I Hadn’t Planned on Dying Either

I’m a future-oriented planner in every area but one: my own death. That needs to change. No, I haven’t been told I’m ill, I’ve no thoughts of suicide. But it’s coming. Eventually.

I avoid thinking about death as if I am invincible. I am not. Neither are you. We think it will never happen, though plenty of evidence exists to the contrary.

People – young and old – slip, swim, and are dragged kicking and screaming over the lip of the infinity pool all the time. Why not anticipate it and work to leave this place (and those around us) better than we found it?

Nobody escapes death. Nobody. Most of us don’t acknowledge our mortality and instead spend too much time with things that don’t matter. But I have recently begun to acknowledge that I have an expiration date. Old age and retirement are not givens.

I want to make a difference on this earth. I want to love deeply and be loved back. I want to hear that I’ve been a good and faithful servant. I am not ancient and I’m not a kid, but everywhere are signs that my time is passing. My once tiny baby has her own children who are no longer babies. I’m likely to be among the oldest baby boomers in a meeting. The generation that raised me is gone. 

Life is littered with those who had had a lot to do that was left undone. Hundreds in Sri Lanka this Easter. Babies with distended bellies and flies in their eyes. Addicts with needles in their arms. Friends with cancer. Neighbors. Pedestrians and mountain climbers. 

I still see a friend’s hiking boots sitting empty in the corner of an emergency room years ago. She and a friend hit a tree. She died and the friend who was driving lived a short, tortured life before climbing into a closet with a gun. Neither of them planned any of that – they were out on the town. Didn’t matter.

A nurse in my mother Rosemary’s hospital room held the phone to her ear in an empty room as I told her I loved her and was ok to let go. I heard the nurse say that the morphine had her comfortable as my mother’s eyes followed her around the room. My mother wasn’t done taking care of my sibling and his descendants. Didn’t matter.

I remember three days of black and white TV coverage and a riderless horse. I imagine the convertible in Texas speeding away with the hopes and dreams of a nation trailing after it like so many whirling dust devils in the sky. We weren’t ready. Didn’t matter.

I remember a memorial service, trying unsuccessfully to stifle sobs for a young man in my district who came home for the last time in a flag-covered box. Hundreds lined the streets to honor him while his family and friends asked why. Didn’t matter.

I have this to do list in my brain. On my headstone, I’d like it to say, “she got a lot done”. But when it’s my time to go over the lip, it won’t matter. My list will cease to exist. So I must plan, prioritize my time.

I don’t know – you don’t either – when my breath will stop. Time passes while I fritter about. When I was little I thought I’d never get a driver’s license,  get saved, become an adult, fall in love, get married, have children, a meaningful career, and hold my grandchildren. Now I’ve done all these things. Time has passed. I will not escape my death.

If I want to earn that inscription on my headstone, I’ve got to plan carefully. There are now many more things I’ll never do than things I will. There are many more places I’ll never see than places I will. I need to make my hours count.

I never planned on dying, but I should. So should we all.


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