Death upsets us because it reminds us of our own mortality
Driving into work on a sub-zero Monday morning preparing for a busy week – feeling a little groggy – so I treated myself to a hazelnut soy latte, (no foam, please) on my way in. I knew it was going to be a long week.
I had no idea.
It’s 7 am when I get to the office. I say good morning, plop my latte down and unpack my computer when my phone starts buzzing.
It’s my dad. He just called last night asking if we fixed the furnace. I figured he was calling again because he found a new reason why I should replace my furnace right now.
It had nothing to do with the furnace.
WHAT? I respond. Like I want him to say it again, but not really.
What happened? Is all I could muster – shocked and unprepared. I didn’t rehearse this one in my head yet.
See, she was healthy. She was 91. I feel incredibly lucky to have had a grandmother in my life as long as I did – and that my kids will remember their great-grandmother.
Immediately, I felt the uncontrollable need to pack up my stuff, hop in the car and head straight there. Do not pass go, do not stop at the border – just go.
I didn’t quite do that – family, logistics, etc., but I did leave the next morning – packing up the kids and headed out for an eight-hour drive.
The kids experienced the death of two of their dogs, and one of their goldfish in the past year. So they’ve experienced some loss from death, however, this was the first family death we’ve experienced.
I had a lot of uncertainties.
Enter all the questions…
- How do I tell them?
- Will they get upset?
- Should they come to the funeral?
- Should they come to the viewing? What should we do at the viewing? Should I let them see her?
I trusted my gut and was open and honest about as much of the whole event as made sense.
When I came home from work and told the kids, they got upset.
Not because they were necessarily upset about their grandmother, but because it upset talking me to tell them about it.
Each kid handled the events of the next few days differently. Jacob – 7, kept his distance, asked a few questions. Talia – 4 was very curious and had many, many questions. At the viewing she wanted to go up and see her several times, touch her. She wanted me to touch her first. Which I don’t particularly feel the need to, but did it to show Talia it wasn’t scary.
I told the kids it’s not scary, and the body is just a shell. A former house for the soul.
A place where consciousness used to live.
It wasn’t until after we arrived home I had another perspective to think about. Ry talked to the kids about it again, echoing all the things they’ve heard from us over the past few days.
We discussed how people get sad and upset when people die. Then Ry said something that made me pause…
“People only get so upset when someone dies because it reminds them of their own mortality.”
It’s a reminder that we too, will all die.
I mean, of course, I know I’ll die… in the future, elusive, “someday” when I’m 108, while drinking a glass of wine.
Of course, it could also be later today. Or next week. Or next month.
I got curious. Is that really why I was upset?
Was I upset because seeing death reminds me of my own – is this true? When someone dies we’re not sad for them. We’re sad for ourselves, we feel sad when we think about the loss of people closest to them.
SO…what happens when we’re reminded of our own mortality?
We realize it could be us. Any day. Any minute. The next inhale might not come.
We start questioning how we’re spending our time.
How we’re interacting with people.
How we’re harboring resentments, and hate…and for what?
How much time we’re spending with the people we love.
We didn’t make it up to visit the family, including vovó for Christmas this year – one of my favorite holidays with my grandparents growing up.
The thought entered my mind that I should have gone up for Christmas this year. I tried to regret it.
Something was pulling me there, that place of regret and resentment. Except I didn’t go there this time.
Would living with this regretful thought serve me? Would it change anything? Could I find a good reason to keep thinking this way?
NO – I couldn’t. So I let it go.
When we’re reminded of our own death we might say no to a project that doesn’t excite us. We’ll cuddle on the couch for an extra 30 minutes and let the dishes (the vacuuming, and the laundry) wait.
We’re kinder. We’re present. We live in the moment. What other way is there to live? Living in our pasts doesn’t serve us, and constantly worrying about what could have been or should have been doesn’t serve us.
I hesitated to write this initially. But I was curious to explore the thought.
I started to write my thoughts, then put this piece down. Then, earlier this week, when I got to work something went flying out of my purse – I looked around and couldn’t see what it was. Later when reaching for my hand cream to fix my dry, January hands, I noticed something shiny and gold. It was one off vovó’s pins. My uncle offered up some of her sweaters and coats to the family, and she had a pin on just about every sweater and jacket she owned.
I picked this piece of writing back up and committed to finishing it.
PS - deathbed thoughts