I guess, to be fair, we all are dying. From the time our lives begin, we are steadily moving toward the end of our lives. Some, like Koto Okubo, live to be so old they gain the title of “world’s oldest” person. Unfortunately, that title, by the very definition, is not likely to be something one carries for a long time.
Obutu, at age 115, was only the oldest woman for a month.
I’ve often stated I would not want to live so long I outlasted all my friends and family. Perhaps it was not the same for Okubo, as she lived in the same nursing home as her son. Still, I wonder how many people knew Okubo personally, or the title holder who preceded her, an American named Dina Manfredini.
We do marvel at people like Johanna Quass , an 86 year old gymnast who is still performing publicly. ( I marvel that anyone that age can even get off the floor, let alone do a gymnastic routine!) We respect older folks by virtue of their longevity and accumulated wisdom.
So, we revere old people and we are enamored of youth. When young people die, it seems especially tragic. A life cut short when so much promise lies ahead makes us all mourn. We are moved to join together, hold vigils, share our grief, and comfort each other.
My grandfather taught me most of what I know about death. When I was a child, we often walked for pleasure and more often than not, we wound up at Eastern Cemetery. This was a very old cemetery, (even when I was a child). St. Anthony’s Cemetery was at the same location, but the two cemeteries were side by side, with St. Anthony reserved for Catholic burials.
I would walk among the graves and with my grandfather. It was like visiting friends and family on Sunday afternoon (minus the fried chicken and biscuits!) He would tell me of men he knew in the Army, relatives I’d never met, even an old girlfriend of his, but that last introduction came with the admonition, “Don’t tell Grandma.” I had a brother buried there who died before I was born.
So death has never been particularly frightening to me because my Grandpa let me know it was part of living. What frightens me is the prospect of a long, slow, deterioration, dependent upon others for my treatment and care. What frightens me is not seeing the sky in the morning and the people that I love. I used to worry I would die before I was finished on this earth, but I’ve outgrown that. There are always others smarter than I, more dedicated or talented to take my place.
I met a wonderful woman on Facebook who is the friend of another friend. When I met Eryn, she had just been through some radical procedures for cancer. In the years since then, I have read her posts and occasionally corresponded with her. We were actually able to meet for lunch once, when she was visiting here.
Eryn is a true warrior. She’s tried every treatment, suffered through chemotherapy cocktails, experimental treatments and more surgery. Nothing has stopped the progression. Eryn is dying.
What I want you to take away from this post is the absolute certainty we all are dying... most of us just don’t know when. I was fourteen years old when I heard this song, “Live for Today”
What I wish for is that the people who love me tell me now and that when my time is done, I exit quickly, cleanly and with no regrets. As for how I live today, I live a life of service by choice and in gratitude for the life I have been given. I want Eryn, to know what a profound influence she’s had on me, and how she, my grandpa and many more personal heroes shaped my world, gave me joy and taught me lessons. I hope you have personal heroes in your life, too, and that you tell them that every day.