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The Question About Death You Need To Ask

What would you change if you only had five years left to live?

At the beginning of the year, the death of Kobe Bryant rocked the world. For many of us, the news hit harder than most celebrity deaths. There were a number of grisly factors the world had to contend with: the star’s young age; the abrupt end to his prolific post-NBA career, which seemed to be just getting started; the unlikeliness of the accident — a helicopter crash on a routine local trip; and the eight other lives taken, including that of his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, a rising basketball star in her own right. 

All of those factors and more made the news of the accident difficult to accept. But, for those of us not personally affected, there’s a dim silver lining. The shock of the accident should encourage each of us to take a pause in our own lives. A surprise death should remind us of our own mortality. As we acknowledge and accept our mortality, we’re offered a chance to fix, change or adapt behaviors that are out of line with our true goals.

In the afternoon on the day Bryant died, my wife and I asked each other a simple question: What would we do differently in our lives if we knew we only had five more years to live.

The weight of that question got us thinking about a number of different things. Where we live, the pressures we battle with at work, and the desire to ensure the best possible education and lives for our children, among other things. 

Ultimately, this proved to be an exercise in limitations, and it created a few answers to constantly moving questions in our lives that we may not have otherwise come to or said out loud.

This is the good part of the passing of public figures. It helps us appreciate the smaller things. It helps us see the little wins as valuable. It helps us reflect. It helps us resolve.

Death is not easy for anyone. It is scary. It is unknown. When it happens to people we love, it is crushing. 

But, when reminded of death, we are reminded of the opportunity to change. We are given the choice of choice, the opportunity to do something essential before it’s too late. More I Love Yous, more selflessness, and more appreciation of the value of time.

No one enjoys the loss of a hero, a public icon, even a brand, let alone a friend or loved one. But, if we can find solace in the value of life’s understanding, then, perhaps we can find a little bit of heaven while we are still alive.