Friday, June 24, 2011

on death, dying, and confronting my own mortality

Perhaps the title of this post sounds creepy, morbid, and just plain ol' sad. Sure, not gonna lie, it has been a tough week. My grandfather had a massive heart attack over a week ago and passed away last Saturday morning. It was the first time I had experienced a significant loss in my family in over 17 years. When I stepped on the plane to come home, I was thinking about a lot of memories, experiencing a heavy heart, filled with sadness. Yet, in a way, there was something peaceful about the whole thing. My grandfather didn't suffer, he lived his life thoroughly and enjoyed his retirement. He raised a wonderful son who is a wonderful father, mentoring me and providing me the right amount of support even 3,000 miles away.

Whenever we lose a loved one, death stares us in the face. Only at that point do we think about our own mortality and take it seriously. For the remainder of our days, it is an elusive, vague, "something out there," concept. Sitting in church today and looking intently at my grandfather's urn on the wooden table in the center of the aisle containing his ashes, I thought about what would happen if I found out I had a month left to live.

Immediately, the following questions popped into my head:
Do I live with regrets?
Do I try and enjoy and cherish each and everyday?
Do I do my best to tell people I love them?
Do I enjoy life, live it to its fullest, and don't let the small stuff get in the way?

These are 4 questions that became very apparent and sat at the forefront of my mind during my visit in Maine. I think it is super important for us to talk about/think about/contemplate/meditate on our own mortality. It lights a fire under our butts, it gets us thinking about the stuff that matters. It is useful in our own spiritual development, whether we are Catholic, Buddhist, or Jewish.

Yes, my time in Maine has been somber yet I was able to participate in a well-deserved celebration of my grandfather's life. Below is what I wrote and read at his funeral:

"My parents taught me early on that when somebody goes out of their way to give you something from their heart, it is important to write a thank you note to express your gratitude for the gift. So I thought it would be fit to write one last thank you note to my grandfather.

Dear Papa,
Thank you for teaching me to have an affinity for reading and books. I remember going to the South Portland library with you and browsing the shelves, filling up paper bags and coming home and reading in the living room with you. For that, I will always have a library card and think of you when I use it.

Thank you for letting Nate and I play in the attic, even when it was 100 degrees up there. We loved exploring the old clothes, trinkets, and boxes of old National Geographic magazines for hours. For that, I will always seek out new places to explore.

Thank you for letting Nate and I eat all of your candy in the glass dish on the coffee table. It was yummy. For that, I will think of you when I unwrap a butterscotch disc or peppermint candy.

Thank you for letting Nate and I drive your golf cart around in Florida. Your only rules were, “Please don’t get hurt and please don’t crash.” For that, I will always remember these things when I step into my car.

When I called you from Seattle and asked how you were doing, you said with a chuckle, “It’s perfect weather, played golf this morning, just finished dinner, and I’m watching the Red Sox game. I can’t complain.” For that, I will remember that in essence, life is pretty good and I shouldn’t complain.

One of my last memories of my grandfather was when he and my dad took me out 2 years ago to play golf on a real golf course for my first time. I had a blast and will remember the lessons of patience, laughter, and most importantly, having fun every time I pick up a club, even if it’s a game of mini-golf or the driving range.

Papa, thank you for being a wonderful grandfather. A mellow spirit who thoroughly enjoyed your life and your retirement. You raised a wonderful son who is an amazing father and your life lessons will live on.

I found a book in my old bedroom called “Golffirmations.” As I thumbed through the book smiling, the last page proved to be the perfect closing:

“Cherish the beauty of a golf course at dusk. The cool has come. The light, now orange, slants through long shadows. The birds come alive again, deer or rabbits enlivened by the sun’s fade venture into a fairway. A peaceable kingdom is born. The players, weary and yet ennobled by staying the course, putt out to rising of the merest wind, the hush that comes with good night.”

1 comment:

djdodge said...

Very touching, Jen. We all ask ourselves these questions when we lose someone we love. The trick is to remember these answers as we go through our everyday lives. I know that I live my life differently since I lost my husband 2 years ago. Several of my friends have commented that it made an impact on them as well. One of them took all of her family, children and their spouses and grandchildren to Disney on vacation. It had been a dream of hers that she put off; when Bob died she decided no more waiting "for the right time". Here's to living life to its fullest and living our dreams. I am sorry for you loss and pray for your healing.