I flew into St. Louis Friday to attend a memorial for a coworker who passed about a week prior. I remember the call.
“Heart attack,” Ms. J. muttered while listening in stunned silence.
The pause was long.
“Heart attack,” she whispered in disbelief.
Bob J. was a year-and-a-half older. At 61, he lived a wonderful life and was appreciated by many. Husband, father, caretaker to many abused pets. He was also a suffering Cubs fan. And if he had watched the ending of yesterday’s Cubs-Cardinals game in St. Louis last night, he be dead. So, maybe he got lucky.
Like many before us, I took it for granted that Bob would be around for years. I never told him of my tumor. I never bothered to figure out how I would broach the subject, I just figured he would always be around and I would ‘get to it.’
Life is strange. I attended the Saturday memorial. Late afternoon, I sit listening to jazz pumped via a Bluetooth headset while sipping ice tea at Barnes and Noble. In a few hours, I will sit at a bar and watch the Boston Bruins-St. Louis Blues hockey game. And all the while, I will look upon the lives before me and realize life goes on. Life always does. The world didn’t stop for Bob. It won’t stop for me either.
Of course old acquaintances gathered and gabbed memoriors from a life unavailable.
“Ah, the good ol’ days,” Larry chuckled.
Ah, the ‘good ol’ days.’ It was a life before downsizing, when our business hummed at breakneck speeds. Bob, myself and countless others were part of that life. We remembered a life filled with Bob; a life filled with each other; a life filled with laughter. We told tall stories. We laughed. We shook hands. We promised to LinkedIn. We promised to connect. We promised to stay in touch.
None know my story. So, within the course of the normal ‘getting to know you‘ conversation, there are landmines to navigate . . . like how much to say. Friendships are fragile–come too strong, be written off–wait too long, become insincere. I mean, when is the right time to drop the “I’m going to die” bomb?”
“How you doing?“
“Me?” pointing to myself. “Oh, I am going to die in a couple years. Maybe sooner.“
Most haven’t learned what I learned, that the beautiful death portrayed by heroes and heroines in Hollywood film is an exception, not the rule.
Prior to Bob’s memorial, I took a customary shower. Gazing for a moment in the mirror, I realized how thin I’ve become. Clothes don’t longer fit. A belt with extra holes that compensates for a dwindling waste. Skin tinged from small streaks of purple, a byproduct of drugs oozing through my veins. There will be no verbal cue. No one will say it. But their eyes will verify that the rose-tinted death we all aspire will not occur me.
As a Buddhist, I realize y body is rented. The day is rented. Nothing will last. And if we live from a mindset of “I am entitled to this,” or “I deserve such-and-such,” we’ll get stuck trying to hold onto something no longer there. Either we change or the world will force us to change.
There are many lessons. First, life goes on – until it doesn’t. Second, the idea of having time for preparation, a time to say goodbye, to receive love and give love, is the kind of death any would choose is wonderful. We all want a death, without suffering, to do what we want to do. Only a handful will get it.
It would poetic for me to say my death should be free of pain, free from suffering, free of deterioration, and free of complications. But that’s not death. That’s a dream. Therefore, the goal should be to have a deeper compassion for others and a greater appreciation for the life that remains.
In doing that, life will go on. And that’s the final lesson Bob taught.