A lesson from Jimmy Buffett: What would I say today if I knew I was dying tomorrow?

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THE PASSING OF JIMMY BUFFETT, the famous singer of “Margaritaville” Sept. 1 at age 76, got me to thinking: what would I say today if I knew I was going to die tomorrow?

A classic photo of Jimmy from his X page. Is that a margarita in his hand?

I wonder about that because Jimmy Buffett’s death seemed to come suddenly, although some media reports say that he had “a lengthy battle with Merkel cell skin cancer battle, which he had been diagnosed with four years ago, according to the singer’s obituary.”

Yes, his passing may seem abrupt to those us who loved his music, but it wasn’t a surprise to Jimmy. He knew what was going on, as did his loved ones and other close friends. They all knew exactly what was happening.

In fact, I saw a surprising post on Instagram from Paul McCartney — yes, the legendary Beatle — that was a very personal, loving tribute to the man known as the Mayor of Margaritaville.

A loving tribute from Paul McCartney

Here’s some of what Sir Paul wrote:

“I’ve known Jimmy for some time and found him to be one of the kindest and most generous people.

I remember once on holiday when I had forgotten to bring my guitar and was itching to play. He said he would get me one of his, but I said, ‘I’m left-handed’. So, Jimmy had his roadie restring one of his guitars which he loaned me for the duration of the holiday. He then followed this act of generosity by giving me my own beautiful left-handed guitar that had been made by one of his guitar-making pals.

It’s a beautiful instrument, and every time I play it now it’ll remind me of what a great man Jimmy was.”

He also added this:

“(Jimmy) had a most amazing lust for life and a beautiful sense of humour. When we swapped tales about the past his were so exotic and lush and involved sailing trips and surfing and so many exciting stories that it was hard for me to keep up with him.

Right up to the last minute his eyes still twinkled with a humour that said, ‘I love this world and I’m going to enjoy every minute of it’.

So many of us will miss Jimmy and his tremendous personality. His love for us all, and for mankind as a whole. … 

So long, Jim. You are a very special man and friend and it was a great privilege to get to know you and love you. Bubbles up, my friend.”

Yes, Buffett dying last week wasn’t a surprise to Paul McCartney either.

You’ll need to read all that Sir Paul wrote to understand the “Bubbles up” reference, but so many of the things he said about Jimmy Buffett were things I could see Jimmy saying to people if he knew he was going to die tomorrow.

We don’t have much say over how we go

FOR THOSE OF US who are a lot closer to the end than the beginning, and more around the age of Jimmy Buffett than someone like Taylor Swift, it’s a thought that is more on our minds than one might think.

The fact is, most people don’t have much say over how they die. Despite the control we believe we have over our lives, how it ends is frequently sudden and abrupt.

In Jimmy Buffett’s case, he knew the end was out there because of his age AND because he had been fighting the skin cancer and melanoma for a few years.

He posted this message (right) on Twitter (now X) when he had to cancel a concert in Charleston, South Carolina on May 20 due to health concerns. I love his comment that “Growing old is not for sissies” because he’s spot on about that.

Jimmy was also able to post something on Instagram just a few days before he died on September 1. It was a bit of video with him playing with Paul McCartney and Jon Bon Jovi. In the clip, Buffett played guitar with McCartney on piano as the trio sang the lyrics to The Beatles’ 1968 hit “Hey Jude.” Buffett included a simple caption that said,  “#withalittlehelpfrommyfriends #flashbackfun #summer2016.”

Both the message to his fans in late May, and his video posted just before his death, were wonderful and sobering. That’s because he was able to leave a message to his family, friends, and fans that came from deep inside.

Reflecting in death how we lived in life

NOBODY OUTSIDE HIS INNER CIRCLE knows if Jimmy Buffett thought the end was near. The May message was both optimistic about him playing that Charleston concert sometime in the future, but realistic about the health concerns he was facing at the time. His comment that “growing old is not for sissies” is humorous but also sobering because it reflected the reality we don’t spend much time focusing on until it closes in on us.

As this photo from his X account shows, this is how Jimmy wanted us to remember him at the end.

It always soothes my heartbreak about death when at the end, people lovingly reflect on how they lived throughout life. I didn’t know Jimmy Buffett personally, but the messages he left for us make me believe that he was doing just that — and the words of Paul McCartney drive that point home.

Somewhere, and I can’t seem to find it now, I read that Paul had visited his dear friend Jimmy Buffett about a week before he died, and that Sir Paul sang for him and his family while he was there.

That sounds like Paul McCartney, and if true, is a wonderful, heartfelt tribute to a life well-lived.

It makes me wonder if I’ll have the presence of mind to reach out, like Jimmy Buffett did, and express myself in such a loving and positive way when I’m near the end.

I pray I will … but I fear I won’t.

BUT, IT ALSO GOT ME THINKING: When my time comes, I can’t think of anything better than having the great Paul McCartney sing for me — except for maybe having Willie Nelson sing “Amazing Grace” as he did at the funeral for the legendary astronaut and moon walker Pete Conrad.

Having either one of them sing to me at the end would be a wonderful honor, and a great blessing from the Lord himself that would get me ready for the Great Beyond.

We should all be so lucky to end our lives on that kind of note.

RIP, Jimmy Buffett. We loved your music, your undeniable zest for life, and thank you from deep in our hearts for always showing us the way, right up to the very end.


PS: As of September 5, 2023, more than 233 million people have “liked” the post about Jimmy Buffett’s death that his family published on X (formerly known as Twitter). 

PPS: Here is Jimmy Buffett’s obituary from his website.

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