In the time of your life, live — so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life touches. ~ William Saroyan
“Time sure does fly, doesn’t it?”
That’s what the vet said as he was preparing to help end the suffering of our Black Lab, Mia. It’s what a client said later that same week. It’s what I think just about every day. Time is flying faster and faster. There must be something about picking up speed once you go over the metaphorical hill.
In the space of three weeks I’ve lost a good friend, a wonderful client, and a sweet dog — one, two, three. I’ve been crying a lot, but all the loss has been bittersweet. Those losses, combined with yet another birthday, have served as a mirror, held up close, showing me where I’ve grown and where I’m still a bit off-track. It’s a mirror that challenges the denial and procrastination, a mirror that reflects the aging body, a mirror that whispers, “Tempus fugit. Carpe diem.”
Part of the bittersweetness of these losses was the realization that death doesn’t frighten me anymore. I know that we all shed “this mortal coil” and that our souls live on. I don’t believe this, I know this. So being close to death is not difficult for me: it feels sacred and numinous to bear witness to those who stand at the cusp between the worlds.
Still, I am human, and my human self that holds deep affection for these friends is mourning their departure, grieving that I do not get to be with them anymore. Our dog had been suffering for a long time and I thought I was prepared for her death, but I was wrong. As ready as you think you are, grief cannot fully express itself until the person or animal or ability is actually gone. My client’s departure was likewise anticipated; my friend went suddenly. I grieve them all and I feel the gust of time blowing across and past me.
Death is part of life, the part that reminds us that the coach turns into a pumpkin at midnight, to enjoy the party but be ready to return. Death is what makes life so very precious; without it, we would not appreciate this amazing, ephemeral experience. It’s a cozy deceit not to think about death, but as time jumps on the zipline and whizzes across the years of your life, it becomes increasingly imperative to really get a handle on what’s important, what you’re doing with your days. It’s important to go over the mental list of things you intend to say to the people you love and actually start crossing them off. “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I forgive you. You are the most important person in the world to me. Thank you. I love you.” That stuff.
My brave client wondered aloud in one of our sessions a few months back about what he called “the last good day.” One never knows when the last good day will be: the last day you were able to ride your bike, the last day you could jump in the car and go out by yourself, the last day you breathed easily, or felt no pain. You can never know when that last good day was until you can no longer breathe, or walk, or rid yourself of the pain.
Death gifts us with these reminders: Appreciate freely. Love fiercely. Eat life in big bites. Don’t wait until the last, good day to embrace your beautiful, fleeting life.
NOTE: This column is dedicated to the memory of Mia, Jimy and Tom, with gratitude.