Maybe it is a product of aging, but thinking of my own mortality has become a frequent visitor in my head on more than one occasion over the past several years. And, to be honest, it’s scary as shit.
I never thought about it much growing up, and there were many times when I should have. Thinking back on it now, there are hundreds of moments that could have turned out a lot worse, if not for fate, guidance, or maybe a little help from above. Ironically, I never once thought of death. I won’t be the first to say it, and definitely not the last, but in your late teens/early twenties, you are invincible. I think there is a subset of humanity, small albeit, that never fears death. The rest of us will eventually succumb in one way or another to the reality that there is always a possibility that tomorrow never arrives.
Those that are invincible must not fear death.
I try and think back to the moment it changed for me. What was the catalyst for a change in my way of thinking? For me, it was becoming a father. Realizing that I have not one human being but two to take care of made me start to have a healthy fear of death. If I am not around, then who will teach them what’s right and wrong? Who will show my son how to work on a car, or my daughter how to stand up for herself against boys? You also carry the fear that your passing will somehow indiscriminately ruin the rest of their life…. cause them undue pain and stress. I’m not afraid of death for me; I’m afraid of death for what I leave behind.
The other fear that lay within death, is the complete randomness. We should all be as fortunate to live until 95, go to sleep in our own bed, and just never wake up. That’s how my grandpa passed, and it was perfect. No pain, no drawn-out goodbyes, just finality. But, for just as many good endings, there are terrible ones. There are the children who get sick and die, or the husband/wife that has a long battle with cancer. None of those outcomes are favorable or fair. It almost makes you want to know up front how you are going to go.
At least then, you could prepare.
But, maybe it is better we don’t know. Maybe, as humans, we should learn to really appreciate every day for what it is: a gift. It sounds corny, but it’s true. I get caught up in the monotony and routine of daily life as much as anyone else, so I get it. But the more I think about my final goodbye, the more I try to slow down and do the things that are important: hug my kids, play with them, tell my wife that I love her, call my mom, and just be happy. It’s impossible to think you can do this every day, but even if you don’t you should at least think about it. Appreciate and be thankful for everything you have because one day it will all be gone.
Maybe I shouldn’t fear death; it is inevitable. Maybe instead, I should learn to focus on the here-and-now. Find the good parts in every day, and in everybody. We spend so much time focusing on what is ahead that we forget to notice where we are…where we have been. My son starts kindergarten next week, and it feels like he was just born yesterday. It does not seem real to me that he starts his journey in to the world when I feel like I should still be changing his diapers.
There is a song with the lyrics:
“All the love I’ve met, I have no regrets, if it all ends now, I’m set”
This resonated with me because I truly feel that way. I had a loving family growing up, and even though we had our fair share of problems, they were always there for me. I went to college, graduated college, and met a fantastic woman along the way who would eventually become my wife. I started a career, bought two houses, and managed to live pretty comfortable financially. I have never been on the front page of the National Enquirer or been a part of any “scandal.” I’ve tried to be a good friend, a good husband, and all around good person. But most importantly, my biggest accomplishment, was having my two children; a healthy little boy and girl.
You really could not write a better story.
Perhaps that is what I need to focus on moving forward…. not what story I am GOING to write, but the ones I’ve already written. Focus on the things that are important now, not the things that are important tomorrow or next week.
I wish I could say that writing this has cured my fear of death when it hasn’t. It has however made me appreciate more things that I would have taken for granted. I think having a healthy fear of dying is what helps a person truly live. If you are unsure of tomorrow, then you will live for today. Many people ask the hypothetical question of what you would do if today was your last day on Earth. It’s fun to play with your friends, thinking of different scenarios, but the reality is today could be your last day.
So, if today is your last day, what did you do to make sure that you appreciated every minute of it?