Monday, April 17, 2006

facing the idea of my own mortality

I've never thought of my parents as old. They've always looked very young for their ages. They've always been heathly. Heck, the men on my fathers side of the family typically live well into their nineties. I guess I just never thought about the fact that someday they won't be around. That day seems like something that should still be a long way off, in a distant and hazy future which I cannot yet perceive. My grandfather lived long enough to see my oldest son born. I've always expected my parents to do the same. We need to add another "four generations" picture to the scrapbook.

But now I'm not so sure.

Over the last few years they've had an increasing number of medical problems, some of them quite serious. Two years ago my mom developed breast cancer. She's also battled chronic headaches, back problems, bad psoriasis and a variety of other illnesses. My father was very healthy until last year when he herniated a disc in his back which really layed him out for several months. Early this year he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had surgery for that. Now, just yesterday he had a heart rythm abnormality which caused him to pass out and hit his head. He suffered a subdural hematoma, subarachnoid hemorrhage and a small parenchymal contusion to the brain. It seems like my parents are falling apart. And they're not that old. My dad will turn 70 this year and my mom is 67.

I've come to realize that despite their prior good health and our family history of longevity, either of them could be gone at any time. And this applies to me and my family as well.

In my profession I see fairly young people get serious illnesses and die every day. Or be killed in accidents. I never thought about it much. I'd become used to it. Desensitized I suppose. But I'm starting to dwell on it more. One day I saw three consecutive patients with metastatic colon cancer and they were all my age! I could develop colon cancer tomorrow. My kids could get hit by a car while riding their bikes. Or worse, be abducted by some psychopathic pervert. These things happen. You can't really prepare for them. The threat is always there.

Thinking about these things has caused me to start to reevaluate my life. Find out what it truly important to me. And I've come to the realization that I need to make some changes.

First, I need to reconnect with my parents. We haven't been particularly close the last several years. In part it's because they travel a lot and live in different parts of the country depending on the season so they aren't around that much. But partly it's my fault. I don't make the effort. I've always felt like I don't have that much in common with my parents. We don't have the same values. They have prejudices that I can't understand and cannot abide. They are extremely judgemental. We don't like to do the same sorts of things. In reality, we're probably not as different as I like to make out. And even if we are, should I let those differences keep me from having a relationship with my folks?

I think of how my mom felt after her mother died. Sure there was sadness but there was also guilt and deep regret. They didn't have a close relationship. When she was younger she didn't treat her mother well. And now that she's dead she wishes she could go back and do it all over again. Be nicer to her, spend more time with her. That's a mistake I don't want to make. I also think of my kids. Right now they love us and want to spend all their time with us. How would I feel if one day my kids didn't like me and didn't want to hang out with me anymore. I'd be extremely hurt.

Secondly, I need to focus more on my family. I need to play with the boys more.I need to have more patience with them. They're only going to be young once and I should have as much fun with them as is possible. I need to spend more time with my wife. Our relationship has taken a backseat since we had kids. Now that the boys are a little older and somewhat self sufficient S and I need to make more time to be alone together. Take a trip without the kids. Become close again.

Thirdly, I have to do something about my job. As I've mentioned in previous posts I pretty much hate my job. It's too stressful. The hours keep getting longer and longer. I get no enjoyment or personal satisfaction from it. The problem is, it's lucrative so I feel like I can't quit. I'm trapped. But why am I killing myself? For money? We've all read about those people who work hard all their lives, saving every penny, putting off vacations so they can save money for retirement and then what happens. They retire and 6 months later they're dead from a heart attack. Never got to enjoy that retirement or the fruits of their labor. All of that work for what? I've decided I need to enjoy life now. It doesn't make sense to put off things you want to do when you may not be around later to do them. And why spend your life doing a job you hate. If I quit this job I'd be alot let stressed and a lot happier. I'd probably be a nicer person too albeit a bit poorer.

I'm not afraid of death. At least, not my own death. But I'm not ready to go yet. I'd like to live a long time. I'm not sure if there's any sort of afterlife or not but I rather think there's not. Once you're dead you're dead. No second life. No second chance. That's why you have to live for the now.

I do worry about other people deaths however. The death of my parents would be upsetting. The loss of my wife would break my heart. The loss of my boys would be devastating. I can't imagine anything worse than losing ones child. It would be tough to keep going after something like that. I also think about what effect my death would have on others, particularly my kids. I have 2 wonderful, intelligent and sensitive little boys who would be profoundly affected by the death of my wife or myself. Could they recover from that? It would change them forever and not for the better. I don't want them to ever have to deal with that.

Well, enough of these melancholy ramblings. It doesn't pay to excessively dwell upon death. It's going to happen eventually and that is that. I've accepted this fact. I've got other things to do now. I have a life to live.

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