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Center for Enlightened Leadership

“Live Like You Were Dying”

  Claire Sheff-Kohn

Claire Sheff-Kohn
Senior Associate and Mentor

In his hit single, “Live Like You Were Dying,” country singer Tim McGraw tells the story of someone in his forties diagnosed with a terminal illness. When the man is asked what he did when he got the news, he says:

I went sky diving

I went rocky mountain climbing

I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu

And I loved deeper

And I spoke sweeter

And I gave forgiveness I’d been denyin’

And he said I hope you get the chance

To live like you were dyin’

When my dear friend Ralph died two weeks ago after a long battle with ALS, I thought of Tim McGraw’s song because, more than anyone I have ever known, Ralph embodied the attitude and spirit of the character in the song. Through it all, Ralph “walked the talk” and lived like he was dying—in the best sense of the phrase. From his reaction to the doctor’s diagnosis and accompanying admonition to get his affairs in order, to the increasing imprisonment of his mind within his deteriorating body, Ralph never once complained; he just lived each day to the best of his ability with love, kindness, humor, humility, and generosity.

Long before Rob Reiner’s movie The Bucket List came out, Ralph developed his own list of things he wanted to do before he died. Some of it had to do with preparing for the inevitability of his being bedridden, and ensuring that his family would be provided for then as well as after his death, but much of it had to do with spending time with his family and friends, attending church, and making a contribution through community volunteer work, the latter of which Ralph stayed true to until he was no longer ambulatory. Even then, he did what he could from home. Before he died, Ralph said, “ I have had a wonderful life, family, and career. Except for going on a photography safari to Africa, and meeting my future grandchildren, I’ve done everything I’ve wanted.” How many of us could say this?

Ralph used to tell me, “We all are dying; I just know how and, within a ballpark timeframe, when.” He was obviously correct in his observation, so why don’t we all live like we were dying? Why don’t I? While I agree it is important “to be present,” to be here, now, because we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, or even if it will come, I can’t help thinking we would be happier and the world would be a better place if we all lived like we were dying. Of course, that would mean living it as Ralph did, with the full knowledge of one’s mortality spurring us to focus on what really matters. If we want to walk the talk, then what better way? I have decided to give it a try. You?

(If you want to hear the song in its entirety, check out this YouTube clip.)

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