On the weekend, a friend got some news about his mother. She has been sick with a chronic condition for a while now, but in recent weeks, her health has gone downhill. She’s had to accept some intervention which indicate that ultimately, the end is coming, sooner rather than later. It’s sobering.
Even though she has been sick for a while, and we’ve all known that the disease is terminal, it’s still confronting. I pondered on it a lot last night, and talked it over with the Handsome Sidekick. For most of us, I suppose (although I certainly don’t have the figures) we don’t have a long time to contemplate our imminent deaths, especially if that death comes earlier than expected. I’m sure we’d all like to imagine we’ll live a long and healthy life and that the end of it, have a comfortable, and hopefully quick, death.
But facing the end of a terminal illness is different, especially for those whose lives seem to be cut short. We expect a full 75+ years of longevity nowadays, don’t we? Anything less is too young, and ‘a shame’. But it’s not that long ago that someone my age would be looking to shuffle off this mortal coil. At 40, I would have been considered aged–my parents, in their seventies, would be positively ancient.
In light of this, and the recent sad news for my friend, I wondered why it is that we leave this kind of contemplation till the very end of our lives. There’s plenty of moments when we could step back and assess how things are going–the kind of legacy we’ll leave, what we regret, what we’re grateful for, what we’re glad we did. Often, we ask the question of each other, ‘if you knew you were going to die in x amount of time, what would you do with your life?’ But perhaps more interesting is, what have you done so far? We might get to the end and ask, what is a life well lived? Well, certainly. But how can we look to the future and make it so?
I had a conversation with First Offspring which prompted me to ponder this, recently. He said to me that sometimes, he wondered what life was like as a parent.
‘Well,’ I said, ‘it’s… interesting. It’s tiring! But as you all get older, it gets easier.’
‘No,’ he said, ‘I mean… I wonder what your life is like. Because I only know you as a parent, and I don’t know anything else about your life. And you only ever seem to work, and you never seem to have any fun.’
Ha. Such perception. It’s certainly true that for most of us, we can’t really know our parents as people in their own right, separate from their parent-ness. I remember being a similar age to First Offspring, when I realised that my parents had been people before they’d had my siblings and me. It was only as an adult, having had some similar experiences and developing a more mature sense of understanding and empathy, that I could imagine what they might have been like as teenagers or young adults. Even then, they still remain parents first.
But more to the point, First Offspring highlighted something which seems obvious to an observer, but not always so obvious to me. ‘You never seem to have any fun.’
I do, of course. My idea of fun is probably different from his, but it’s true that I don’t really have that much of it. If I were looking at the next months being my last weeks on earth, would I have wished I would have had more fun? What would I regret?
I don’t believe it’s possible to live a life free of regrets, and I don’t even know if that kind of life is one I’d like to live, but more and more, I’m drawn towards the idea of making my life more meaningful. This means that I’ve become more cognisant of the value of how I spend my time. There’s a lot to do, everyday. Do I really want to waste my time on reading an annoying article whose primary purpose is to annoy? Do I really want to spend my time worrying about who will become the next president of the US (or anywhere else, for that matter)?
I find the world so interesting and full of knowledge, and my desire has always been to find out more, to learn more, and while I don’t see that aspect of my personality changing, I do think that there has to be room for more fun. All the knowledge in the world is just that: knowledge. But the intangible and the fleeting are what make for experiences and memories.
I know I’ve posted a bit about death recently, and I promise I’m not feeling overly morbid! Perhaps less morbid, and more pensive. More interested in the choices I can make to ensure that, hopefully many years from now, I’ll have the chance to look back and be content with what I chose, and glad of my opportunities. In order to achieve that, I think it’s worth being more present, making connections on a more personal level. And above all, making sure that I’m having fun. Surely, to a great degree, that’s what it’s all about?