Before I die… Or before they do…

Before I die, from Candy Chang's TED talkToday I republish most of the content of a Huffington Post article that June Cohen wrote as part of TEDWeekends, a curated program about powerful “ideas worth spreading” each weekend.

The days between Thanksgiving and the New Year are always a time for reflection: On what’s been accomplished, on what remains ahead of us, and – most importantly – what matters most to you.

TED Fellow Candy Chang creates public art installations that explore the hidden landscape of near-death choices. Her work asks the audience, chalkboard-style, to fill in the blanks: “Before I die, I want to ________________.” Their answers have been, in turn: hilarious, heart-breaking, raw, real.


Few of us come face-to-face with death in such a clear and present way as Ric Elias, who was on board Flight 1549 when it crash-landed on New York’s Hudson River four years ago. Ric and everyone on board expected to die on impact. And when the now famous Captain Sully safely landed the plane, Ric was given a new lease on life, and also a new perspective on it.

Ric’s TEDTalk was so compelling because he answers the question so many of us have: When my life draws to a close, will I look back with regret? Or satisfaction? What will I wish I had done? What will matter most? It’s a gift, in some ways, to come so close to death, because it teaches us something essential about how to live. And this is a theme that many TED speakers have explored… What can we learn from near-death choices?


Former Olympian Janine Shepherd had to rethink her answer to that question when a crippling accident ended her cycling career. In her TEDTalk, she recounts the challenge of facing a life where her dreams were no longer within reach. Instead of crumbling, she found new ones.


Jane McGonigal began her talk by listing the five regrets of the dying:

  1. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  2. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  3. I wish I had let myself be happier.
  4. I wish I’d had the courage to express my true self.
  5. I wish I’d lived a life true to my dreams, instead of what others expected of me.

Then she makes a fascinating leap to a little-known phenomenon called post-traumatic growth. We’ve all heard of post-traumatic stress. But sometimes, when people are faced with a deeply traumatic experience – illness, accident, or another brush with death – they walk away not diminished, but super-charged by the experience. Suddenly, they can live a life without fear, focused on what matters most to them. And Jane’s talk teaches the rest of us how we can experience this super-growth, without the trauma.


And Louie Schwartzberg‘s beautiful talk on gratitude challenges us to live each day as if it were our first and our last. He shares a recording of the Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast, which begins: “You think this is just another day in your life. It’s not just another day. It’s the one day that was given to you. Today. It’s given to you. It’s a gift. It’s the only gift you have right now. And the only appropriate response is gratefulness.”

What’s YOUR Story?

Behind every face is a story. What’s yours? What do you want to be remembered for? What advice and lessons do you want to leave for others? What do you remember about your parents or grandparents years after their passing? As it turns out, giving people a chance to tell their stories helps them cope with end of life, and prepare for it.

As you prepare to capture your own innermost thoughts or help others do that while they’re still around, see: