Do Not Mourn


This is the one of the most inspiring obituaries I have seen.
What would you want yours to read?
Thank you to Jacelyn who’s teaching us even after leaving us, and to her family for honouring her spirit and life in this way.
It was in The Sunday Times 14 April 2013 and so was Sumiko Tan’s article on death where she says: “We will all die, there’s no doubt about that. The question is, while we are alive, do we know about to live?”


This is my third year of living with death awareness and enjoying its benefits. Read more death-related posts under this category.

On a Peaceful Death

How do I have a peaceful death?

For most of the last two years, I have been doing an experiment to live as if it’s my last year to live. I have also been studying more about death from various sources. From these, I would say, to have a peaceful death,  live a peaceful life right now.  From what I have learned so far, these are some of the fundamentals to having a good death:

Love unconditionally, all beings, including those who have triggered hurt in you. Courageously express love. Don’t hold back. Take risks in love so you have no regrets later.

Love yourself and embrace all your imperfections and weaknesses along with your beauty.

(There are many possible recipients of our love – Ourselves, our loved ones, our colleagues, bosses, clients, neighbours, strangers we meet, strangers we don’t meet (people who make things we use etc), the environment, animals. In these categories, there are further divisions into those we have peaceful relations with, and those who trigger pain in us. I have found that when we expand our love to more and more sentient beings, the more peace and joy we have in our lives. And love is not just a feeling. It is concrete action.)

Forgive – yourself and others. If you learn how to be a better person from painful encounters, then you can even be grateful to those who have triggered pain in you.

Apologise and make amends.

Serve, in the best way you can.  Find your Calling – the work where you use your strengths to add meaningful value to the world. And there are many ways to serve others each day. Find ways to use your limited resources for high impact.

Learn your life lessons. In fact, Elisabeth Kubler Ross who was an expert in death and dying said that our “only purpose of life is growth.” Certain patterns repeat in our lives till we learn what they’re trying to tell us, and grow from them.

Be true to yourself in a way that the greater good is served.  


Books I recommend on learning from death are “Life Lessons” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler, and “A Year to Live” by Stephen Levine.  “Tuesdays with Morrie” is also good; it’s a real-life conversation between a man and his former teacher who was dying. And “Chasing Daylight” was written by the late Chair and CEO of KPMG, Eugene O ‘ Kelly on what happened after he got cancer.

Movies with the theme of death include “Tuesdays with Morrie”, “The Bucket List”, “Ikiru”, “Life is Beautiful” and “Cast Away”. And here’s a great song to remind you to live each day as if it were your last day.

“Solace: Wisdom of the dying” is a documentary on death and dying by both the dying and experts.

(This is part of an interview I did with Matthieu Ricard. These are my thoughts to the questions I posed to him. Please click here for his responses. )

More thoughts on death. 

Groundhog Day

In my recent interview with Matthieu Ricard in Singapore, I asked him what some of his favourite movies were. He said he likes movies that “give hope in human nature” and gave two examples. One was Groundhog Day – one of my favourite movies too.

So I watched it again, after some years, and appreciated it even more. (This post has spoilers so please come back if you’d prefer to watch the movie first.)

Scrooge-like Phil is made to re-live the same day over and over again. It’s a call for him to transform. And he does, first negatively. Initially he breaks all the rules and takes the hedonistic route, since he only has one day to live. Then he tries to court his producer but more as a conquest.  Then an encounter with death starts to transform him. He learns to love more and more people…and breaks through.

As Ricard said,  Phil’s way “fails, fails, fails until compassion comes in.”


The links I share below have many enlightening thoughts on the movie. I would just add:

  • One of the most precious messages of the film that I take away is that life lessons present themselves to us again and again and trigger pain until we learn them. There’s no point changing jobs or a relationship that isn’t working if you don’t change.
  • Phil’s breakthrough comes only when his love becomes much more expansive and includes many others, beyond trying to win the love of one woman.
  • People change, even if sometimes the change is initially tiny and imperceptible. If you believe in your own power to change, you’ll find it easier to believe in other’s.
  • If you had a day/month/year to live, how would you spend it? Phil learns to love people, a town he hated, himself and his work. He learns new skills that add beauty to the world. Each encounter with someone becomes rich and meaningful.
  • He is transformed by the death of the old man. Will you let your own impending death or those of people around you transform you? For most of the past two years I’ve been living as if it’s my last year to live and I would recommend this to most people. More on death. 

I recently read “Wheel of Life” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross who was the world’s eminent expert on death and dying. Some of the key messages she shared in the book were:

” The sole purpose of life is growth.” 

“When you learn your lessons, the pain goes away.”

“Every one of the thousand of patients I spoke to about their near-death experiences recalled going into the light and being asked, “How much love have you been able to give and receive? How much service have your rendered?”

This movie captures these very lessons powerfully.

The following links provide excellent, deeply reflective observations and questions on the film. I’ve pulled out some extracts from each of them.

