Shortly after my brush with cancer, the mother of one of my daughter’s oldest friends passed away, dying in her sleep. Marilyn had gone through surgery a few months earlier, but was recovering, so her unexpected death was shocking to everyone–not in the least to me, for she was seven years younger than I.
That event, combined with my own experience of a potentially terminal illness, has left an indelible impression on me.
I’ve never been one of those people who go blithely through adult life, never once considering the reality of their own mortality. As a new mother, one of my first actions was to write a will and name both a guardian and trustee for my child, should she lose both her father and me. As the newly-divorced mother of a young teenager, purchasing a new car, I was easily persuaded to add the extra few dollars to my monthly payment for insurance that would pay off the car if I died, reducing any debt that might be left to my daughter. Throughout my working years, for much the same reason, I carried all the additional life insurance my employer offered, because I might die at any time, and my child would need the money.
Shortly after retiring, having researched the laws concerning the subject in the state where I live, I purchased an urn for my own ashes, finding a lovely, large lidded vase at (of all places) a flea market. Although I’ve made it clear to all and sundry that I’d prefer my ashes be scattered, I’d seen the “temporary urn” provided for my mother’s cremation, and was appalled; it looked like a Hershey’s cocoa box! One way or another, I decided, I was going out in style. Still, I wasn’t about to have my family paying the inflated prices of a mortuary urn. And so my crackle-glazed, bird of paradise-decorated ceramic vase reposes on my closet shelf, carefully marked as to its future use.
And then there was the wracking asthma attack in the middle of the night that had, just a few months prior to my cancer diagnosis, come close to taking me across the Veil. The realization that night that, “I might not make it out of this one!” had dismayed but not shocked me; nor did the tumble down my stairwell a few months later, which might have had such terrible results.
However much I may want to stick around for awhile yet, I am completely comfortable with the knowledge of my own mortality.
But, as I said in a previous post (I Want to Know the End of the Story, 07/06/18), I do want to know. I want to know the end of my story.
I am the person who often flips to the final pages of my mystery novel to read the dénouement. I can’t stand waiting to see if I’ve actually fingered the murderer. During Downtown Abbey’s first run, I knew about the upcoming death of character Matthew because I’d sneakily read a British website describing the episode long before the show aired in America. I always want to know the end of the story.
I once attended a lecture by a Buddhist monk who explained that we should choose the manner of our going—to meditate upon it, and to announce our choice to the universe. I found this an interesting concept, and gave it a good deal of thought, but made no decision. Later, a friend explained that she plans to die in her sleep when she is age 85. I admired her resolution, but I don’t want to give myself an expiration date; the Divine might have plans for me beyond what I consider a reasonable life span.
But I am incredibly well-organized and orderly, and it bothers me that so much of life, and death, is not. I do not like chaos. I don’t like surprises. I dislike bedlam and confusion.
And so I am finally meditating upon the manner of my own passing, as that Buddhist monk once taught that we should do. I won’t, as my friend has done, accord myself an expiration date. But if that monk was right, and it is possible, then I want to decide what my going will someday be.
After all, as I have said once before: I want to know the end of my own story.