Yesterday a man on our campsite died. One moment he was sorting out his deck chair, enjoying his morning coffee with his wife, the next he was lying dead on the gravel outside of his motorhome.
The young paramedics fought for over 30 minutes to save him, before gently laying a blanket over his head, defeated. He was 67. His wife, comforted by some Danish neighbours, looked on horrified, stunned, immobilised. Her husband was gone.
Just like that. The sun still shone. The coffee machine still bubbled. The bar still served breakfast. The birds still sang. And a man had just died. He was just lying there, dead. His life, no more. Extinct. Gone.
I stood frozen to the spot. ‘That’s it – a man has just died’ I said to nobody in particular. His life on this planet, over. His wife without her companion, her lover, her driver, her coffee mate. In the space of 5 minutes, she went from being a wife to a widow. A widow in a foreign land, unable to speak the language, with her husband dead on the ground in front of her, whilst all around her, people sipped water and sheltered their eyes from the sun.
It took four hours for the Coroner to arrive. All the while, the nameless man just laid there. His children at home in the Netherlands going about their day, not knowing that their dad’s heart had stopped beating in another country. Their life had changed irreversibly as they ate breakfast, and they didn’t even know.
As the hours wore on, onlookers filtered away, people buttered scones, washed dishes, walked dogs, drank tea and hung out laundry – whilst the man from the green Hymer van lay dead under a blue blanket – the contours of his face still visible for us to imagine his looks. Life went on, so quickly, around a world that stood still for him.
His sandals sat full of sand on the steps. His coffee cup was still half-full. His toothbrush was probably still wet. All signs of a life. For her, all painful, wretched reminders of death. What do you do with someone’s sandals on the day they die? Do you wash the coffee cup that half an hour before had their warm lips around it?
Death is so final for those left behind.
For the briefest moment, I contemplated being in her shoes…
How would I keep breathing, keep waking up, keep existing when my life had fallen apart so irrevocably? When I was no longer the person I was five minutes ago. When two became one. When love became the most painful agony ever endured. When only a single ticket was needed. When being alone, desolate, broken and lost became my norm.
Who would finish my sentences? Who would say goodnight? Who would warm my feet? Who would hold my secrets? Who would fill the gaping void in my heart?
You can’t make old friends.
I reflected on the term ‘Life is too short’.
It has to be one of the most overused statements of all time – but how many of us really think about it?
How many of us get up each day, to a ground-hog existence, and really think about it – do something about it?
Why, if life is too short, do we all think we have all the time in the world? Why do we delay our dreams? Hold off doing something we want. Wish our lives away waiting for the next holiday. Next weekend. Next month. Next year.
‘Who knows if we have tomorrow?’.
Last night, I lay silently in the pitch black, staring at the ceiling, thinking about the dead man and his wife. I asked myself; If tomorrow morning never comes, what is it that I would regret not doing the most?
Whatever the answer was, I vowed to make a start the very next morning on working towards it. The dead man’s life would count for something. If my time on this earth is shorter than I imagined, I will at least leave with no regrets. Or die trying.
As it was, my answer surprised me. It wasn’t a dream trip to an exotic country or to swim with dolphins. I didn’t want to gain a Ph.D. or leave a grand legacy – if I didn’t wake the following morning, I only wanted for my son to know that I fiercely love him.
I worry that he doubts our love – in a 9-year old sort of way. I needed to reassure him that, no matter how hard he tests my patience, I will always love every inch of him.
This morning, as the wife of the dead man defrosted her freezer and removed left-over food from her fridge, I cuddled my son, listening to his breathing, smelling his tousled hair, tracing my fingers along his small hands. I told him over and over again how much I love him. Today, he has no doubts.
I’m lucky in that my answer was easy to achieve. But then, had I asked it of myself last year, It would have contained a long list of ambitious goals. They did not surface this time because they are either no longer important, or because I acted on them. I made brave and bold decisions and took action during 2015. I am travelling Europe, I am fulfilling my dream of writing because I took action – because I believe ‘life really is too short’.
And you know what? It feels wonderful. I may not have a house or a flash car. I may not have stability, a pension, life savings or anything for my children to inherit – but I have something I am incredibly proud of – something that will help me leave this world with a contented heart…I have no regrets.
I sincerely hope that the man who died did the same. I hope he achieved everything he wanted to do before his heart stopped beating. I hope he said everything he wanted to say. I hope he made amends and loved greatly. I hope he had no regrets.
Because if there is one thing he taught me – a complete stranger – is that life is a precious, precious gift. It can be over in the blink of an eye.
So if you are able, get up in the morning and act on that dream, or make that call, or buy that ticket. Start removing your regrets.