March 23, 2015

It May Be Part of Life But I Am In No Rush To Welcome It

Within the past month I have experienced the sting of death several times. My dad passed away on March 7th. On March 17th Betty and I received a call that a 87 year old gentleman we had driven to church every month for the past year was near death. He passed away two days later. Then, on March 18th, a man who I had worked with in radio over 40 years ago lost his year long battle with leukemia. 

I know it is part of life and I know it is unpreventable and inevitable, but I don't have to welcome it. My faith promises me that my death will not be the end of me, but only a passage from a temporary stay here on earth to an eternal existence with God. I believe that to be true and it gives me comfort and peace. As someone once wrote, if I am wrong and there is no afterlife then I will be dead and won't know the difference. But, for now, I find that promise to give me a freedom to live a life that is full and rich.


All that aside, I am tired of the rather constant knock of death on my door the last few weeks. After we reach a certain age, health discussions and the demise and death of family, relatives, and friends becomes all too common. I participate in a weekly ham radio gathering of those who love music from the 60's. Recently it has become a litany of medical concerns, operations, and illness. Instead of being called the 60's Net, we are joking that maybe we should rename our group the Health Net (and not after the company of the same name). In fact, the fellow who operates as the moderator of the group lost his mother suddenly just last week after a severe stroke.


I have read that one of the signs of maturity is an acceptance of the role of death in our life and the lessening of death anxiety. It is the last stage we all go through when death cannot be denied. From a a psychological perspective that may be true, and I do understand that at some point I will no longer exist on earth. After all, death is the only certainty of life. 


But, acceptance? That is a tough one. I worry that acceptance means the person slips into a maintenance phase, doing little and risking less. It can mean the person begins to pull back so the pain to self and others is supposedly lessened, though I doubt that is true. But, I may very well be very wrong about the entire issue.


Andrew Kneier wrote a book, "Finding Your Way Through Cancer" on how cancer patients reacted to their impending death with rather consistent attitudes and experiences. They included, gratitude for the number of years the person had lived and for the positive life experiences they had enjoyed, a sense of pride in one's accomplishments or in the inner qualities the person had developed over the years, religious faith or spirituality, and loving and being loved.


I find those responses from people close to death to be immensely uplifting. They show me a new way to understand the state of acceptance. Death remains an uncomfortable thought.  It is not a subject we want to face very often. I have seen, firsthand in the last few weeks, the grief and tears it leaves in its wake.

But, death is out there and will not be denied. We cannot let the reality paralyze us or cause us to deny our humanity. By the way, my health is excellent, I will celebrate my 66th birthday in two months, and I hope to live as least as long as my 91 year old dad. 

Two thousand years ago Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, said, "It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live."

Exactly.

28 comments:

  1. I am so sorry for all your recent losses Bob, especially your dad. It is so true that as we age these things become more and more common. I am only just 65 now and already have lost two friends younger than I very recently. It is jarring. In some cases though I feel it is a call to action in a way. The realization that death could come at any moment. Live a good life as long as you can. What else is there? I am glad I found you again! I always loved reading your blog!

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    1. Welcome back, Roberta.

      There is a "call to action" when we finally accept that this time on earth has a "use by..." date. Unfortunately, we don't know what that date is, so we must live as if today is that day.

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  2. I hear you, Bob. Some days I dread reading the obits or picking up the phone to discover that another family member or friend has passed on. I share your belief that death is a transition from this life to a better future, but that transition can be difficult. It's the unknown that concerns me. I remember the last conversation with my father. He'd struggled with declining health for nearly 10 years, and he was ready for heaven, but he admitted to me that it was the last leg of the trip that was a little scary because one simply doesn't know what to expect. Others, like my mom, seem to simply step from this life to the next, with no warning. I like how you end your post. Aurelius' quote is good reminder of the importance of embracing the lives we've been given--to find value in the easy and not-so-easy days, because this life is the only one we have.

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    1. The unknown of death is the focal point of so many of our fears. But, if we stop to think about it, most of life is nothing more than a series of unknowns. Death is just the last in a long line of uncertainties.

