With the beginning of the year have come reminders of our endings - as a species and as individuals. The former was in a leaked clip of the brief film CNN prepared some time around 1980, to be played if the apocalypse took place.

The network thought the demise of humanity would be best accompanied by a medium-sized brass band playing a turgid version of Nearer My God to Thee.

Technology has made this redundant. If the end of the world were to be announced for Tuesday, the media for the next 48 hours would be occupied with a flurry of selfies showing the asteroid in the background, bloggers racing to share their final thoughts and Mike Hosking wondering if people are really interested in this sort of thing.

The CNN clip was widely mocked, but it had at least one merit - if you were unhappy at the imminent demise of civilisation when you started watching, you'd be gagging for it by the end.

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The apocalypse is still probably a generation or two away; our own ends are almost certainly much closer, and the question of how we deal with that was raised by British doctor Richard Smith on his British Medical Journal blog.

It's worth reading his humane, thoughtful piece in full, but to summarise, he lists the four ways we die: "Sudden death; the long, slow death of dementia; the up and down death of organ failure, where it's hard to identify the final going down, tempting doctors to go on treating too long; and death from cancer, where you may bang along for a long time but go down usually in weeks".

Smith argues that, provided pain relief is available, cancer is the best option. It is the only death that leaves us in a position to make our peace with those we love and to tidy up loose ends.

The alternative he proposes is to live each day as though it's your last. To too many people that means cramming as much self-indulgent bucket-list trivia into every waking moment as they can, as though your biggest regret might be that you didn't take that balloon flight over the Grand Canyon rather than that you hadn't reconciled with that estranged parent or child.

One of the saddest things I've seen was a documentary about people with terminal cancer. The person who was fighting hardest was the one who should have been most accepting because she was a devout Catholic who believed death would take her to Paradise. But she had never had a partner, children or a career and had no friends except the people she knew through church. She was going to die never having lived. And she wasn't happy.

So to Smith's advice I would add the most important thing you can do to prepare for death is to make sure you have had a life.