How I Learned The Most Important Lesson In Life

When life truly ends in the blink of an eye

Verena Wilmes
Age of Empathy


Photo by Yaniv Knobel on Unsplash

Life is short. Every day is a gift. Carpe diem.

These words are reminders that are never loud enough to make themselves heard in the noise of everyday life. There’s work and family demanding our attention. We have hassles with colleagues, bills to pay, to-do lists to work through, groceries to deal with. We squeeze sports and relaxation into our days, which are so overloaded that unanswered emails pile up and we barely have time to really keep in touch with our friends.

It takes time to respond to messages, to talk on the phone, to see each other. Everything demands our attention. Everything seems more important than life itself. And so we deny our attention to the things that make up life. We deny our attention to the people in our lives. And sometimes it is too late.

I work as a forensic biologist, where that is the first thing you learn. Life is short. Every day is a gift. Carpe Diem. Maybe it’s good that everyday life distracts us from death. And yet, I wish I had known that the last time I saw her was the last time I saw her.

She was my biology teacher in high school. She got me so interested in the subject that I studied it and am currently getting my PhD. Without her, I wouldn’t be where I am today and I probably wouldn’t be who I am. We stayed in touch after I graduated, meeting regularly for dinner. She was happy for me along the way, she had an interest in me and my life. And she paid more attention to me than some of my “friends”.

She meant so much to me. I guess she was my mentor and role model in a way. And yet, I allowed our contact to fall asleep over the last 18 months. It was as it always is. Lots of stress at work, lots to do, everything seemed more important. I didn’t forget to check in with her, I just kept putting it off. Until — without warning — it was just too late.

When the news of her completely unexpected, sudden death reached me, my noisy, completely overloaded, and hectic world came to an abrupt halt. All I could think about was that I would have done so many things differently if I had known that time was running out. I’d have reached out to her, to let her know I’m still thinking of her. I’d have told her about the progress of my PhD. I know she’d have loved to hear about it.

What would she have done differently had she known? Hopefully there wasn’t much for her to do differently, since she was the most full of life woman I know.

Life is short. Every day is a gift. Carpe Diem.

Those words taste different in the knowledge that she can no longer go swimming and dancing, two things she loved doing. The words take on a different meaning in the knowledge that she will no longer walk her dog. She will never again squint in the sun, smoke a cigarette, and enjoy a glass of wine. And we shouldn’t kid ourselves: Death is the fate of us all.

It feels like she taught me one last and not needed lesson.

How much time do we really take for our friends and family? How much do we relate to them, know what’s on their minds? Too often they are just an item on the to-do list and seem so unimportant compared to work and commitments and our plans. Our heads are so full of the mundane that we often don’t even know what’s important to us, let alone have the energy to do it.

At least that’s how I felt.

Konny’s sudden death has changed my perspective on things that seemed so important yesterday. I no longer want my life to resemble a hamster wheel that leaves me only superficial time for all the things that are important to me. Even if it’s just reading a good book in the shade on a hot day. I only wish I had realized this sooner.

Life is short. Every day is a gift. Carpe Diem.