How The Fear Of Dying Taught Me How To Truly Live

by Heather Anne Naples
Originally Published: 
Heather Anne Naples

It started with a headache. A headache that lasted four days.

A headache that no medication, coffee, hot shower, cold shower, or amount of sleep could subdue. I called my doctor, who told me, “You’ve had headaches before. This is no cause for concern.”

And then, in the middle of the night…it popped.

As sudden as the headache had come, it was gone. I felt (or heard?) a “pop” in my head that woke me from my sleep, followed by a warm sensation rushing through my brain. A friend had recently lost her mother to a brain aneurysm, and I immediately thought, “This is it!” as I shook my husband awake and frantically dialed 911.

I sat on the carpet in our hallway, rocking back and forth while clutching my knees as I waited for the ambulance, and distantly heard the dispatcher’s voice in my ear as I asked my husband to turn on his video camera.

I heard my daughter crying in her crib as I repeated over and over, “She will never remember me,” and began recording a dialogue into my husband’s phone that I prayed she would never have to hear.

“Hi baby, I’m your mama. And I love you so very, very much.”

And that was the night my life changed.

Not because the next two years would be consumed by health struggles and various hurdles, because although those changed my body, it was my mind that was changed that night in the hallway.

The way I thought about life, and the way I had been living it, would never be the same.

It’s hard to explain motherhood to someone who hasn’t experienced it, but the best way I have heard it described is that having a child is like having a huge piece of your heart walking around outside of your body. And as the paramedics arrived that night and began their work, I realized that if those were my final moments in life, the tiny piece of my soul that was crying out my name from the next room would never have a chance to know me.

In fact, she wouldn’t even remember me.

All she would have is what I left behind — pictures, written notes, and most importantly, the stories people told her of me.

And I asked myself on that ride to the hospital, what would those stories be?

And I didn’t like the answer.

So I made the decision to change it.

As a mother, as a parent, as someone who walks this earth and interacts with others, I ask you to ask yourself, what will be said about you when you are gone?

Are you kind? Are you gentle? Are you giving? Are you loving?

I am.


You don’t have to be proud of who you were to be proud of who you are right now. It takes a matter of seconds to change. The power of replacing one negative thought or comment with a positive one is life-altering. The power of surrounding yourself with people and circumstances that bring out the best in you is immeasurable. Take a look at your daily life and interactions, and if changes need to be made, make them. It is as simple as you allow it to be.

Heather Anne Naples

A friend came to visit me recently, and after several hours, she turned to me and said, “You haven’t said a single bad word about anyone this entire time.” It caught me off guard. My first reaction was, “Well, of course not. Why would I?” But then I remembered, oh, because I probably would have before. It is so easy to be a “mean girl,” to join in on the discussion and disassembly of another person for the sake of “conversation” and gossip.

But I can honestly tell you, from the other side now, it is even easier to be a “nice girl.” In fact, once you stop talking about “people,” you realize how enjoyable real conversations actually are. Ideas, ideals, places, beliefs — the possibilities are truly endless.

I’m not trying to preach. I am an imperfect person, living an imperfect life, and simply trying to leave behind the best legacy I can. And I think you should too. Because tomorrow isn’t certain, and all I can say is I am thankful I was given another opportunity, and maybe part of the reason for that opportunity is to spread this message.

Live. Put your phone down. Talk to the person in front of you. Hold the door for people. Smile if someone catches your eye. Say thank you. Say please. Give hugs. Compliment people. Compliment yourself. Love yourself. No one will remember what size pants you wore, but they will remember the way you walked in them. So walk softly. Speak boldly. Love gently. Laugh loudly. Call someone if they cross your mind. Allow yourself to be happy for others, and most importantly, allow yourself to be happy for yourself through every stage and step of your life.

Life doesn’t have to be perfect for it to be perfect.

What do I want people to tell my daughter about me? That I smiled. That I laughed. And most importantly, that I loved. That I loved every single second I was given.

And I hope someone will say the same about you as well.

This article was originally published on