What follows from facing up to mortality?

My brother-in-law’s cousin died in March of a brain tumor. She was 55.

Two weeks ago I went to the funeral of a friend’s brother who died of cancer at age 58. “You’re the only person I know who still has both parents and all siblings living,” my friend said.

Two days after that funeral, the brother-in-law of my sister-in-law was killed in an auto accident that wasn’t his fault. He was two months younger than I.

It’s strange that I didn’t know any of them and yet have been struck by an awareness of mortality as never before. I lost two close friends to cancer years ago and have known many more people who died young, but somehow their deaths didn’t make life feel as fragile as it has lately.

Maybe it’s so many coming at once.

Or maybe I am finally aware of being well past the midway point. Yet my friend Martha was only 47 when she died, and Randy’s age had nothing to do with his accidental death.

Whatever the reason for this heightened awareness of mortality, it could be a good thing.

But what to do with it?

I certainly don’t want to be morbid. If the life expectancy tables turn out to be accurate, I wouldn’t want to look back on 19 years of waiting for the Grim Reaper to knock.

Should I change anything?

I have no desire to draw up a list of things I’d regret not doing. Making bucket lists of places to travel, books to read, things to do, etc., turns pleasure into obligation, at least for me. If I really want to do something, I don’t need to remind myself by putting it on a checklist.

As for what I am doing, at times I’ve felt almost too busy, but everything is too enjoyable right now to give up.

Could I use my time better? Probably, but my feelings about “wasting” time have mellowed over the years. Now I don’t think it’s squandering time to watch escapist TV programs, read mystery novels, lie in a lawn chair, or putz around the house, as long as I enjoy it. We need “unproductive” time to recharge. Boredom tells me when I’ve had enough; I’m not likely to become a loafer.

Those changes rejected, I switched from thinking about activities to thinking about conduct, and that did produce helpful ideas. First, awareness of mortality could make it easier to apply the “How much does it matter?” test when something upsets me. Second, it would be wise to take care of any unfinished business with family and friends. There may not be a later chance.

Not a lot of changes to work on, but enough. They’ll take effort.

I raised the issue of mortality with friends at separate times, and in different ways they made the same point: The present is all we have, and whatever we can do to stay in the present and appreciate it, we should try to do.

People tell me I’ll live to very old age because of my parents’ long lives. I’m not so confident of making it to my 90s. That doesn’t mean that I expect to be gone soon. The future is unpredictable. All I know is that I’m alive right now, and for that I’m grateful.

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