“The first thing that most of us do when we realize we are stuck is to look to make changes in our outer lives. This might mean changing jobs or leaving a relationship or making a grand new year’s resolution to change the way we look. Such changes rarely have the desired effect because we are changing the wrong things.

A new job, a new car or a new look might bring a fleeting send of happiness but it soon disappears. To bring about genuine change we need to change the way we see ourselves and the world, we need to change our inner lives and escape our conditioning….

When you accept you are stuck, and accept that only you can change your life, you start to move on and break out of your rut. Like Phil, you accept that your old self and your old beliefs are no longer working; and you stop blaming others and begin to change yourself instead. This is truly transformative.”

Groundhog Day: A Values and Vision Guide by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

“If your spiritual task was to work on diminishing your egocentricity, where would you begin? What tasks do you believe you’re here to accomplish? What character flaws would you like to work on?”

“What have you learned about the shadow side of your personality in love relationships? What flaws in yourself have you come to accept?”

Groundhog Day – Breakthrough to the true self by Ken Sanes

“Like many of the heroes of fiction, he can only escape his exile from himself by being exiled in a situation not of his choosing.”

Seeing the shadow by Dairyu Michael Wenger Sensei (For Buddhist readers)

Why not screen the movie for friends, at work or other communities you belong to and have a discussion after? Share this post. The above links provide excellent possible discussion points.  After your screening, do post any comments you have in this post or on the facebook page.

(Please note that a licence is needed to screen movies outside your home in Singapore. Contact the Motion Picture Licencing Company (Singapore) Pte. Ltd.  )

Thank you to Matthieu Ricard for sharing this gem with us. Let us make best use of it.

PS: Punxsutawney was the town that Phil wanted to leave yet finally ended up staying there – not because it had changed but because he had changed himself. It reminds me of my relationship with Singapore…. 

Related: More Inspiring Movies


The Last Contact

I was recently a little impatient with someone dear to me. In a few hours, I was remorseful although the impatience was very slight and perhaps not even very perceptible. The remorse felt hauntingly familiar.

Sometime in 1987, my grandpa was visiting us and he asked me to bring the newspaper to him. And I remember being a sulky teen and doing it grudgingly. That was the last time I saw my grandpa alive. He died of a heart attack days or weeks after that.

I have felt remorse for how I acted that day. I have now forgiven myself.  Yet I’m grateful that whispers of that remorse visit me now when I am not mindful that my contact with someone may very well be the last.

How do you want your interactions to be, knowing they could be your last?



Eulogy of Malcolm Forbes

Thanks to Cyrus H.Copeland for kindly giving me permission to re-publish the eulogy for billionaire Malcolm Forbes by his son, Steve Forbes, which was published in “A Wonderful Life: 50 Eulogies to Lift the Spirit”. Here are some excerpts of it.

My grandfather wrote in the first issue of Forbes: “Business was originated to produce happiness, not to pile up millions.” By that criterion, my father was truly a rich man. As he once wrote, “I’ll be the saddest one at my funeral.”

What made his happiness so precious and unique, so contagious and convincing, was that he knew all too well the hurts and disappointments of life….

He was no stranger to physical pain. A machine gunner during World War II, he was seriously wounded and spent almost a year recovering in various military hospitals. When he talked about this, which was rare, it was with jocular anecdotes about various ways he tried to scratch his back when in a cast. …

Nor was he a stranger to adversity and setbacks, personal and professional. His divorce from Mother after thirty-nine years of marriage almost shattered him…. 

He was also no stranger to the underside of human nature. No one who served in combat as he did could escape it. There were numerous times when his trust in others was no reciprocated. 

Yet for all this, which so often sours so many of us as we get older, he never lost his almost childlike capacity to wonder, to be curious, to dream, and to do. His buoyant, infectious spirit of openness, of genersoity, of let’s-try-it was always with him. 

He was incapable of ill will of or pining for what might have been. Grudges and grievances were never a part of this man’s makeup. He genuinely believed that things turned out for the best…. 

He never hoarded his power like a miser. He took delight in delegating authority to those he felt had earned it. To him, that was smart business – their success meant more success for the company.

He loved people. People sensed this and were quickly at ease with him. He never tried to make himself look bigger by making others feel smaller. …

No matter what he did, no matter how impressive the achivements in business, ballooning, writing, motorcycling, entertaining, and collecting, we knew that as long as he lived, the best was always yet to come. Now he is gone. But in a larger, truer sense, death has not triumphed, and if he follow, as he did, the better angels of our nature, it never will.


What would you like for those left behind – friend, family, employees, colleagues – to say about you when you have gone?


On dying and living…

Elisabeth Kubler Ross was an expert on dying. Here are some of her wise words…

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths.  These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassions, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”


“And after your death, when most of you for the first time realize what life here is all about, you will begin to see that your life here is almost nothing but the sum total of every choice you have made during every moment of your life.  Your thoughts, which you are responsible for, are as real as your deeds.  You will begin to realize that every word and every deed affects your life and has also touched thousands of lives.”


