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Like You Were Dying

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"How's it hit ya, when you get that kind of news?
Man, what do you do?"
And he says,
"I went sky divin',
I went Rocky Mountain climbin',
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu."

A character knows that the end is nigh. They're usually sick but sometimes doomed in another way. As a result, the character is left in either anger or despair. But then, they meet someone: a character who's equally doomed, The Anti-Nihilist, a Love Interest or a happy innocent child. This person's attitude can be summed up with: "Yep, dying sucks, but life is fun anyway." Then, brought together by their understanding of what the other is suffering, they form a close bond.

Usually no one gets healed, but before the movie or the character's end, the second character's attitude has rubbed off on the first one. Sometimes a character recovers or the diagnosis was wrong in the first place, then they decide to still make the most of their considerably elongated lifespan.

Sometimes the roles are reversed, and it's the dying person's winning attitude that rubs off on some loser that doesn't know how to live. The basic lesson is the same, though.

Compare with The Last Dance and Must Not Die a Virgin. Not to be confused with Like You Would Really Do It.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In the D.N.Angel manga it's found out that the people in Hiwatari's family have short lifespans, and he doesn't have much longer to live. However, at the same time, he notes that Daisuke was the only person who gave him joy in life.
  • Macross Frontier plays with it some, uniquely in a way. Sheryl Nome gets hit with Your Days Are Numbered thanks to an Incurable Cough of Death in the second half of the series, and Alto Saotome (finally) ends up getting romantically involved with her after he finds out. There is a subtext to this that it might all be something of an act that the two of them are playing out, ignoring all other considerations just for Sheryl's sake. Sheryl even tries to let Alto off like this, presumably so he'd be free to chase after her rival in the Love Triangle in their last talk before the Final Battle, but we never find out what Alto had to say about that, as Sheryl gives him a "Shut Up" Kiss, declaring that no matter what he said, she wouldn't be able to sing (It's a Macross, music is VERY IMPORTANT). The series ends promptly after the Final Battle without Alto ever finishing what he was going to say. As you might have guessed from the wall of spoiler text, it's complicated, and this is the short version. Still, it's clear that Character Two was very important to Character One.
  • In Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead, Akira's goal is simply to enjoy himself and live life to the fullest after three miserable years in a crushing dead-end job. So he writes down "100 Things to Do Before I Become a Zombie" and resolves to do all of them before kicking the bucket. The Zombie Apocalypse is a great motivator.