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  3. Death and dying have their place, but should not be an obsession. It is natural to think of our own mortality, but time is SO short in the scene of things. My mom became obsessed with reading obits and attending funerals for about four years. Finally she decided to live again.
    You might challenge your health net to get on to enjoying the music! Talk about grandchildren, grandnephews and nieces, they are always a source of entertainment.

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    1. Regardless of the setting medical stories always seem to predominate. I guess sharing doctor stories makes us all feel we can relate to each other. Just since the first of the year, the radio group has shared about the death of a spouse, three cataract operations, the deaths of two parents, two knee surgeries, and numerous sprains and falls. It does get a little depressing at times.

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  4. Its something that comes to us all, but is never given the attention of how to cope with it. hope youre well

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  5. Personally, I want a quick and totally unexpected end. No existing without purpose. Just end it! BAM.
    We are at that age when loss becomes more commonplace. It's sad. But we've lost a few way too soon, in our family, and That's more painful.
    Our neighbor borrowed my book While You Were Sleeping and returned it with a note, "Now I understand Dave's constant motion. He's making up for his enforced slumber." Very true! He lets no grass grow under his feet! I like that.
    b

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    1. Good point, Barbara. You and Dave have had a powerful example of the shortness of it all.

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  6. It's good that you wrote about death. It's a subject that people avoid, but I think it needs to be talked about. I am puzzled when people with Christian faith say that they fear death, since death is presented as the opportunity to go and live with God. Among the Plains Indians, the old people say that death is the beginning of a journey to the spirit world where we will meet all those who have gone before. Among those who believe in reincarnation, death is a transition to yet another life and another opportunity to learn what needs to be learned. People who die suddenly, in accidents or civil disorders or weather events, don't have the opportunity to go through the stages of grief and arrive at an acceptance of their death. Those who have a terminal disease may have the opportunity in hospice to evaluate their lives and do as you said: feel gratitude for their life experiences and pride in their accomplishments and inner qualities. The funerals and memorial services which are designed as celebrations of the persons' lives are the ones that are always the most meaningful to me. Thanks for this post.

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    1. Betty and I went to the memorial service for the gentleman we drove to church every month. It was smallish (20 people) but a very powerful testimony to a life well lived. There were tears, but plenty of smiles and acknowledgment of his achievements and faith. It was a very powerful one hour.

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  7. My regards to you, Bob. I believe in life cycles. Perhaps my experience as a nurse also brought me to some profound acceptance of life and death. I don't know. I know that we don't always get to choose how and when we die, but we certainly have a choice about how we live. My experiences with death have taught me how to live. I have always found this quote sustaining: "I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness and the willingness to remain vulnerable." - Lindberg.

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    1. I agree that life does tend to be a series of cycles, or maybe circles that intersect in ways we can't predict. The quality of our life is how we react to those intersections.

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  8. Sorry to hear about your losses; but I appreciate your thoughtful post. I follow the simple philosophy of an old colleague of mine: Just keep going until they tell you to stop ("they" being God, the fates, whatever). It doesn't seem much different from yours; and I don't know what else to do.

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    1. Above the grass as long as I can, then a quick exit: that is my plan.

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  9. In reality we deal with the death of those around us all our lives. Relatives were constantly dying when I was growing up; after all, you were backstopped by generations older than you. Even at our ten year high school reunion we were hearing about those who had passed or were dying, from either accidents or medical issues. Add in friends and acquaintances and in reality nothing much has changed.

    What did change, though, is that most of us are at an age that there is no one next in line before us. Grandparents went, parents went, leaving us ahead of our children. Knowing that makes the concept or reality of death that much more real. It isn't anything to fear for many of us, since we believe in God and the hereafter (as a side note, wouldn't this life be pretty depressing if you thought there was nothing more than this?) I do not fear death, just being away from my wife and daughter firstly, followed by others and experiences. Trillions and trillions of people have had to face it over the ages, but it still doesn't make it any easier for US.

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    1. Death is one of only two human experience that are absolutely not unique - the other is birth. Every one of us goes through both and we have control over neither.

      And, yes, without the belief in an afterlife I would spend my time quite differently.

