A Strange Death Bed Request Opened My Eyes To The Harsh Reality Of A Wasted Life

What will you be thinking about when you approach the end?

man sitting on deathbed UfaBizPhoto / Shutterstock

Many years ago, I worked for a large corporation.

The company manufactured electrical control parts, and my job was to support the salespeople and engineers by reading blueprints, creating a list of components, and pricing out the jobs. The salespeople called on customers, negotiated volume pricing, and managed distributors’ inventory.

Our team had several large clients who were loyal to the brand and the local service we provided. And then there was the “other” kind of customers — those who were only interested in getting a deal.


The bargain-hunters made purchasing decisions based on the lowest price, without regard for quality, warranty, or level of service. One of those challenging clients had a purchasing agent named Russ. Diligent in squeezing every last cent out of suppliers, Russ was a bottom-line guy — and all business.

Whenever he sent over a bid request, he demanded we stop everything and concentrate on generating a price quote. This usually meant lengthy phone calls to corporate marketing managers to justify competitive discounts. Most of the time we were successful and awarded the project.

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After years of working with Russ, he told one of our sales reps he had cancer.

He told our rep it was progressing rapidly, and he’d soon be hospitalized for treatment. But his condition didn’t stop him from working, and our office continued to receive his phone calls requesting bottom-feeder price quotes.

What we didn’t know is that many of those calls originated from his bedside. Apparently for Russ, continuing to hound us for better and lower prices took place regardless of the circumstances.

At the time, I wondered if the cancer story was a bad joke, that maybe Russ had made it up and was attempting to use his alleged failing health as a negotiating ploy by pulling on everyone’s heartstrings to extract every last penny from the job.


I couldn’t imagine why anyone with such a dismal prognosis would spend their remaining time chasing price levels for a business he would soon leave behind.

As it turned out, Russ’s diagnosis was true, and he didn’t have much time left.

But the way he used it disturbed me.

I wondered why he wasn’t focused on his family — how they’d spend their lives together, recalling their happiest, most precious memories, and sharing their love and support at this crucial transition.

And then the phone call came.

But it’s not what you think.

As the end approached and hospital personnel buzzed around his room, Russ picked up the phone and called one of our sales reps, begging him to promise he would improve our last bid by two cents a unit.


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The rep told me he could hear Russ’s wife and kids crying in the background. Yeah, I’ll bet his family was thrilled with how he chose to spend his last remaining moments of life.

I’ve often thought about Russ, not because of his obsession with his job and questionable work ethic. But because he reminds me of how often I’ve spent time, energy, and money chasing a deal or engrossed in a situation that, in the end, provided absolutely no meaning in my life — or positive impact on another’s.

Even worse, the people I really care about had usually been set aside and put on hold — until a more convenient time when I could appreciate them.


It really hits home when I read an article about end-of-life regrets from those who share their truth when approaching the finish line.

For the most part, those stories have given me much more than insight and unconditional advice.

They’ve also provided the wisdom and inspiration that have allowed me to recognize my own truth, instilling the hope and knowledge that I can change my path — and which direction I choose to take— every single day.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Regrets are often the result of missed or unappreciated opportunities. 

While the chances of life are often fleeting and easy to commiserate over, I realize that, in the past, I’ve made the best decisions possible at the time — using the knowledge, interest, and comfort level of my then-self.


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I also recognize some of the choices I made weren’t always the best ones for me, even though I had high expectations at the time. And in hindsight — good or bad, missed opportunity or followed the dream — I take responsibility for owning all of them.

2. Material possessions are transitory and often confuse us with misplaced values of comfort and security. 

“Things” require attention. So do people. Which do you believe will bring you the greatest joy, the deepest meaning, the heartfelt connection we all need to feel and embrace?


We have an opportunity every day to demonstrate to the people in our lives just how important they are to us. Be grateful for those you love, and who love you. Your new car will never care about you the way they do.

3. Acknowledge and appreciate the limited time we have. 

More important, make conscious and purposeful decisions when choosing how and with whom you spend it.

4. We can’t recapture our past. 

It’s a hard truth. And we have no promise of how much more time is ours to enjoy.

But we can reshape our future and create a meaningful life by sharing a positive message and providing memorable examples to those around us — and those we’ll eventually leave behind.


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Jill Reid is the author of the Real Life Book Series and founder of Pathway to Personal Growth.