While unexpected deaths still occur even in the most developed countries, they are not nearly as common as they have been throughout history. Accidents, diseases, and infections that once caused sudden death can now be cured or prevented, and despite public perception, deaths caused by war have been in steady decline since the end of the Cold War. As a result, people are are not only living longer, they are dying slower. Medicine and modern health care are able to detect the signs of fatal maladies early on and often slow their progression, effectively easing us gently into the ground.
If we are not intentional, the habits we formed over a lifetime and that we are living out right now will continue to shape us up until our last breath. Death is not a guarantee that you will change, nor is it something to be afraid of. It is a gift that nudges us with the urgency to make better choices right now. You're reading this, which means you are alive and it's not too late. Let go of your fear, let go of your pride. Release yourself from shame and embarrassment. Deep down, you know if there is something you need to make right, even if you are trying to pretend like nothing is wrong.
Maybe you and your spouse drifted apart over the course of your marriage. Take the first step toward coming together again (if you need a suggestion, try watching Hope Springs together). Maybe a friend hurt you, and you stopped talking to them. Try to reconcile. Maybe it's your kids, and you justified pushing them away by telling yourself that your career was more important. Turn that ship around and get to know them. Step into your true self, the self that is vulnerable and free. Ask a question. Visit family. Be honest. Be open. Be willing to change. Admit what you are afraid of, put it out there and see how the world responds. Death may be life's greatest gift, but you don't have to wait until you die to accept it.
For more reflections on aging, listen to this episode of On Being: