Make Sure You’ll Smile When You Look Back on Your Life

Looking Back

“The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.” ~Carl Rogers

I had just gotten settled into my hospital bed after two hours of preparation. I had 32 electrodes taped to my bandage-wrapped skull, plugged into a machine that monitored my brainwaves, with just enough room to go from the bed to the bathroom.

After two ambulance rides and multiple seizures, I needed to find out what was going on with my brain.

The full diagnosis of my disease was still unknown then. The doctors told me it could be serious and to prepare for the worst.

The worst?

“Yes, they said. Your time on this earth could be seriously limited.”

Weeks? Months? A year? Years? They said “yes.” In other words, they didn’t know yet.

When the nurse left my room, I was there by myself with nothing but my thoughts about my life and death.

It quickly dawned on me that at some point, most people would be in hospital beds, facing their mortality and asking themselves the hardest question they will be forced to ask: Did I live a fulfilled life?

I began to audit my life and smiled.

If the worst news came, I knew I’d be leaving this earth walking the path of fulfillment. Granted, I wanted several more decades to walk the path, but my brain condition forced me to answer that question of all questions.

The phrase “the path of fulfillment” was a revelation I’d had nearly 20 years ago on the plane ride home from my mother’s funeral.

Fulfillment is a constantly moving energy. It’s a path, not a place. You’re either walking on it or away from it. That’s why you have to work at it everyday to stay on the path.

Back then I wasn’t doing what, in my heart, I knew I always wanted. I wanted to make movies and music, to influence others, to make the world a better place. There were so many things I always wanted to do.

But they were huge endeavors, and fear superseded these dreams.

I had to face the fear of failure, the fear of success, the fear of rejection, the fear of what people would think.

So I acted. I wanted to make a movie. It was 1999, so the first thing I did when I landed at home in Austin, Texas was buy a computer, Final Cut pro editing software, and a digital camera.

I had never used a camera or editing software, but that didn’t matter. I took one small step at a time, and in two years my wife and I were travelling to New York, Los Angeles, and Muskogee, Oklahoma to view my documentary at film festivals.

Guess what the documentary was about? That’s right—fulfillment!

As a part of the documentary, I produced two of my own songs. Those songs played all over the world. That’s when there were 25,000 Internet Radio stations begging for music, so radio play over the web was accessible as long as you had a radio-ready produced song worth the airwaves.

Again, one small step at a time, and I had a movie and music under my belt.

I wanted to run a marathon. I was overweight and never really ran long distance before. But, all it took was a start, commitment, and follow-through. It took three years to accomplish, but I took small steps to make the big run.

I started by running one mile, then two, then a 10K, then a ten miler, then running a marathon in four hours and forty-seven minutes. Not a record setting pace, eh? Didn’t matter. To me, I had won the gold medal.

Fulfillment transcended again on March 5, 2007. That’s when I held my beautiful daughter in my arms, looking at all of her beauty, as she was perfect on that day she was to born. But she was dead. And it was tragic, no doubt about it, but if reinforced that life is fragile, and we need to honor it.

So I’m not going into the darkness that lay ahead, just the light that came from her death.

The revelation of fulfillment had elevated to the connections in our lives. Through all of this hardship, I was glad I’d married my best friend, as I don’t know how we could have survived otherwise.

All of our friends and family stood with us and were there for whatever we needed. I had made it a commitment and priority for my 40-something years on this planet to nurture true and deep friendships.

Those deep relationships paid off when I needed them the most. And still do.

I am close friends with those that I connected with in first grade, sixth grade, high school, and college—those relationships where you can peel off all of the layers and just be yourself and laugh and cry all in the same breath.

Again, it was a commitment I made to be a true friend for all of those decades. You have to be a friend to have friends.

You have to make time to call them, Skype them, have a drink with them. In the end when you’re in your hospital bed facing your mortality, it is those connections that will truly matter.

To build those connections, first and foremost, you have to connect with yourself.

You have to know who you are, what you stand for, and how you want to connect with people and the society we live in.

When you connect with yourself, you can face your fears. You can build the confidence to act on your passions, to commit to them and follow through. And in doing this with deep connections, you can walk the path of fulfillment.

We now have a beautiful four-year-old daughter who is the brightest connection in our lives. My brain condition is in check as long as I take my handful of pills each day.

I make sure I cherish every moment with my daughter, my wife and best friend, my friends, and my family.

And I make damn sure that I honor my commitments to connect with myself, my loved ones, and the world where we all live.

Remember, one day, you will be in your hospital bed auditing your life. When you do look back on your life, you want to make sure you smile.

Photo by SilentMind8

About Richard "Bee" May

Richard “Bee” May is co-founder of – an inspirational website featuring individuals who exemplify the B>U spirit. B>U helps inspire those to be greater than themselves for a greater world. You can contact Bee at and Be Greater Than You (B>U) on Facebook.

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  • Ong Rachel

    Such a moving post. Thank you for the reminder that life is finite and there won’t always be a tomorrow. What matters at the end is really the impact we have made on others’ lives, and not the monetary possessions accumulated. I’m still very young and searching on how to craft a life I will be proud of at the end. I wish you many more years of good health, happiness and great connections!! 🙂

  • Debbie

    Thank you for sharing your story Richard. It warms my heart to know that you have learned life lessons, before it is to late. yes, what really matter in life is the people we leave memories with, not material belonging. laughter, talks, walks and ever moment of companionship. Thank you again

  • It’s one thing to thing to know of death, it’s another to see it face to face. This year is my first in which those I care about have passed away, and its really left its mark on me. It’s a reminder to me that one day I won’t be here either; and that all that will remain is dependent on what actions I took and the connections with people I’ve made.

  • lv2terp

    FANTASTIC post!!!! Thank you for sharing your story, experience, and lessons learned! Truly powerful!!

  • Karen Lang

    Thanks Richard for such an amazing post. The philosphy and wisdom you have received after having experienced tragic circumstances will give encouragement to all those in pain.

    Your courage and commitment to achieve your goals and work through your fears, is also inspirational.

    You are so right when you say “You’re either walking on it or away from it!. That’s why you have to work at it everyday to stay on the path”.

    May you and your beautiful family be blest always.


  • Mark Bowden

    That is a really powerful article. I really love how you combine this message with such a moving account of your own life. Here’s to living life with a smile :o)

  • Razwana

    Richard. Wow. Just, wow. You are the epitome of fearlessness, my friend!

    ‘You have to be a friend to have friends’ – that line really resonates with me. There is no point in sitting back and expecting everyone else to make the effort. It’s a two-way street.

    Courageous post.

    – Razwana

  • Richard, I’m very grateful for your story, for multiple reasons, including this magical synchronicity:

    I spent this morning writing a new article for my From Grief To Growth newsletter. In doing so it became even more clear to me that what most widows need in order to create a fulfilling life is support for establishing a deeper connection with themselves.

    The thing is that for a woman who has lost her partner and who hasn’t developed a strong relationship with herself, creating a fulfilling life seems impossible. Unfortunately, most women in our culture don’t get to develop that primary relationships fully. Why? Because relationships with other seem more important than relatonships with oneself (even if, in truth, the relationship with self is essential and as important as the relationship with a life partner).

    But then again, it is never to late to create that primary connection with self. It’s a deep process but it’s absolutely possible. Just like it is a deep process and absolutely possible to create a fulfilling life under almost any circumstances.

    Richard, you are a living proof of that, and I’m so grateful for you sharing your real-life experience with us!

  • What a beautiful and honest post! Thank you! And keep smiling!

  • Pam Cameron

    This is a great post! I’m in a unique job that allows me the privilege of being with people at the end of their lives. I’m very young and it was inspirational when an old woman with dementia recently said to me “I hope you have as much fun as I’ve had in my life. Because I’ve had a blast!” It’s because of my experience with dying people that I’ve planned a once-in-a-lifetime vacation to Alaska for next year. I want to do these things now while I still can!

  • that was a beautiful story, it’s a shame it takes difficult situations for people to realise whats most important in life and to follow their dreams.
    Beautiful words.
    Mollie xoxo

  • 🙂

  • agreed!