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  10. Bob, I know just what you mean. Mortality has become very real to me recently too. I graduated from high school in 1965. We were a class of 200 and most of us had gone through our school years together. This year is our 50th reunion and I am on the committee locating everyone and making sure everyone knows about the reunion plans. Bob, it has been like a body blow to me to find how many of my classmates are now deceased. But it makes me treasure those remaining friends from so long ago.

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    1. There are a few reasons I wouldn't go to my 50th high school reunion in 2 years, and you have mentioned one of the biggies. It would be too sad to see the ravages of time on people and those no longer present. I prefer to remember them when they were an important and vital part of my life.

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  11. I'm up early (California time) to finish preparations for a colonoscopy; one more way to take care of myself health-wise. I'm not trying to "cheat death" but I am trying to cherish, not waste, the gifts I have been given.

    I agree with the comment above that my perspective changed on my subjects (including death) when I realized I was now the "elder generation" in my family. Somehow, knowing there was no one from the earlier generation for advice or connection to the past shifted my view of many of life's occurrences. Having also lost two friends in the last month (one from the "boomer" generation, one born in 1926) I am reminded again to check in with and honor those I care about.

    I would also spend my time much differently without a belief in an afterlife but hopefully in either case, wasting today would not be an option.

    pam

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    1. Good luck with the colonoscopy. My most recent one was last fall. It is an important thing we can do for our health. I know because my little brother is being treated for rectal cancer and that is not pleasant.

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  12. Bob, I'm sorry you've had to deal with so much loss recently, but you are right that we have to deal with more of those losses as we age. I count myself lucky to have had a serious cancer diagnosis earlier in my life which forced me to face my own mortality, but then to beat the odds and live for many more years. I didn't find that looking death square in the face put me in "maintenance" mode. On the contrary, it made me realize just how precious each day was and to want to live each and every one to the fullest. I let go of some things (e.g., professional expectations to publish) that weren't important to me and stopped putting off things that were important until "someday." Sometimes I worry that, as the years go by, and I start to take being alive for granted again, that I am losing that ability to savor every moment of life. -Jean

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    1. I will have a post sometime next month about "not putting off until tomorrow" which is what you are saying. Someday isn't promised to any of us. Thanks, Jean.

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  13. My condolences for your losses. In the same boat here - lost two good friends last year, and then in January my long time friend and business partner of 40+ years was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The prognosis is grim - maybe six months.

    So last week I headed to MN to visit. Had a good time -- we reminisced, laughed, and even tied up some loose business ends. So glad I made the trip, painful as it is. But death is part of life - and a reminder to live each day fully.

    Our business mantra has always been "do some good, have some fun, make some money..." We decided that we have accomplished all three objectives. That realization takes away some of the pain. But I'm still going to miss the guy - terribly.

    Thanks for addressing this topic. It is important to all of us. And congratulations on your move - we're doing the same here. Movers coming Thursday. Hectic, but fun. 73...

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    1. Hectic? Absolutely. Stimulating? Yes. The process of moving is a mess but both Betty and I are looking froward to the change.

      So sorry for your loss. A 40 year friendship and business relationship does leave a permanent mark on someone, and in this case, is was obviously a very positive one. The memories sound all good, Daryl.

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  14. I'm checking in after an absence and learned of your father's death on March 7. My mother also died on a March 7, but one long ago, on what was also her 45th birthday. My condolences to you. As I deal with the consequences of an autoimmune illness that robbed me of a lot of mobility, I sometimes think back to one of your posts about your father in which you worried about the way he was drawing inward. I wanted to let you know that sometimes that drawing inward is not a bad thing. Reliving memories, resorting them or examining them for the ultimate meaning and import: that sort of contemplation can have its rewards and its aha! moments of discovery, too. It can be exhilarating and feel creative as we come to terms with what has been important and what will be important going into the future. I hope your father experienced some moments such as those in these last years.

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    1. Thank you, Linda, for your thoughts and condolences. I really don't know if his drawing inwards was as you describe it, but he was quite content with how he was living, and referred to it as "fantastic" right up until the day he died.

      I hope when my time draws near I can feel the same satisfaction.

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