Lianna Champ on Why Facing Death Can Make us Better at the Art of Living

Lianna Champ on Why Facing Death Can Make us Better at the Art of Living

We all have a certain amount of time on the planet, and the clock is ticking. However, instead of viewing this as a negative, we should use this as motivation to live the best life possible. For this guest feature, Lianna Champ, an author and grief and funeral care specialist, explains that instead of focusing on the length of our lives, we should be paying much more attention to its width.

My mum had a saying, “You’re a long time looking at the lid, so make sure you live well and make great memories. On your death bed, it isn’t what you do that you regret; it’s the things you didn’t do”.

It was these words that propelled me to follow my dream of being an undertaker at the age of 9, at a time when the thought of a female in the industry was shocking. Even today, my Mum’s words still resonate – if I hesitate but want to do something, I do it.

As a tenacious teenager who was christened Morticia by her friends, I managed to secure a training position in a funeral home. I remember asking one of the older funeral directors why no other females were doing the job. He replied, “That’s because there’s a lot of silence involved”. That wasn’t going to deter me, and so began my lifelong passion for all things death.

Most of us are so busy living that we don’t stop to think or talk about death, and often, it’s only when we are impacted by the death of someone significant in our lives that we think about our mortality. So why do we let death take us by surprise, and can we learn to use the thought of dying to make us live our best life?

Four friends out on a brisk walk in the countryside

Interestingly, research has proven that considering your mortality can motivate you to exercise, eat healthily, quit smoking, and use sun protection. As well as putting everyday trivia in its place, it can also reduce anxiety and depression because you realise the importance of getting value from every day.

We spend far too much time focusing on the length of our life that we frequently miss out on its width.

The things we do and the impact we have are what’s important, and if we hold death’s hand, we can put aside the thought of failure or embarrassment and embrace the endless opportunities ahead, using them as stepping stones to our eventual and hopefully well-earned eternal rest.

I’ve asked various people along the way, “What makes life worth living for?” Some say it’s love; others say doing a job you love. Some even think it’s having a million pounds or more in the bank or having three holidays a year. Yet no one can actually answer the question, “What makes life worth living for?”

We can put men on the moon and even grow body parts in a laboratory, yet we still can’t answer that seemingly simple question.

Instead, let me ask, what makes life worth dying for? And whether we smoke or not – 100% of nonsmokers die anyway. Keeping our eye on the Grim Reaper can actually make us better people. It can make us nicer to each other.

Don’t keep doing a job that is deeply dissatisfying or stay in a relationship that makes you unhappy. You don’t know how long you have to enjoy everything that life has to offer.

An elderly couple having fun fishing from a pier

What you do and who you spend your time with matters. If you were given a date for your own demise, you would know what you need to change. Why wait until it’s too late?

We are egotistical beings and, as such, turn away from the thought of our own demise. But can’t we salve our egos by choosing to be remembered for a great footprint and not for the material goods that will be forgotten once we pass?

So… how do we stop thinking about death as something horrendous and see it as a reality check that adds purpose to our life.

Tips to view death as a life booster:

  1. We live. We die. Fact. If we can really grasp that, it can make us throw that duvet back each morning and bring the day on.
  2. It’s what we do whilst we are alive that brings peace at the end. If we can say on our deathbed that we really lived, then we can die knowing that we are ready to hand over to those who follow.
  3. Are you really afraid of dying, or is it more about what you are leaving behind? What would you have to do to make it ok? Ask yourself what it is that you are really afraid of. This is a biggie. Have a pen and paper and be really honest. It may be that your fear of death is really a fear of something that needs attending to in your life.
  4. Find what makes you feel good and do it.
  5. By really grasping that ageing and dying are an inescapable truth, then we can really focus on what really matters – the people in our lives, fun, laughter and most importantly, living for the day.

People often ask me if I’m de-sensitised to death because I work with it every day.

Trust me, I’m not, I’m just as committed to living as you are, and I’m not planning to die any time soon, but I do often think about what will be important to me at the end of my life. And then I think, why isn’t that important to me today?

It keeps me on an exciting yet considerate path and certainly keeps me telling the important people in my life how much they mean to me. Try it, and you may be pleasantly surprised.

Two images, one of Lianna and the other of her book, How to Grieve Like A Champ.

Lianna Champ has over 40 years of experience as a grief and funeral care specialist and is the author of the practical guide, How to Grieve Like A Champ.

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