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes: In an arc where Calvin believes the world is ending because the weather's getting colder (it's really just fall), Calvin says he's prepared because he's always believed in living every day as though it were his last. He then goes to his room to slack off, eat junk food, and read comic books, Hobbes pointing out that this would've sounded more inspiring if Calvin were somebody else.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Stranger Than Fiction has a similar idea with a truly creative kind of doom.
  • The Timothy Dalton/Anthony Edwards movie Hawks. Two terminally ill friends decide to live as best they can for as long as their bodies hold out.
  • Harold and Maude - An Emo Teen who attends funerals and commits mock-suicide for fun gets into a relationship with a 79-year-old woman who is basically the septuagenarian equivalent of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She kills herself for real in the end, but he still stops faking his suicides and starts actually living life.
  • In fact, there seems to be a subtrope of Manic Pixie Dream Girl films - such as Autumn In New York and Sweet November - that center around the fact that the girl in question is dying, and wants to try to live life to the fullest. The fact that this effectively makes their life goal "help some guy remove the stick from their ass" is incidental.
  • Dream With the Fishes, where a morose voyeur is saved from suicide by a happy-go-lucky fellow that is terminally ill and wants help living out a few fantasies before meeting his maker.
  • The 90's German movie Knockin' on Heaven's Door (yeah, like the song) is about two men with terminal diseases spending the last of their days enjoying some millions in cash from the mafia they got their hands on.
  • Joe Versus the Volcano has this as its plot. Joe has a decidedly mediocre life, with a mediocre job, but even his mediocrity is ruined by his massive hypochondria. When he is told that he really is dying, from a "brain fog" that has no detectable symptoms until it ultimately proves fatal, an eccentric millionaire offers to give him an all-expenses-paid trip to a tropical Pacific island where he will then sacrifice himself in a volcano in accordance with native tradition to secure the millionaire the mining rights for the island. At the end it is revealed that he never had a "brain fog," and his doctor was on the payroll of the millionaire looking for a schlub that he could trick into leaping into a volcano.
  • In El juego de la verdad, Ernesto is mistakenly told that he has three months to live. During a game of truth or dare, his friends convince him that he should do the things he's always wanted to do and assure him that they will go along with anything he says. The things he wants to do include skinnydipping and sleeping with his best friend's fiancée.
  • The film Scent of a Woman does this trope in both directions. Colonel Slade teaches poor, outcast prep student Charlie that you don't have to lie down and let other people's expectations of you determine your life. Charlie teaches the blind, bitter Colonel that you don't always have to spit in people's faces to make yourself important, helping others and sticking to your principles accomplishes the same thing. The Colonel stays blind, but is a little less bitter and Charlie accepts that he'll never be one of the rich White kids at his school, and is okay with that.
  • In L: change the WorLd, L spends the last week of his life taking care of two children, even holding a picnic for them while on the run.
  • In Short Time, Dabney Coleman plays an overly cautious, by the book cop who due to a mix-up is told he's terminally ill. He then discovers that his cop life insurance policy will only cover "professional damage" meaning he has to be killed in the line of duty. Wanting his wife and son to have the money, he decides to no longer play it safe, tosses "the book" out the window, and becomes the sort of risk-taking supercop who you only find in movies. Finally, after nearly twenty years of drudgery on the force, begins to believe that his life and his job means something.
  • In Iron Man 2 when confronted with his poisoning and seemingly imminent death, Tony asks Natasha Romanoff what she would do if she had only a brief time to live. Natasha, evaluating him for S.H.I.E.L.D., tells him that she would do whatever she wanted. As a result, he decides to have a wild party at his house in Malibu and get completely drunk in full armor, thereby endangering everyone around him, making him a rather less positive than usual take on the trope.
  • Melancholia has an interesting take on this. Justine develops from being miserable and depressed to calm and peaceful when she realized everyone was going to die from planet Melancholia colliding with Earth. The final scene had Justine and Claire’s son making the magic cave as an attempt to calm him down and try to enforce hope. Justine came through in the end at keeping everyone calm and together, showing how certain situations can sway our attitudes and actions.
  • Played for Laughs (with some surprising existential reflection) in Fantozzi in Paradiso: when Fantozzi discovers that he has a single week to live he tries to do a few things he never managed, including having sex with his coworker miss Silvani (thanks to Fantozzi's wife, who found out of his illness and organized them a vacation)... But on his last day the doctor tells him he switched his diagnosis with that of the priest that had just given him the last rites (and proves it by suddenly falling dead). He reacts by running away cheerful... And, being Fantozzi, gets hit by a truck that pushes him under a steamroller.
  • In the French film The Brand New Testament, the daughter of God gets back at her curmudgeonly, antagonistic father by texting everyone on Earth, letting them know how long they will live down to the last second (It Makes Sense in Context). Pretty much everybody who gets put on short time (the folks who only have a few days, or even a few months to live) takes this trope to heart and starts living their lives the way they'd always been afraid to, because why not, right? Interestingly enough, the same thing happens at the opposite end of the spectrum. One man, in his 20s already, is informed he still has almost 120 years to live; as a result, he loses all sense of caution. Not only is he perfectly willing to live life to the fullest and try every new thing, he becomes a professional daredevil, armed with the knowledge that no matter how crazy his stunts, some lucky break will keep him alive and kicking for the next 120 years.
  • The classic Akira Kurosawa film Ikiru (To Live) is a feature-length medication on this trope. A petty bureaucrat in the Tokyo city planning department learns he is dying of stomach cancer and realizes he's just been going through the motions for most of his life and decides he wants learn to truly live before he dies. So he tries a lot of things from dissipation to hedonism to a platonic affair with a former subordinate, which all leave him dissatisfied until he realizes the solution has been sitting on his desk all along: a plan to build a playground in a poor neighborhood on land coveted by commercial developers: something only someone with his skills developed over a lifetime in the bureaucracy will be able to get accomplished. It's a goal he spends the last months of his life relentlessly and humbly pursuing, eventually dying on the completed playground shortly after the dedication ceremony, happy that he's finally made a real difference for somebody.

  • Early in Remnants, when Mo'Steel rides The Pipe.
  • The entire premise of Deadline, in which the narrator knows he's dying but keeps it a secret from everyone, decides to not go through treatment and live the last year of his life as best he can. While all he seems to care about is getting a street named after Malcolm X, the book has a feel of "life is AWESOME!!" to it.
  • Older Than Television: Valancy Stirling of Lucy Maud Montgomery's The Blue Castle (1926). Valancy gets a diagnosis of terminal heart disease, then uses her new-found remaining time on earth to live like a free spirit, talk back to her rude relatives, and fall in love. After a great shock doesn't kill her, she goes back to the doctor and finds out her letter of diagnosis was mistakenly exchanged with that of an old woman with the last name Sterling.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The premise of the very short-lived Sitcom Twenty Good Years starring John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor.
  • In one episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Quark gets diagnosed with an incurable and frequently fatal syndrome by a doctor on Ferenginar. He auctions off his vacuum-dessicated remains in traditional Ferengi fashion before he dies, but then it is revealed that the diagnosis was incorrect. His initial response? "It means I get to sue Dr. Orpax for malpractice!"
  • House:
    • Subverted in an episode where Wilson finds out that he had earlier misdiagnosed a patient with terminal cancer. When telling the man that he is in fact perfectly healthy, he is surprised to find the man is outraged: knowing that he was going to die within six months had given the man real happiness for the first time in his life. He then promises to sue Wilson for malpractice. Made funnier when House gives the man the name of a good lawyer. Because he's House.
    • Played straight in a different episode. A young girl with terminal cancer who has an astonishing bravery and dedication to enjoying the little time she has left. Despite his best efforts at misanthropy, the girl's zest for life rubs of on House and he ends up buying a motorcycle. The series' last shot is of House and a terminally ill Wilson going touring on motorcycles.
  • Scrubs:
    • In an episode made to parody sitcom cliches, one patient was found to only have 24 hours to live, and was taken out by the doctors to go through a list of adventures before he died. Then, at the end of the day they found out his chart had been switched with another patient, so he was not going to die, and the patient who was was antisemitic so no one cared about him. Subverted in that this turned out to be a dream sequence in JD's head, none of the above adventures actually happened, and the patient dies. The moral of the episode ends up being "sometimes bad things happen to good people, which is why it's a good thing we have sitcoms to cheer us up."
    • They had a separate episode with a subplot almost exactly identical to the House example above.
  • The Big C has Laura Linney's professor character diagnosed with terminal cancer, deciding not to tell her family (to spare them misery), and spending her last few months taking life by the balls. The first season of the show then thoroughly deconstructs this trope, as her actions look extremely bizarre to her family and only widen existing riffs, while not really bringing her a lot of joy.
  • During the third season of Supernatural, Dean knew he was going to die, as at the end of season two, he sold his soul to a demon to save Sam's life, and ended up with a year to live. So, he spent most of the season living it up whenever and however he could... at least until he got a taste of what would happen to him when he died, at which point he fought like Hell to survive. He died anyway. He got better.
  • In the Korean Series Scent of a Woman, the lead is given six months to live. She creates her bucket list, including dinner with a pop star and the chance to fall in love.
  • In the Israeli sitcom Zanzuri, the eponymous character is told he has sixth months to live before dying from a heart disease. He then sets out to do everything he’s always wanted to do (being in a rock band, making love to another woman who is not his wife) and taking care of his affairs before dying (entering the Guiness Book of World Records to be remembered by, finding a new husband for his soon-to-be-widow). He finally dies just a second after his wife tells him she’s pregnant.
  • A variant from Babylon 5: Londo Mollari isn't dying anytime soon but, being one of those Centauri who has dreamed of their death, knows that he will die in old age as the Centauri emperor, strangled by G'kar as he strangles him, thus he acts even more unhinged than most Centauri and, in dangerous situations, fights like a madman (that's even his nickname in his duelling circle) because, no matter what, he will survive it until that fatal confrontation.

  • Tim McGraw song "Live Like You Were Dying":
    "How's it hit ya, when you get that kind of news?
    Man, what do you do?"
    And he says,
    "I went sky divin',
    I went Rocky Mountain climbin',
    I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu."
  • "One Day Left to Live" by Sammy Kershaw. The singer barely avoids a fatal accident, and decides that from then on, he will live like he's got one day left to live.
  • "If Today Was Your Last Day" by Nickelback
  • "DC-10" by Audio Adrenaline, although the cause of death is a bit more sudden and humorous than illness.
  • "Live Like We're Dying" by Kris Allen.
  • "Die Young" by Ke$ha is about partying like you were.
  • "One Day Too Late" by Skillet is about doing good while you can.
  • YouTube has a video taken at a Garth Brooks concert where, in the middle of Brooks singing "The Dance" — a song about having no regrets about life, because the good always overweighs the bad — a stage camera spots a sign in the audience that reads "Chemo This Morning, Garth Tonight. Enjoying the Dance." Brooks is visibly affected by the attitude, and you can hear his voice begin to quaver a bit.

  • A "couples" example from RENT: Angel and Collins are the "live like you're dying" couple who get Roger to open up a little. Mimi, who is Roger's love interest, finishes the job despite a considerably rocky start with him.
  • Lampshaded in the revival of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, at the end of Sally's song "My Philosophy":
    Sally: You know, someone had said that we should live every day as if it were the last day of our life.
    Lucy: This is it? Help me! Help me! I've got twenty four hours to live! AAAAAAAAAA!!!
    Sally: Clearly, some philosophies aren't for all people...

