Wednesday, April 3, 2013

This Is Kinda Morbid...

My stepmom's parents died a couple of weeks ago. First her mother, then about 10 days later her father, who was just hanging on to be there for her mother. My stepmom was very close to them, and I can't imagine what she's going through now. Sure, they were old and ill and it's not really unexpected. But still. How do you deal with a loss like that?

This is something that I, rather morbidly, think about a lot. Maybe it's because I was in a serious car accident when I was fifteen, or because Crohn's disease almost killed me six years ago. But I never assume I'll live forever, or even to old age. I don't assume that about my loved ones, either. I know that death can come at anytime, to anyone, and I have to use statistics about life expectancies to calm me down.

And the funny thing about death is that, for all the progress civilization has made, we know so little about it. We have a few "near-death experiences" which, honestly, can't be all true, and we have our beliefs about the afterlife. But no one really knows. It's something that everyone will experience, and yet it remains, for the most part, a mystery.

Thoughts of death make me anxious. They make me think about my mom, my aunt, my husband and, most of all, my kids, and these thoughts regularly precipitate a prayer for their well-being. When I think of those who have lost loved ones, the proxy grief can overwhelm me if I let it.

I wish I dealt with these thoughts differently. I wish the knowledge of my own mortality made me more motivated to seize opportunity, like it does for billionaire entrepreneur Sara Blakely, who says, in response to a tragedy, "When you witness death at age 16, there is a sense of urgency about life...the thought of my mortality--I think about it a lot. I find it motivating." The Forbes article about her says that for solace she listened to motivational tapes and started her first business shortly thereafter.

Anna Quindlen takes a slightly different approach. After her mother died when Quindlen was 19, she says, "It is so easy to waste our lives: our days, our hours, our is so easy to exist instead of live. Unless you know there is a clock ticking." About her mother's death, she says: "I learned to love the journey, not the destination. I learned that this is not a dress rehearsal, and that today is the only guarantee you get."

I can't control the fate of my loved ones with worry, or even with prayer. But I can work harder to achieve my goals, and more importantly I can appreciate every moment I have on this earth. I can watch my kids make each other laugh. I can carve out more time to spend with Nathaniel in the deep conversation we love so much. I can smile more. I can hug more. I can live more. And that is reassuring.