What matters, really?
Not much, I concluded this week while anxiously piling sofa cushions in a hallway as tornado warnings sounded on my phone, TV and radio. Certainly not the clutter in my mind … agonizing about having too much to do as the holidays approach and bemoaning not having (taking) time even to blog in weeks. Definitely not the stuff cluttering my house, priceless to me but worthless compared to life.
An automated phone call from the National Weather Service actually named my street. A high-alert text on my cell advised “take shelter now.” The sky darkened as the thunder roared. Normally, I am not afraid of storms and actually like them, if I’m indoors. But these warnings were exceptionally ominous. “Why not me?” That thought surprised me, as I waited in my padded shelter for whatever horror was approaching. I recalled newscasts showing houses as sturdy as mine in splinters. Perhaps very soon everything I own would be gone. And so would I.
It was not to be my turn. No tornado touched my street. Those minutes of powerless anticipation, however, made me realize that, indeed, this could happen to me, and truly, it is all small stuff.
My cousin posted that profound quote from motivational speaker Zig Ziglar on Facebook last month, the week her mother died.
My sweet aunt was a beloved member of our congenial family, which in ways makes her sudden death hurt even more for her husband, children and all of us … just as it was a jarring reminder that no one has a promise of tomorrow.
She didn’t expect never to return home from seeking medical aid for pains that unknowingly signaled an impending heart attack. If so, maybe she would have dug up those sweet potatoes that she fretted about from her hospital bed. Being only 74, she had the reasonable expectation of planting and harvesting many more gardens. Decorating many more Christmas trees. Giving her grandkids many more hugs.
Seventy four. That’s seven years older than I am and it surely doesn’t seem as old as it used to. One of my earliest memories of my aunt was when I was 4 and she was teaching me how to ride her 26-inch green Schwinn bicycle. Not tall enough to reach the pedals from the seat, I struggled to pedal standing up while she trotted behind guiding the fender, eventually letting go and letting me fly. As my confidence did that day, my admiration for her values and virtues grew through the decades. In death, I’m still learning from her. Life is fragile; be ready.
The anguish of losing her caused me to reflect on the difference of being ready and being prepared to die. Except for planning my funeral—on my list—I’m pretty much prepared … I think. Each year I give my sons updated financial and contact information, which at first kind of freaked them out but I believe they’ve come to realize what a huge gift that knowledge will be when they need it. Naturally, my obituary is written with a few fill-in-the-blanks. Discreet notes all over my home detail who made or gave me treasured possessions. (Yes, I have become my mother!) But am I ready? Whoa!
Recently I was listening to a radio segment on death where an expert posed the question how one would prefer to die: in your sleep, within an hour of an accident when you were alone somewhere, or a year after receiving a cancer diagnosis. Tough one, huh? I have said that I would rather “go now” than linger painfully and helplessly in a nursing home for years like my mother did. But would I? She lived, and smiled, a lot between “now” and “then.”
In our senior years if we are not thinking about death, we should be.
Next year is my 50-year high school reunion. It’s sobering to think that more than 10 percent of my classmates have died. I ache looking at their teen-aged faces on the memoriam page of our class’ Web site. By now, most of our parents have passed. In reality, we’re up next.
With each loved one’s death, it becomes clearer to me that being ready to die means fiercely embracing life. Loving. Laughing. Praying. Forgiving. … Always.
That matters. Really.