    Video Games 
  • Final Fantasy IX: Played straight by Vivi, whose race has a very short lifespan. Averted by Kuja, who doesn't take the news of his pending demise very well... Until the very end, where he finally regrets his actions and attempts to make peace with his arch-nemesis.
  • In the Visual Novel Heart De Roommate the main heroine Asumi and her older sister both possess an incurable heart disease which will kill them before they hit their twentieth birthday, something that both girls understandably found depressing. The older sister finally realized the truth of this trope on her death bed, charging Asumi with living it. This is all revealed in an unlockable scene taking place after the events of the main plot. In it Asumi and the PC, are reunited after nearly two years apart. Of course, said disease finally catches up with her; confining her to a hospital bed for what seem to be the few remaining days in her already short life, all in front of the PC's eyes. This finally explains the main reason for her Jerkass "Beauty of Youth" obsessed Genki Girl attempts to get all the people she met to live their lives rather than mourn the things wrong with it.
  • This happens to several characters in Tales of the Abyss, but some take it better than others...
  • Shadow Hearts: Covenant has a strange example. In the good ending, Yuri is impaled on a rock spire to prevent his soul and memories from disappearing, so he could essentially die as himself and be reunited with his dead lover's soul. After the credits, though, it is shown that he is reborn as the man he was in 1913, heavily implied to have all of his memories intact, and he's restarting his life from the moment he met his lover as his second chance to save her life and create the good ending of the first game (Covenant begins as a sequel to the bad ending of the first game).
  • Metal Gear Solid 4. The protagonist is not only extremely old, but has to commit suicide to save the world. He saves the world, is talked out of suicide at the last moment, and then attempts to leave to spent the six months he has left to live agonizing about how miserable his life was. Fortunately, his best friend visits him post-credits and says he'll be by the main character's side for the rest of his life, and promises he'll always remember how amazing he was. He also quits smoking.
  • Subverted in Jak II. The audience is made more aware of this than the characters, given that they're regularly bombarded by creepy voice overs from Baron Praxis's City-radios, which often serve as "Wanted Dead or Alive" adverts or handy little reminders to Jak that the Dark Eco in his body will eventually kill him and he's just delaying an inevitable and highly painful end when Praxis could make it so much faster and painless... It doesn't stop Jak, however, who doesn't so much plan to end his days happy as he does plan to gun the living bejeezus out of the Krimzon guard and seek his revenge against Praxis.

    Visual Novels 
  • The unnamed terminally ill protagonist of Narcissu provides the impetus for the also terminally ill Setsumi to go on a road trip to see the flowers instead of dying in hospital.
  • Tsukihime: While not actually on the verge of death himself, due to a tragic accident during his childhood that claimed his parents and grandmother, Arihiko Inui was painfully aware that death could come at any moment. Luckily for him, he becomes friends with a certain Shiki Tohno, a boy who really was commonly on the verge of death when he was younger, but whose maturity and philosophical outlook were far beyond his years...

    Web Comics 
  • Examined by Bug, who shows that you need to plan your spending wisely while doing this.
  • Alisin from Fans! in early strips. Finding a cure was the first step of her Character Development from the hedonistic "Alisin" of the first two books to the "Ally" of the fifth and onward.
  • Sandra and Woo: This is first hinted, then confirmed, to be the motivation behind Larisa's devil-may-care attitude about life and lack of inhibitions. She's known to be diabetic, and is also hiding some additional drug regimen from her friends. She eventually reveals (via As You Know to Sandra) that she has Wolfram syndrome, which is what's causing her diabetes and is slowly killing her.
    Larisa: I’ll be blind in ten years and dead in twenty. I don’t give a damn if some puritans have a problem with my naked body.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons, of course, has mocked this a few times, most notably with Homer believing that he would die after eating an improperly prepared poisonous fish.
    • In another episode Homer reads a self-help book that advises him to "Live each day like it was your last". Cut to Homer sitting on the curb sobbing "I don't want to die!"
  • Dexter's Lab had Dexter eating a comically oversized burrito and assuming that the gas cramps would make him explode, due to testing his hypothesis on a balloon. There was an explosion, but the only thing it destroyed was the television he was standing in front of.
  • In an episode of Arthur, D.W. and Binky each discover that they've eaten a "poisonous" green potato chip and become unlikely friends. Cue a montage them bodyboarding in a lake, watching 4th of July fireworks, carving jack-o-lanterns, and building a massive snow castle — apparently "dying" for the better part of a year.
    D.W.: "It's amazing what you can do in one day if you try real hard."
  • In an episode of Family Guy, a meteor is about to destroy the Earth, so everyone starts acting like this, doing all the things they've always wanted to do without regard for the cost or the danger, since they figure they're all going be dead in a few days anyway, so it doesn't matter if they go broke or die slightly ahead of schedule. Peter, for example, decides to go to a black neighbourhood and shout the n-word in the middle of the street just to see what happens (they were impressed by the amount of bravery it took and made him their king). And then it turns out there was no meteor after all, it was just an April Fool's joke by the news crew.