None of us get out of this alive…

“America is the only country in the world that looks upon death as some kind of personal failure.”

As we age, it is natural to contemplate more often the inevitable consequence of life, our own death. I know that since I experienced a serious brain injury at age 53, with hours of spontaneously moving in and out of consciousness, death has become a fascinating topic for me. I often wonder if unconsciousness is what death feels like. If so, it may not be so bad.

Then as I entered my 60s and personally experienced too many new ailments and disabilities, I wondered again when and of what I would die. I also learned something important about our culture: Even if we Americans don’t see death as a personal failure, we most certainly see illness as one. Ever since I moved from the healthy column to the older, not so healthy column, I have noticed many treat me quite differently. But aren’t I the same person with equal potential?

This all reminds me of a patient I treated in my counseling internship in a rehab hospital. When this elderly woman became ill and ended up in the hospital, the only question on her lips was,

“What did I do to deserve this?”

Do we all “deserve” illness and death? Of course not. We are no better or worse than all the others organisms in our world. We are born by no choice of our own. We live the best we can, and then we die. Then, regardless of the “death industry’s” best efforts, we all become dust in the wind eventually. Big surprise. No secrets here, and yet most of us walk around thinking this simply CANNOT be true!

How can this all mean nothing in the long run?

That has been the realm of religious leaders and philosophers forever. How do we make sense of this thing called life and death? That must be where our judgment of those “failures” who have the indecency to die comes from. When we are still among the living and healthy, it rarely seems likely that we will die someday.

I am reminded of a very cynical MD I met once in Boulder decades ago. I remember him telling a story about one of his healthy patients. The doc was given the unenviable task of telling this person that they had cancer. The patient’s response?

“I can’t have cancer! I run ten miles a day!”

If you like to play the odds game, here are our nation’s death stats:

Top 10 causes of death in the US.: https://www.mdlinx.com/internal-medicine/article/3848

Please note number ten on this list, the rate of suicides among Americans. This rate has risen since these statistics came out in 2017. And speaking of suicide, let’s give Camus the final word on this topic:

“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy…These are facts the heart can feel; yet they call for careful study before they become clear to the intellect.” -Albert Camus

Midlife as a Chance at Rebirth

Have a sense of gratitude to everything, even difficult emotions, because of their potential to wake you up.      ~  Pema Chödrön

Find Your Reason Cover smallChanges outside of ourselves do have the power to shock us into seeking anew what is real within. They can cause us to finally see the need and find the courage to stop playing roles for others, and find complete honesty, integrity, and authenticity within. This is the time to finally find the strength to announce we can no longer be what everyone else wants or needs us to be. We could never save others, so for now we must put all of our energy into saving ourselves. We must stop being constantly other-focused, forever taking our cues from outside ourselves, and dig deep to discover what we want and need to happen in this final phase of our lives…

Since self-deception is a thing of the past, you can no longer count on that trusty outside armoring you have hidden behind for decades. Gone are the masks you felt so secure behind. As your authentic self emerges, it becomes ever more difficult to delude yourself with the illusions you have counted on for decades. They may have always worked before, but they are gone now.

Sometimes playing it safe is the most dangerous thing you can do

I was struck recently by a saying I heard in reference to horror movies:

Nothing is scarier than having no idea what is out there.

This seemed like an excellent metaphor for what can happen to us in midlife.

In the middle of our lives we may find ourselves ensconced in what seems like the safe and familiar, but somehow all of that apparent safety can begin to feel threatening. We may think: “I’ll just follow this safe route for the rest of my life. I’m too old to do anything different at this stage of the game.”

What I learned through my own experience is that sometimes playing it safe is the most dangerous thing you can do. Sure, you could stay in the same job, career, or relationship, living the same life indefinitely. That sounds safe, but is it?

Doing what you’ve always done will get you what you’ve always had. If that is all you are seeking in life, then go for it. But is there perhaps a small part of you that wants more? Is there a quiet part of your brain that begs to differ on this plan to never deviate from the safe and trusted path?

What might you be missing by playing it safe?

It is not uncommon for some life-changing event to cause us to question anew the entire plan we have laid out for our life. Maybe we aren’t even aware that we have a plan, until something screws it up. Sometimes just one more birthday can help us to reconsider our overall plan and open us up to options we never dreamed of before.

Nothing is scarier than the daunting realization that we have not even tried to live up to our full potential. Sure, we did what we were told and found some success in our endeavors. Being “good” definitely has its rewards. But do you ever spend time focused on all that you could have been and then realize that none of that will ever happen? If you are anything like me, all of those “details” can only be ignored so long.

In midlife we may realize, sometimes for the first time ever, that our time here on earth is running out. When it does, how will we feel as we look back over our lives?

The best thing about being alive today is that if or when we come to this realization and achieve this new perspective, we generally have more time to seek out the tools, the inspiration, and the necessary resources to do something about it. We can begin to plan a new and different future for ourselves, if we can find the strength and courage to dig in and live the dream!

Remember, the opposite side of the coin of fear is excitement. When was the last time you felt like anything could happen? When was the last time you allowed yourself to feel your full potential to grow and change and be all that you could be? This apparent crisis is offering you the opportunity of a lifetime. Do not miss out.

This is a brief excerpt from my book: Find Your Reason To Be Here: The Search for Meaning in Midlife. It is only available in e-book format through Amazon. Feel free to contact me at MidlifeCrisisQueen@gmail.com if you would like to purchase one of my last few paper copies.

 

When Breath Becomes Air

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“No philosopher can explain the sublime better than this, standing between day and night.”                    (pg. 34 of When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi)

I just finished reading this fine book, the last written words of a top neurosurgeon who died in his mid-thirties of lung cancer in March of 2015. With a recent scary cat scan of my own lungs in January, you may wonder why I chose to read this book now. I wasn’t sure myself until I read it.

First of all, Kalanithi is obviously a deep thinker, always searching for the meaning in life. In fact as I read I realized he had the opposite reaction than most of us when confronted with such a daunting diagnosis. Most become more emotional, he seemed to become more analytical. This was not my response to my own recent confrontation with death. My response was along the lines of: “Am I proud of my life?”

One aspect of Kalnithi’s story rang very true to me, the way my perception of time has changed so much since we left the city behind with all its traffic and deadlines.

“Everyone succumbs to finitude…Most ambitions are either achieved or abandoned; either way, they belong to the past. The future, instead of the ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present. Money, status, all the vanities the preacher of Ecclesiastes described hold so little interest: a chasing after wind, indeed.” (pg. 198)

We are never so wise as when we live in the moment.

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I am boundlessly grateful to finally understand the pleasure of living in the present.