From as long back as I can remember, my Mother would dwell on her own mortality. Every Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving would be her last. Every health episode was fodder for stories that would be told time and time again, with every supporting actor placed at her bedside, anxiously waiting for her to gasp her last breath. Occasionally, she would even adopt health episodes that had actually been mine or my siblings, just to shake things up a bit. I am not sure why she was so obsessed with dying but she lived to be ninety-five and was relatively active and healthy virtually to the end.
The thing is, I was never terribly comfortable listening to my mother go on about her near death experiences or her impending doom. I should probably have been more sensitive to her desire to discuss death but death in general just wasn’t my favourite topic.
Over the years, I have done a fairly passable job of avoiding thinking about my own mortality. I have had a few serious, life threatening episodes – although to be honest I didn’t really understand the severity of such situations at the time. Morphine does that for me. By the time the morphine wears off, I am generally on the road to recovery so there isn’t that much to dwell on. Until lately…
A few weeks ago I had an outbreak of shingles. I knew one woman who had shingles. She was my Mother’s next door neighbour and she was about ninety-seven at the time. My first thought was holy hell – I am old! I have since heard from a number of people who had shingles outbreaks before they turned ninety-seven and and even long before they reached my sixty-four years. But my initial reaction to the diagnosis was shock.
My doctor prescribed an antiviral drug that controlled the shingles rash and made my entire body feel strangely numb. The outbreak passed and other than my eye still being quite itchy, I am almost fine. But not really. I lost my appetite, a good fifteen pounds and a lot of strength. I am so tired. I still struggle. I am definitely reminded that my own death is coming, not today, but sometime in the forseeable future.
I am not excited at the prospect of dying – but the idea does not terrify me. I have been re-invented so many times in this life that the idea of radical change does not bother me. I believe a part of me will stay here with the people I love. I believe a part of me will become a part of the afterlife where others who have passed before me exist. I am pretty sure I will know I am back in their presence. I think it will be beautiful and peaceful, warm and pleasant. I am not anxious to get there, but I am pretty sure it will be ok.