I just got the call. Another man our age has suddenly died. That brings the total to four in 2010, six or seven in the past three years.
The majority were fathers of our now-grown children’s friends. A few were our personal acquaintances. Several were businessmen, two were restaurateurs, another was our amiable accountant. All were nice, high functioning guys who passed away quickly, without warning.
Each of their deaths came as a complete shock.
I heard the news and went silent as I tried to absorb it. Words like, “No!” “You’re kidding!” and “He’s so young!” were all I could think of to say.
Really, I shouldn’t be caught off guard. We baby boomers have begun the final quarter of life’s game. We’re no longer first-string talent. Many of us are already sitting on the sidelines. A few are no longer on the roster.
We have tried to forestall the process by using Botox or spending hours on the elliptical machine. We jokingly tell ourselves that “Sixty is the new forty.” I shop for clothes alongside my son’s 20-something girlfriend.
Our efforts are all for the better. They make us as healthy as we possibly can be. The women in my immediate circle look absolutely fantastic. Each of them is fit and active. Yes, we all have some wrinkles on our faces. A few of my friends have gray hair. But all of us have taken good care of ourselves.
That doesn’t negate the fact that I’m closing out my sixth decade. Many in my group are well into their 60s. At this age it’s inevitable that some of our contemporaries will begin to pass away. We’ll be seeing increasing numbers of familiar names and photos in the obituaries.
I certainly don’t feel old. My husband and I hiked nine miles yesterday. I can stand and touch my forehead to my shins. I feel terrific and absolutely love this current stage.
Yet my mortality is an inescapable presence of my existence. It accompanies me everywhere I go. It doesn’t consume me. I often forget about it for days. Then the death of an acquaintance brings it back front and center and I’m reminded once again, “You’re going to die.”
Of course, all of us are terminal. No one’s getting out of here alive. Some of us have diagnoses. But each of us will be gone some day.
Knowing that makes my life even more precious. It adds intensity to everything I do. Nothing that I have is permanent. It’s as temporary as the dew on my orchids. Therefore, I want to absorb all the beauty and wonder that surround me. I want to tell those I know how much I love them. I want to savor every mug of my husband’s foamy coffee.
I want to fill my lungs with the fresh scent of autumn and watch the leaves turn red and yellow.
I wouldn’t do this if I thought I’d live forever. I’d be apt to fill my life with pointless distractions that would draw me away from what nurtures me most.
I’d stop cherishing a favorite author’s perfect syntax. I might not inhale the aroma of fresh-cut herbs.
So I say thank you, mortality, for this awareness. Without you my days would be, well, endless. Because of you I choose to delight in every moment. I never know when this joy will come to an end.
Tips for appreciating life
Death may be a given. But we can infuse plenty of life into each and every day. Here’s how:
Let go of unnecessary activities. We all have too many commitments. Many of them are downright useless. Clear your schedule of all the things you don’t have to do. That will leave more time to focus on what you want.
Seek enjoyment. Give yourself permission to revel in your life.
Find activities that feed your soul. You’ll still have to pay the bills and drive the carpool. But in between those events you can create real happiness.
Notice the little things. Minor miracles happen all around us.
A chicken lays an egg in her nest.
A meteor speeds across the night sky. Each of these is noteworthy and can inspire us with awe.
Connect with loved ones. Strong bonds with families and friends make us glad that we’re alive. Call your mom and ask her out to lunch. Or reconnect with a long-lost high school pal. You’ll both be honored by your efforts. And your life will feel richer as a result.
Be still. It’s easy to feel scattered. There’s so much going on in our brains. Take ample time to clear your head and contemplate all you have to live for. Then be grateful that you have one more day. Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit lindalewisgriffith.com