changed since you were a child and how it went from being your parents and siblings to your spouse and children seemingly instantly. Maybe some members of your family are absent from the room, and that’s okay as long as you remember that you are someone special to your family and will be remembered fondly by them.
Remember your career and all the time you spent plugging away at it. Did you do something you loved throughout your working life? Did you do what you had to do to support yourself and your family? It’s okay either way; college is expensive, and so is the cost of raising a family. Maybe some circumstances, financial or familial or otherwise, drove you to the decision you made. Either way, you worked hard for a few decades and made some money. Your family loves you regardless, and perhaps they respect you a little bit more for making the decisions that best fit you and the circumstances under which you lived. And maybe you remember some fond memories you made along the way and some of the people you met and laughed with and learned from; it’s always good to remember them, too.
Remember all the places you went and all the things you experienced and all the people you took with you. A trip or two during childhood that you were excited for (and probably with good reason too). A family vacation spot you would visit a few times a year just to get away from the parts of life and society that constantly nagged at you. Your honeymoon and the special person with whom you got to experience it, and maybe another honeymoon years and years down the road to mark a special anniversary. The musical you saw in New York. The beach you swam at in Cabo. The five-course meal you ate in Paris. The long walk you took down the Great Wall of China. Or maybe you made your fonder memories at home, and that’s okay too.
Remember the little things that you thought didn’t matter. The smile that formed on your face when you woke up and saw the love of your life laying right next to you. The sound of an innocent child’s bubbly laughter. The smell of your favorite meal filling the air as you cooked it. The satisfaction that each new paycheck being deposited into your bank account. The sound of your favorite song randomly playing on the radio and the excitement you felt when the first beat dropped. The curiosity of what could be in each box on any occasion that you got a gift or something in the mail. You know, the things you didn’t care about before that you may never get to experience again.
Remember all the things you accomplished over the years and all the feelings of success you experienced. Maybe you broke a glass ceiling or two. Maybe you wrote a book or starred in a production of some sort. Maybe you got your dream job or a promotion you worked unbelievably hard for. Maybe you started at the bottom with nothing to your name and worked your way to the top. Maybe your greatest accomplishment is your family, and maybe you think that everything else you have to your name is worth noting too. Did you have a bucket list? It’s okay if you didn’t get to do everything on there. Sometimes life gets in the way of what you want to do, and it is what it is. But try not to dwell on the things you didn’t get to do and instead remember the things you did and how you felt when you did them.
Remember all the people you got to know along the way. Your neighbors. Your classmates. Your coworkers. Your best friends, no matter how or where or when you met them. Your spouse and the family you made together. Maybe there was one who got away, and there’s nothing wrong with thinking about them and wondering how they might be doing. Or maybe there’s a friend or a sibling or a cousin you haven’t seen or spoken to in a while that you might like to say goodbye to one last time (but if not, that’s okay too). There might be some people you didn’t like so much, and maybe those people felt the same way about you. The world is full of every type of person, and you’ve run into them many times over the years. But for every one person who dislikes you, there are many more who love you without end.
Maybe you had some mistakes and failures that you never quite got over. Maybe you knew too few people or touched too few lives or didn’t get along with very many people. Maybe you never found the love of your life or never had children to love and care for. Maybe you worried about your financial health, and perhaps the cost of living or the cost of raising a family caused you great stress. Maybe you experienced something traumatic or some other great emotional or physical pain. Maybe you’ve been stricken with an illness that’ll take you from this world long before your time is up, or maybe you saw that happen to someone near and dear to your heart, and maybe you think it’s not fair. Maybe you thought as a child that your future held so much in store and that so much potential was vested in you, and maybe now you think that you were wrong or that such potential was wasted. But that’s life, and life has its downfalls, and those downfalls can make life pretty awful. No life is perfect—not even yours—and maybe you feel that your life was less than perfect or that it could’ve been better.
But no one can change the past. Not even you. So as you make your way through the final moments of your life surrounded by those you love most, remember the good times. Remember the people you love, the faces staring down at you right now, watching you slowly let go of life. Remember your successes and accomplishments. Remember the places you’ve been and the things you saw and did while you were there. No, you will never experience those things again, but they can make your way out all the more comfortable. And if you’re a religious person or have any beliefs about what happens after the flatlining sound fills the room you’re about to die in, think of that and hope you’re right about what happens beyond this plane of existence. So open your eyes and tell your family you love them all one last time and hope that you’re remembered for who you were and the things you did, and whenever you’re at peace with everyone and everything, you’re welcome to leave this world at any time.
But the best part about this list? You don’t even have to be dying to make it useful.
Hayden Sidun is a high school student whose short fiction appears in The Dillydoun Review, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Literary Yard, and Button Eye Review. Outside of school and work, he is active in local politics and often finds himself surfing the Internet in the middle of the night. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, of which he is a proud native.