“We run after values that, at death, become zero.  At the end of your life, nobody asks you how many degrees you have, or how many mansions you built, or how many Rolls Royces you could afford.  That’s what dying patients teach you.”


“Dying is nothing to fear.  It can be the most wonderful experience of your life.  It all depends on how you have lived.”


“If you live each day of your life right, then you have nothing to fear …”


“Throughout life, we get clues that remind us of the direction we are supposed to be headed … if you stay focused, then you learn your lessons.”


“There is no joy without hardship.  If not for death, would we appreciate life?  If not for hate, would we know the ultimate goal is love? … At these moments you can either hold on to negativity and look for blame, or you can choose to heal and keep on loving.”


“When you learn your lessons, the pain goes away.”


“When we have passed the tests we are sent to Earth to learn, we are allowed to graduate.  We are allowed to shed our body, which imprisons our souls …”


“We make progress in society only if we stop cursing and complaining about its shortcomings and have the courage to do something about them.”


“Those who learned to know death, rather than to fear and fight it, become our teachers about life.”


“Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself and know that everything in this life has a purpose….”


“You will not grow if you sit in a beautiful flower garden, but you will grow if you are sick, if you are in pain, if you experience losses, and if you do not put your head in the sand, but take the pain as a gift to you with a very, very specific purpose.”


“It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth — and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up, we will then begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.”


“Death is simply a shedding of the physical body like the butterfly shedding its cocoon.  It is a transition to a higher state of consciousness where you continue to perceive, to understand, to laugh,  and to be able to grow.”


“For those who seek to understand it, death is a highly creative force. The highest spiritual values of life can originate from the thought and study of death.”


“I believe that we are solely responsible for our choices, and we have to accept the consequences of every deed, word, and thought throughout our lifetime.”


“People are like stained-glass windows.  They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”


“Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death.”


“There are no mistakes, no coincidences, all events are blessings given to us to learn from.”


“The ultimate lesson all of us have to learn is unconditional love, which includes not only others but ourselves as well.”


“We need to teach the next generation of children from day one that they are responsible for their lives. Mankind’s greatest gift, also its greatest curse, is that we have free choice. We can make our choices built from love or from fear.”


“Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms, you would never see the beauty of their carvings.”


“Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself and know that everything in this life has a purpose.”


“There is no need to go to India or anywhere else to find peace. You will find that deep place of silence right in your room, your garden or even your bathtub.”

My Last Words

Last year I did an experiment to live as if it was my final year to live. I didn’t blog about it directly as much but many other things I blogged about, did include this lens I put on.

I haven’t strung the lessons from the experiment into a coherent post yet but I wanted to share with you my last words for now.

Love, Wisdom, Truth, Service, Growth and Joy.

I have a new venture, Joy Works. And I realised that the virtues important for the organisation are exactly the six words which would be the foundation of my last words before my “death”. Read about them at the Joy Works website.

An ending has laid ground for a new beginning… it feels incredible that I can create something from my life lessons.

Before I die…

As the last two months of my experiment approach, priorities become clearer. One priority is to be at peace with myself and the life I have lived before I die.

How would you end this sentence?

Before I die……

It’s a question Candy Chang has enabled many to answer in public spaces.

She has other brilliant projects involving the use of public space. I love many of them, especially Sidewalk Psychiatry and Career Path.

Credit for all photos: Civic Center

Video: Steve Jobs on How to Live Before You Die

I’m sorry to hear that Apple’s co-founder and visionary Steve Jobs has died. Here’s an inspiring video by him. He found the awareness of death to be a very important tool in his life. How could you incorporate death awareness into your own life so you can live a life of greatness, purpose and joy?


Excerpts from the video:

“You’ve got to find what you love and that is as true for work as it is for your lovers…Your work is going to fill a large part of your life and the only way to be truly satisfied is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it, keep looking…don’t settle…as with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it..”

Jobs describes how for over 30 years, he would look at himself in the mirror in the morning and ask, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?

When there were many days with a “no”, he knew it was time to change things.

“Remembering that I will be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in my life.”

“Your time is limited so don’t waste it on living someone else’s life…don’t be trapped by dogma…don’t let the voice of other people’s opinion drown out your own inner voice..the most importantantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition…They somehow already know what you want to become…everything else is secondary….”

 Related: Top 5 deathbed regrets, Leaving a Trail of Light, Martin Luther King on his death , What dying can teach us about living

Top 5 deathbed regrets

Here’s a great piece by Bronnie Ware, someone who worked in palliative care on deathbed regrets.

The five regrets are:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. 

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Which regret do you think you won’t have at the end of your life?  What have you lived well and would celebrate?  How could you share this with others?

Which regret are you at most risk of having if you were to die today? What can you do in the next week to transform this potential regret into something you did and could celebrate when you’re on your deathbed? Who or what could support you?

(Thanks to Ketan Shah for sending me this.)