I recently got reconnected to my midwife who delivered my children here at our home the base of Hawk Mountain. (Twenty years later, yet another Facebook success reuniting story). She was on her way to the North Lookout to watch soaring migrating birds and heal from a particularly sorrowful funeral when I intercepted her and invited her for lunch. The death she was trying to recover from was a young Mennonite couple, a client of hers, whose buggy was rear ended at night, propelling the couple and the 6 month old baby she carried inside fifty feet down the highway. It was fast and violent. The young mother never saw it coming. The whole community has been rocked by extreme sorrow.
My midwife and I talked about death and living and discussed whether we spend much time thinking about it. She has helped pull out over three thousand babies and I am sure has looked death in the eyes more than once.
My grandfather died of a brain aneurysm when he was 57. My father of lung cancer at 57. My mother of a heart attack at 57. When my sister entered her 57th year (56th birthday), a black cloud gathered over her head and life. Unbeknownst to me, until I took her out for our traditional sister’s lunch on her 57th b-day. She admitted that she has been living in fear all year and will be happy when this next year is over.
“Don’t you think about it?’ she asked.
“No, never. That was them and this is you.”
But the other day I got a tearful call from her, sick and coughing and on her way back from Urgent Care, where they took an x-ray and supposedly found sclerosis tumors on her chest and wanted her to see a pulmonary specialist right away. The doctor he advised was the same doctor who treated my father’s lung cancer twenty six years ago.!!! How creepy is that!
“It’s happening,” she said, “I told you!”
And after I hung up, I gripped the steering wheel and tried to think what it would feel like if someone said to you, “This is it. It’s over. You’ve run out of time.” It felt heart-breaking.
I never think about dying. I tend to think I’ll end up like my grandmother of 102 who just went to bed one day because she was tired. That would make me only about half way through my life right now. I like that better than just one more year myself (57 coming up!). Maybe this is foolish.
I went for a walk last night with a dear old friend who told me he has been working like a dog in a new job, with no stress release built in, high blood pressure, feeling like he is in a kayak fighting the current upstream. His doctor wanted him to see a cardiologist and he laughs and said, “I said that I would do this job if it kills me.”
“That’s not funny,” I tell him. “You could die.”
Of course, I could die, my sister could die, we are all going to die. But I advised my friend to get out of the buggy before it hits him from behind. He’s seeing it coming. Do something! (It’s his 57th year too!)
Fortunately for my sister, the first doctor read her X-ray wrong. I think I will get to keep her for awhile. My friend, I hope he smartens up. I want him in my life too.
I think about the Jackson Brown song that I used to sing when my Mother was taken from me so abruptly, “Pay attention to the open sky. You never know what will be coming down.”
I guess the trick is to live like there is no tomorrow. Maybe that sounds irresponsible (and my siblings have accused me of that), but it has been a personal goal of mine. Maybe just to occasionally glance in the rear view mirror in case its catching up, so it doesn’t hit you from behind…and do something about it if you can. I bought a magnet for my grandmother’s fridge in her 99th year. It said, .. I do not intend to tiptoe through life only to arrive safely at death.
and yet another…
“Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of driving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body; but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming, ‘Wow! What a ride!”
Here’s to the 57th year coming up- may it be the best one yet!