Monday, October 11, 2010

On Dying

I think about dying pretty much every day.

I realize that there are some who may think that’s unnecessarily morbid.

But it’s not to me.

I’m at the age now where change is accelerated. The closer you get to the end, the faster it gets. Past fifty, it’s like somebody pushed Fast Forward.

And now it’s autumn again. The changing of summer into fall always brings with it a bittersweet nostalgia. Happy memories of the past collide with a heightened awareness that all things change and die. Even us. But there is a brilliant beauty as the leaves blaze their brightest just before falling.

In the days I have left on this whirling planet, I want to blaze more brightly. I want to reflect more Light.

So I think about the end. I remind myself that my days are numbered. I ponder how to make the best use of the ones I have left here.

Actually, I’m starting to get ready for The Trip. Even if I live to be 90, that won’t be long enough for me to get rid of all the junk I’ve accumulated and organize all of my messes. Last night, I threw out about 50 magazines I’d saved for one reason or another. Ideas I wanted to copy, trips I wanted to take “one day,” recipes I wanted to try. “I won’t need them in Heaven,” I reminded myself as I flipped through them one last time before hurling them into the recycling pile. It felt good. I am beginning to prepare for departure.

Still, it is ineffably painful that nothing here lasts. Sitting alone in my sunroom on a Sunday afternoon, I feel a sense of profound loss. I am grieving the presence of the quiet for which I once pleaded. I am missing the sounds of living that used to make me long for solitude.

I have a fantasy: For just a week… maybe even just a day… how I’d love to have all three of my girls back in this big house that seems so empty without them. How I’d love to time-travel back for a visit, knowing what I know now. How precious it was.

How passing.

Every day, there are poignant reminders of this inherent transience. It seems as if once a week, I have a friend who loses a parent. My mother-in-law is battling a life-threatening cancer; my mother is facing potentially serious health problems. As of last week, she can no longer drive. Her friends are leaving, one by one. There are constant goodbyes.

When I get together with friends I haven’t seen in a while, it’s slightly shocking to realize how much we’ve all aged. When did we get to be old? It almost seems like a joke. Inside, we’re the same in so many ways. But every time I look in the mirror, the footprints of time are more evident.

Everybody changes. Every body changes.

It’s hard.

Fortunately, I find that this heightened perception of mortality gives me a greater sense of compassion for all of us… even people that are difficult to love. I think, “One day, you won’t be here anymore. Let’s just spit it out: One day, you’ll be dead.” One day, each of us must pass alone through the doorway out of this life. For many of us… most of us… the path to that doorway will be littered with pain and suffering.

If I believed that this is all there is, it would be tragic beyond words.

But I don’t.

I long for the day when all change and loss and decay are past. When separation can no longer slit your heart open like a sharp knife. When there are no more goodbyes to be said.

I don’t want to artificially hasten that day. Although there have been times in my life when I thought it might be nice not to have to wake up again, they are long past. Now, I try to savor each day as a short-lived gift. Even if it is a completely unproductive day, full of frustration and irritation. Still, I try to find some tiny point of joy and gratitude, embracing the beauty of small, insignificant things. And I look ahead.

With numbered days, my internal priorities shift. I am learning to let go of things that will not matter in the end. Learning.

I ask myself, What is of eternal value? What can I carry with me when I go? What do I need to do before I leave?

These are the things I ponder in the fall of the fall of my life.

Winter surely comes.


“What I mean, brother and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on… those who mourn, (should live) as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.” (I Corinthians 7:29-30)


ashli said...

i love your writing. you express yourself so poignantly.

that you long for the days gone by makes me want to live in my present. i have the noise and chaos of 4 kids under 10 at home and we are in crazy mode...but I too think about how the progression of time is going too fast. I always think about how much i will miss this life that is mine right now.

thanks for sharing your perspective and for being so real and honest.

Corinne Cunningham said...

Autumn brings this out, doesn't it? Bittersweet is the perfect word for it.
(there must have been something in the air last night, as I stayed up way too late purging toys and magazines and CLUTTER... but it was worth it...)
Thinking of you, and your friend you mentioned in the comment earlier (thanks for sending her my way, if you need to, pass along my email: crnnoel at gmail dot com)

Rebecca said...

I wondered if anyone else has these thoughts. I think of all of us, class of 72, and wonder, where did it all go so quickly. Here we are, knocking at 60s door and inside I'm 17. My grandmother would always tell me she didn't feel any different inside; she was still a young woman and it surprised her to look in the mirror. I feel that way now. Kathy's chilren are 28 and 24 (Matt just had a birthday). I remember Christmas at her house putting together Barbie's western adventure or some other thing...Autumn always colors my soul with melancholy.

Anonymous said...

I feel many of the same things. Life is so fragile and short. I don't believe in an afterlife, and the lack of belief does not make my life tragic. I think it actually enhances my life. I know that this is my only chance.

Debi said...

I so agree with you that as we age, hopefully we become more compassionate to those around us. Everyone has a story and some are unbelievably brutal. I can't imagine not counting on an afterlife that's better than this when I die! I think you're a wise woman to focus on what we can take with us which is really all that matters. Blessings to you and thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Kristy said...

Have you read Francis Chan's Crazy Love? He, too, talks about the need to remember that we will ALL die...and to change the way we live TODAY, because none of us know when that day will come.

Peggy Dabbs said...

How beautifully written and so

I was a member of a large Baptist
church in Birmingham many years ago. The pastor there would deliver a yearly sermon, usually around Thanksgiving, entitled "Come Before Winter". It was always so poignantly written and preached.

This entry reminds me so much of
the things that he said. Thank
you for helping me to recall these


Anonymous said...

Having grown up in colder climates (Colorado), I relish the autumn and winter seasons!! Autumn and all its color bursting forth shouting to all of God's magnificent creation!! And then winter with the bright blue sky, evergreen trees, a blanket of sparkling white snow and brisk temperatures - invigorating!! And instead of death and dying, winter is a time of hibernation in the animal world, where most new babies are nurtured and birthed.

I understand the message you are sharing Kim. But from my experience comes a different perspective - which is what shapes all of us so uniquely. I am thankful you share yours so that we may all grow from each others' insights!!


Anonymous said...

My husband and I spent some time this weekend converting our old vhs tapes to dvds. In the process of trying to preserve the memories, we couldn't help but reminisce.I miss those two little girls with the bows the size of their heads, and the little smocked dresses. I too would just love one more day "like it used to be."
Growing older is just no fun. I do cherish the days with my family now, in a way that I never did in those younger years. Every day is a precious gift. Sometimes we just have to look a little harder for the joy. Thanks Kim. Reading your blog brings me lots of joy. You are amazing.

Kim said...

Thank you all for these wonderful comments. I love the different perspectives and insights that are shared.

We help each other think about things in new ways.

Kristy, I have that book on my Wish List at Amazon. Thanks for the reminder!