How Would Your Life Look — If You Lived As If You Were About to Die?
About a month ago, I learned that a friend was about to live his last days.
We’d met in Costa Rica.
I was spending a ‘season’ in a beautiful beach town in a 2-bedroom house.
To help pay for the house, I was renting out the extra bedroom for dirt cheap on Airbnb. It was such a great way to meet new friends, keep seeing the town from newcomers perspectives, and to simply spend time with new, interesting people over dinner.
Ben wanted to book the room long-term.
He had just finished his first bout with testicular cancer and started to go on a trip around the world. He’d even wrote an aptly-named book about it…Diary of a Uniballer.
When he requested to stay at my place — I was a bit cautious. It’s important to get along with anyone who requests over a week long — otherwise things can get a bit…on edge.
So naturally, I enlisted my private investigation team to do some more research on Ben…
Through my extensive research/stalking — I came to the educated decision that Ben seemed like a ‘good dude’ (and I don’t use ‘good dude’ often).
He had similar interests, seemed ambitious, and looked like he came from a similar educational and professional background as myself — so I booked him in.
When he first arrived in town — he got the initial Costa Rican shock...
…well maybe it was just my place ;)
I lived on a dirt road, that was off of a main road that was a dirt road. Not more than 5 meters outside my front porch lived a cock-fighting breeder (who didn’t care that you couldn’t sleep past 5am). And to top it all off — the home I lived in didn’t have A/C, and we were in the heart of summer with consistent 97 degree days.
None of that made it difficult for Ben to settle in.
For people that truly appreciate life — the natural beauty of the beaches and positivity of the people that inhabit the area make all of the modern-day inconveniences vanish in front of your eyes.
It’s funny. I’ve come to notice — when you surround yourself with positive, down-to-earth people and then bring a newcomer into the mix — one of two things happens…
They immediately battle with these ‘lovers of life’ — a.k.a. the positive, open-minded people keen on learning from others and enjoying the company of new friends.
…or they quickly and naturally fit right in — curious as to the stories, cultures, and backgrounds of these new found friends.
Ben was one of the latter.
He immediately became friends with my Tico(nickname for a Costa Rican) neighbors daughter, Aqua. He also took a keen liking to my newly adopted dog, Olive, of which he thoroughly enjoyed bringing to the beach alongside Aqua to watch the sunset while everyone surfed.
When I heard of the news from a friend that Ben had another spell of cancer and was having a rough time with chemo—I was initially hesitant on reaching out.
It had been a year or so since I last messaged him on Facebook — just to check in — probably about some awesome picture he had posted traveling the world.
I didn’t know if I was ‘close enough’ to message him.
Well I’m glad I did…
It was a Saturday night. I was watching TV — baseball in particular. I sat down with my computer open — pretending/wishing that I was getting some work done to get ahead on a project. Then I thought, fuck it…
If I was having a rough time and any person — no matter how long or when I met them — told me they were thinking about me, praying for me, and on my side…maybe that’d give me the energy to keep my head up and in good spirits.
So I sent Ben a message —
I told him I had heard he’d gotten sick again and just to know that I was thinking about him, praying for him and hoping everything would get better soon.
What I got in return wasn’t what I was expecting…
hey bud… thanks for reaching out. unfortunately, the docs can't stop the cancer and i am facing my last days. i have chosen to take the peaceful way out, and will pass away peacefully in the next month or two. instead of waiting for the cancer to take over, i would rather be in charge of my final days. it sure sucks, im scared of being ‘gone,’ but i am also ready to be out of all of this pain. it has been a rough few years of treatment and i fought like hell to stay healthy. it just wasnt meant to be.
thanks for showing me so much hospitality in lovely ST. i never forgot that fun week on the beaches of Costa Rica w you and your rad dog olive. take care my friend, and i hope we meet again on the other side, would love to see your big happy smile.
wishing you nothing but health, long life and lot of happiness on your journey. take care my friend
I sat in front of my screen — the device that keeps connections like our few week friendship in touch over years — absolutely shocked.
So many things ran through my mind. Shock, sadness, is he definitely dying?, why’s he not fighting?, he sounds so at peace with his decision, how do I react?, is there anything I can do to help?…
After a minute, I collected my thoughts and did what I thought anyone else would want in that situation.
Realness. Genuineness. Truth.
I let him know what I thought about him. How unique and special he was. How he had a special view towards life that most people will never get to experience. How people could sense his love of life at each and every moment.
It was all so true.
And maybe truth not spoken enough with any friendship for that matter.
Then, naturally, the convo evolved into talking about drinking Imperials (Costa Rican beer) in heaven(or whatever’s next) when we see each other.
Then I cried.
I hadn’t in a long time.
I looked at myself in the mirror and said ‘don’t cry, be a man’.
I tried to kick back the tears and keep a straight face.
Then I started thinking about all the things that had gotten me down over the past week/month/year.
I had just gotten back from the doctor the previous week…he ‘quote’ told me “you have picture perfect health”…other than a slightly torn hamstring and bum knee from surfing too hard ;)
My long-term girlfriend and I split up after a few bumpy months.
I was struggling a bit financially after working for a nonprofit for a few months — zero debt, but living back with my parents for in order to save up.
I had just been on a year-long trip to Costa Rica, Australia, Bali, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Dubai, Switzerland, London, and the Northeastern US.
Somehow, even through all of these amazing experiences, I had started to take things for granted. And most of all I had forgotten…
I was a living, breathing, and healthy human.
The odds of that are so infinitesimally small and something that we all take for granted with each breath.
Ben wasn’t someone who took too many breaths without remembering how precious and special they were.
In my case — I had been ‘living life to the fullest’, but had somehow forgot to enjoy the breaths in-between.
After the intense emotional period subsided and we started chatting about what felt like ‘normal’ topics (i.e. not death), a curiosity came over me…I wanted to ask Ben what he was thinking about in his final days.
What was it like to truly live as if you were about to die?
…I couldn’t bring myself to ask him.
A couple of days ago Ben passed away.
If I had asked him that question I think he would’ve responded…
You realize that everyday you should love relentlessly. Travel far. Learn as much as you can. Jump at every opportunity that peaks your interest.
…most of all—live with no regrets.
He had a message that his parents kindly shared after his passing…
Ben has passed away after a 4 year battle with cancer. He brought a lot of friendship and love to this world for 38 years.
Ben’s advice is to not always let tomorrow be tomorrow. Take the vacation that you have been putting off. Change the aspects of your life that are not bringing you joy. Appreciate each moment and pursue happiness in any form it may come. Ben embodied this vision by traveling the world and pursuing his many passions, including photography, writing and fitness.
Ben died with immense gratitude and love for all of those who supported him throughout his life. Please honor his memory by remembering that he wanted you to live your fullest life.
Today, as I sit next to my ‘rad dog olive’, I’ll hold onto those precious moments a bit more intensely and make sure I’m living my life to the fullest.
One of Ben’s best and favorite photos - taken at Devil’s Tear, Bali.
Thanks for reading what I’ve found to be as therapeutic an outlet as can be — sharing thoughts and feelings with complete strangers. I hope this article can remind you of Ben’s message and think about how to spend your day.