A little more than a year ago I sat by the bedside of my mom as she panted out her last breath of life. I looked into her eyes as that moment approached, told her I loved her, and gave her permission on behalf of my siblings to “go home”, as I phrased it. It was a sacred moment, a heart-breaking moment, and a privileged moment all at the same time. I have never been that close to death, never been in the room, staring death in the face, when it appeared. I had never even contemplated being that intimate with death. Contrary to popular imaginings, it was not a frightening thing or a gruesome thing. It got me thinking how our end is so much a part of who we are. It is just a moment, like birth in that way, yet a defining moment.
I am in so many ways an average middle-aged man, edging closer to 50 as I write this. As an average middle-aged man I realize that this time of life is a typical time to consider mortality; perhaps even more typical than the supposed “mid-life crisis” that is celebrated in song and story. But the experience in that moment, those brief minutes, of watching my mom pass from life to death have pushed me beyond the superficialities of hair transplants and sports cars. I now consider death in general and my death specifically without fear. Funny, that.
We live in a modern society that is so far removed from the reality of death. In fact, it seems that we try to wipe it from our communal subconscious with our worship of youth, culture of athletic clubs, and overall sanitization of all things moribund. At one time the experience of death was a common thing, a shared event that involved whole families and villages. Certainly, from the early days of childhood people would have memories of seeing the dying and dead, going through the mourning, burying the passed in the ground and moving on with life. But this is not our experience any longer. And I do believe we are the more pathetic culture because of this fact. We are to be pitied because we do not live with the reality of death close at hand.
With death close, we learn more and more that each day is a gift. I know that is a hackneyed thing to write. My apologies. However, it is still true. As being plunged into total darkness helps you appreciate a tiny light; as gasping for breath on a mountaintop helps you appreciate the air you take in easily with each breath; death helps you truly and deeply appreciate life. What a gift, then, is that part of each of our lives we, ironically, fear and push far, far away from our minds and experiences.
Those are some deep thoughts for a first blog, I know. Likely, I won’t get that profound on a regular basis (if my past history holds true, that is). But I do hope to use this forum to share thoughts on existence – yours, mine – and perhaps help us all to embrace the time we’ve been given with the kind of bear hug it deserves.