The Death Bed Test

The Death Bed Test

For those not blessed with the perspective of a fatal car accident or terminal cancer, there’s a technique that I developed that helps me decide how to handle difficult decisions. I call it the Death Bed Test.

The Death Bed Test

Imagine: you are ancient, with creaking joints and thin, leather skin. You’re lying in an inclined hospital bed with breathing tubes radiating outward from your face like the plumage of some dystopian mutant. Vague shapes oscillate in your blurred vision. Maybe your friends, your children, maybe their children. You gasp to draw air into your aching lungs. As you lay dying, a distant memory settles upon your mind. It’s of you, making that difficult decision…

An Elderly Woman's Garled Hands

At this moment, when all of the trappings of the life you knew are gone, you will think:

  1. I’m really glad I…
  2. I’ve always regretted that…
  3. Nothing. You can’t envision this decision coming to mind while you’re on your death bed.

So the decision is simple. Do what you will have wished you had done while looking back on your life from your death bed. If it doesn’t matter, then do whatever—flip a coin.

What I’ve Learned from the Death Bed Test

I will regret not doing something because it felt scary.

Nothing is scary when you’re about to die. When you’ve made peace with death, and faced real fear head on, I promise you that it will seem silly to deny yourself opportunities and happiness because you were afraid of them.

The only things that matter are whether your life was fulfilling and whether you loved the people around you the best way you knew how

A lot of decisions just don’t matter.

If I can’t imagine being concerned about something on my death bed, then I know the decision is trivial and I don’t worry about it. It just doesn’t matter. When you apply this test the pattern that emerges is that the only things that matter are whether your life was fulfilling and whether you loved the people around you the best way you knew how.

You won’t ever regret having tried something and failing.

I will regret not trying things far more than I’ll regret failing at them. Never once have I looked back and regretted trying and failing. Of course you hope that things will work out, but you never regret trying. Trying makes you stronger for next time when you try again, or try something better.

Finally, comes my personal Golden Rule, taught by Jesus, the Buddha, and others before and since:

Don’t be a Douche Bag.

My children have to abide by a single rule, which we call the “No Douche bag Rule.” (This is true, I really have this rule for my sons, I really call it this, and I really told them that Jesus and Buddha said it first. Sue me.)

The test reminds me to treat people with respect, and try to touch their lives in positive ways. It reminds me that even if no one ever finds out that I’ve done something rotten, I will forever know, and I will die with regret in my mind. It guides my actions to be consistently helpful and productive.

Have you used the Death Bed Test before? Does it help you with difficult decisions?


  1. Marcela ()

    Very Interesting topics, all of them are unique sample of “life” itself.

    Pete, you were at one point in eternal life a monk IN thoughts we meet, (are we in eternal life now?) I just have a question are you going to revive the past, by going “back to your roots” to find a answer to “what is all about”, or “why we are here for”, or have trouble figuring out what is your existent means.

    We are all energy we all one mass, we are the universe in matter, in energy level, in sensorial level, in thoughts energy, perception, feelings, emotion towards something that inspires US amount time and frames times, something is very valuable “TIME” “not really” time is non existing when comes why, we think, feel, perceive, touch, taste or smell.

    Why we are here for, well we are here to learn to love, each other help each other, unconditional without been held by, what other think respect is, love is, or what do or not do that making other upset, Is not for you to decided what the others may feel or perceive.

    What is important is you are clean in your intentions, whatever those intentions were at the time you move forward to inspire people thoughts or not.

    Now Meditation is when you close your eyes take a deep resting time or sleep, an let ourselves go, an float in our souls, that is deep state were you can find what is going on around you and around your closes ones and maybe luckily enough find out that we need is more positive energy, more people willing to help each other without asking anything in return or try to obtain benefit for giving a hand, and just maybe for others in need to ask for a hand when is one available in a moment of need.

    Also Jesus said love each other unconditionally, even your enemies, help even the meanest son of B….give, forgive, ask the father, talk to him, ask him anything you shall receive, well talk to me…


    My apology to everyone reading this post my grammar sucks or so is my mind so sorry in advance.MK (Reply)

    • Pete ()

      Thank you for the note Marcela. I’ve drunk deeply from that well, and have more to drink. I’ll go deeper into this later, when I continue the Solitude of the Mind series. (Reply)

  2. Karilee ()

    I used to use the Death Bed test a lot. It helps. I don’t use it as often anymore, because it became somewhat automated through a very rough transition period in my life.

    When you’ve “died” to most of your past life, your perspective changes pretty drastically. Perhaps it’s that perspective of a fatal car accident you mention in the first sentence. As you said:

    When you’ve made peace with death, and faced real fear head on, I promise you that it will seem silly to deny yourself opportunities and happiness because you were afraid of them.

    In any case, I struggle with fear less. I still struggle with other things, and I’m not ready for sainthood, but when some kinds of fear try to clutch me now, some of the time I laugh and tell it “riiiight, and the worst thing that could happen is that I could die, and I remember longing for that.”

    Your kids are lucky. I envy them the parenting that would teach them the “No Douche bag Rule.”
    .-= Karilee´s last blog ..3 Reasons to Build Your WordPress Blog Today =-. (Reply)

    • Pete ()

      Your experience rings true–when you practice this test it becomes second nature. I rarely have to consciously use it now.

      I count myself lucky to have been given life 3 times–once when born, once when I survived the car accident, and again at a time that I’ll write about in future.

      Because of those gifts–chances I was given, but didn’t deserve–I feel a moral obligation to *live* and to help others live as well. If only everyone were so lucky. (Reply)

  3. Andrew ()

    I was lucky enough to have a few near death experiences, and I definitely learnt a few of these lessons. Just DO things – make this life worthwhile – don’t sleepwalk. Live according to your highest truth, as best you know how, and keep growing to match this ideal.


    Andrew (Reply)

  4. Oded ()

    As a kid I wanted to have Cancer. I didn’t want to get sick, I just wanted freedom, and I thought this was the quickest way to freedom. Freedom from expectations. Freedom from having to plan your future. Freedom to do what you really want, and do it passionately and cherish every moment. Or, freedom to figure out that I don’t like anything, and then what’s the point anyway.

    Time past, slowly, and I didn’t get Cancer (luckily) but I continue to live my life knowing that i’m here for a short time, with no predefined purpose, free to choose my path and timing.

    I also try to remind other of this fact, so they would stop waisting my and their precious time with non sense, unsubstantial beliefs and fear of the unknown. But in a nice way. So I ask them “would you still be doing what you’re doing, if you were dying?”. And they reply, “Of course not. Why? are you dying?”, which is a really easy question for me. “Yes,” I say, “we’re all going to die”. Simple trick. Works like a charm.

    BTW, this is the way of the Samurai ;) (Reply)

    • Pete ()

      When I worked for Acme Corp I used to ask people what they would do if they didn’t have to work. A lot of them had never thought about it. (Reply)