View from the Shoe

Running from the Reaper

“We all gotta die sometime” Falsettos

Well, that’s a cheery thought. It might sound rudely uncomfortable, but mortality gets pretty real as we cross middle age. Somewhere along our birthday lines, we begin looking behind us and see the years are gaining. We look at the whole mortality thing as being on the clock, with a need to accomplish as much as we can before we punch out. If you want to carve another Trevi Fountain or invent the newest techno thingie, you better get started.

“Life asked Death, ‘Why do people love me but hate you?’ Death responded, ‘Because you are a beautiful lie and I am the painful truth.'”  Author unknown

America doesn’t handle death well. Sure, we visit graves, offer condolences and spend obscene amounts on funerals but death itself? Not so much. The word itself is a conversation non-starter, yet death is as real as birth, marriage, and life itself. Who really wants to open Pandora’s box? Who wants to get down and dirty about death, terminal illness or loss of someone you love? Yet, we can actually worry ourselves – to death over it. Constant anxiety and fear around death can itself be an inexorable jumpstart toward what we dread most.

Death. The word is anything but MEH. In fact, it’s pretty damn personal. A pub in Ireland decided to make that ‘taboo’ word a conversation starter.  While it may not exactly be ‘Cheers’, Death Cafe in Dublin is a place where no one gets drunk and everyone talks — about death. The conversations are pretty sobering but oddly they aren’t Noir either. Young and old, women and men, all get real about addressing the Grim Reaper, with the help of a cuppa, a pint and even some laughs.

Death is not the opposite of life but part of it. Haruki Murakami

When we think of our own demise, our questions are all pretty much the same. Will our kids and grandchildren be happy? Will our spouses be okay after we pass? Will I be remembered? No matter our thoughts, one thing is clear. Life is a one-way highway. There’s no reverse, no do-overs. That’s part of the the contract we made when we burst, screaming our lungs out, into this world. Unlike Benjamin Button, we don’t live backwards and no amount of anti-aging products or exercise will change that. We are just not designed to be immortal.

I’ve always been afraid of the unknown, and what’s bigger and more unknown than death? Besides, I love being in this world. In fact, I have no plans to leave – at least for awhile. But, as another birthday approaches, it’s clear there’s more road behind than in front. As we age, mortality becomes a verb. Still, I can’t picture my little world without me in it even as I know well, from losing people close to me, that the world does indeed continue to spin without us.

Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Dylan Thomas

My experience with death has run the gamut from my way-too-young-to-die 19 year old brother to my 94 year old father — with my younger-than-I-am-now husband in between. Still, I have no freakin’ answers about the grim reaper’s motives or how to prepare for his arrival. In fact, I wonder if fear of that arrival gives death even more power?

There’s also the little matter of control. I’ve never been drunk in my life. No, I’m not a weirdo or a paragon of virtue, just a neurotic control freak. Funny then, how the sudden losses and sharp detours in my life really made control a laughable idea. Still, humans are programmed to want control. Why else would we strive to be healthy, sleep 8 hours, and drive carefully? Ultimately, however, death just thumbs its nose and does its thing.

I’m not afraid of death. I just don’t want to be there when it happens. Woody Allen

It’s a given that none of us are getting out of this life alive. Duh. We each have an invisible expiration date stamped on our behinds when we are implanted in the womb. Luckily, that date is a mystery even in terminal illness. And seriously, would we really want to know if we could?

In the end (no pun intended) one thing is clear. Mortality gets closer every day. We get stiffer,  forget more and remember less. We live longer today but not always better. We touch up graying hair, Botox till we don’t recognize ourselves yet we can’t escape the inevitable. On the other hand, if we acknowledge the elephant in the room, days seem more important the less there are of them. Our priorities shift and we have more time to look at the world around us and at those we love. We express our hearts more honestly and openly. Life becomes simpler, more generous and thoughtful and if we’re lucky, we become more adaptable and content with our changed lives.

No matter how we look at it, no matter how long it takes — winter is coming.

Are you living your best life — NOW?

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Grief is Grief

Hello, Darkness, my old friend.

DarknessOldFriend

Ah, the dark. We can’t ignore or outrun it. We can only walk, tentatively, nervously or purposefully through it. Pretty good spiel from someone who turns to TV for sound in a silent house and flips my lights on through an app, assuring me that life is visibly still present. Yet, I still remember, back when there was an abundance of life and noise in my house. I wince now remembering how I would make the occasional nonsensical wish that I’d have “just five minutes without someone arguing, or calling mom, mommy, ma.” I guess that’s not abnormal in a life with three active kids, right? Now I hear those same kids, whose babes today populate their homes, make that same joking wish sometimes. However inadvertent, my unvoiced wishes for the occasional quiet were answered to the max last year — and , boy, does that ever suck.

They say ‘Be careful what you wish for because you might get it.” Hey, universe, I never wished for THIS! Yet, all of us humans yearn for the greener grass, never really contemplating that it might be overrun with dandelions. Try telling a kid, who can’t wait for a grownup’s clothes, and privileges, that it ain’t all that, and you’ll get a withering look. How about newlyweds who wish they could take a short cut through all the trips and falls on the trip to real oneness? The one thing none of us wish is darkness, the kind that illness, loss of love, loss of dreams and of course the mother load that scary dark  brings — death. Yet, dark is the flip side of all the good stuff. We can’t avoid it, we have to find our way through it.

No one is comfortable with funerals or wakes. I used to shake each time I entered a funeral home, wishing with all my might, I could just phone it in. Maybe it had something to do with my Italian grandmother’s hysterical wailing as she threw herself, pulling her hair as she went, on my grandfather’s coffin. Yeah, that might do it. Or the earth-swallowing experience of standing in the pouring rain while they lowered my young brother into the ground. I’ve always been plain terrified of even the mere mention of death. It’s never been the topic of chatty conversation and it’s only as years go by that the obits seem like a good place to start your day. (that was a joke).  Yet, death pays the occasional visit to everyone in some way. The night it slithered up the stairs in my own home, gloating over my husband, it forced me to look straight into its eyes and changed me forever. Continue reading “Hello, Darkness, my old friend.”

Grief is Grief

Live the Dash

DASHBorn. Died. He was here – and then he wasn’t. For every name in the cemetery, what separates the dates of birth and death — is a dash, a line that connects all the living in between. A dash not only separates a whole bunch of years but also connects all we were meant to be. At least that’s what we hope for anyway.

A dash says ‘you were here’. You toddle around in diapers, go to school, run headlong into becoming an adult. And then what?  Dates of graduation, wedding, children born are markers that all fall into the living. Jobs are listed on resumes, annotated with a succession of start and end dates. Even vacations are hyphenated periods of time we set aside to explore and relax.

How about marriage? The years spent with the person we marry carry their own dash. Sometimes they stretch far into the horizon; other times years can only be the length of an eyelash. However long or short, the dash attaches pieces of our all parts of our lives. Fortunately, even though my husband and I didn’t get much mileage out of the dash that strung our marriage years together, we had a small but pretty cool chunk of the ‘before’. Now the dash is in my court.  And, at the moment, I can’t predict what it will say about me. Continue reading “Live the Dash”

Grief is Grief

Four Funerals and a Wedding

Happy couple in their new home concept

Nope, not the Hugh Grant comedy.  Jill Smolowe’s book, Four Funerals and a Wedding, is pretty much anything but comedic. Her book chronicles not only her personal grief journey but how she coped and grew along the way. In one chapter she mentions how her therapist suggested that her grief began on the first day of her husband’s diagnosis. That struck me as pretty profound.  Given that my husband’s diagnosis was levied 3 months before we were even married, I realized it would not be at all surprising that unconscious grief followed us through those years. Even as we lived and loved as fully as we possibly could, we grieved by inches.

How do you measure the knowledge, however much you stash it in the closet or ‘put on a happy face’, that many dreams just won’t come true? No, my mind never went in the direction of Charlie Brown’s Sally who said “She didn’t want to live and threw herself in front of a Zamboni”. It was just that gray leaden feeling, a sense that no matter what your plans, there would always be an expiration date that coexisted with the daily business of living. Where cancer lives, everything becomes more complicated and layered. All of life takes on a different hue. Continue reading “Four Funerals and a Wedding”