death

Maybe I’ll Come Back As A Tree

IMG_6482This week has been another lesson in the first Buddhist Noble Truth…life is suffering. Last Saturday we learned that we lost a friend unexpectedly and far too young. I was barely at acceptance of that heartbreaking reality check when the shooting at the STEM school happened, directly affecting several friends with children who attend that school. Of course, this came less than a month since the day that all Denver-area students were forced to stay home when a woman flew to Colorado and purchased a pump-action shotgun with the intention of carrying out a Columbine-style mass shooting as our community was preparing for the 20th anniversary of that tragedy, which also directly affected people I know. And then yesterday I spent part of my day at a memorial service and reception for a family member. The precariousness of life, and our need to live in the now (and hopefully zen) moment, pervaded my every thought this week.

This week also precipitated meaningful conversations between my husband and I. We’ve discussed additional life insurance, funeral plans, urns, wills, and making the most of our time on this rotating sphere. He and I are on the same page about most things in life, and this holds true with our thoughts about death. We don’t want to be buried or have our ashes stored in a box or decorative vase in someone’s home. We don’t want a traditional funeral.

Yesterday we were in the car on our way to the interment when we started discussing urns.

“I think I will get a crazy, fun urn for my ashes, like Carrie Fisher did.”

In case you weren’t aware, Carrie Fisher had her ashes placed in a large, Prozac-pill-shaped urn. Cheeky and appropriate for her, I admired her bold choice.

“Maybe I will make a box for my ashes? It will give me a reason to learn tongue-in-groove joints,” Steve mused.

“Yeah,” I said. “Like the guys at the woodworking awards on the Parks and Rec episode who were pictured in memoriam with the caskets they built for themselves.”

“Exaaaaactly,” Steve replied.

“I just don’t want you guys spending money on an urn I wouldn’t be caught dead in. I need to find something that suits me that you can carry me around in until you dump me wherever you decide to unload me. If you keep me around the house, I will come back and haunt you, I swear.”

Later, a friend told us he plans to be put in a Cafe du Monde chickory coffee can. Seems perfectly reasonable and cost effective to me.

This morning, morbid as it sounds, I did a search for funeral urns. Actually, the Google search entry was “crazy fun funeral urns,” and it turns out I wasn’t the first person to search those terms, which gives me hope that I am not the only weirdo out there.

One of the results from the search was for this biodegradable urn by Bios. This urn has a place to hold ashes and then a separate area with a tree seed and the medium to grow said seed. While not particularly crazy or fun, this urn does something more important than hold ashes. This urn gives back. It creates something from nothing, life from death. And it leaves no waste. That’s a win/win in my book. Reflecting on my personality, wishes, and thoughts about death and the circle of life, this might be the most suitable urn for me.

Oddly enough, this search for urns has brought me a measure of peace in an otherwise emotionally difficult week. I told Steve he is not to hold a funeral or memorial service for me, but if he and the boys would like to host a party in my honor that would be marvelous. Hopefully it would involve friends, family, flowers (no lilies, please), food (none of it gluten free), and include a toast to my memory carried out with a Polish vodka shot for all. Now that I’ve shared this here, you’re all honor bound to ensure he carries out my wishes.

Life is suffering. There is physical and emotional pain, aging, and death. Yes. This week has been rough, but that’s what life is, a struggle to grow and persevere despite the inevitable, to leave a mark no matter how ephemeral. I think I will buy one of these urns. There’s something about going to seed that germinates hope where sadness once took root. Maybe someday I’ll come back as a tree, reaching for the sun, stubbornly continuing my growth.

Even The Great Ones Die

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Closest I ever got to David Bowie. Section E, Row 36, Seat 2

“It never even occurred to me that David Bowie *could* die.” ~Michael Ian Black

Yesterday was a weird day for me. Like many people my age, I imagine, I spent the day steeped in memories, stunned by the loss of David Bowie. David Bowie has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. Literally. One of my first memories is waking up hearing Fame on the radio in my bedroom. I was seven. I remember it so vividly because I’d been dreaming and that song was playing in my dream. When I awoke and heard it playing in my room, I honestly thought I had some sort of psychic powers. It was much later that I learned that happens to everyone and I did not have the gift. Oh, how it sucks being average.

David Bowie was the anti-average. He was the coolest man who ever lived. That is how I will always think of him. He was bold. He didn’t apologize for who he was or what he did or what he created. And he did all this without being a self-absorbed, self-serving jerk. He was talented, elegant, handsome, enigmatic, and yet somehow accessible. His music made me feel and reminded me that I belong to the universe. It made me think of things beyond myself. And that is just so damn cool.

Right after I saw the news of his passing, I was scanning my Twitter feed and I saw this tweet from Michael Ian Black. It took everything I was feeling and put it into a convenient package. It never occurred to me that David Bowie could die either. Legends don’t die. And they certainly shouldn’t pass away quietly from cancer at the relatively young age of 69. My big takeaway yesterday was a kick-in-the-gut reminder that we all die. Every last one of us. Even the coolest man on the planet.

Last night I was a bit more circumspect than usual. I could not look at my husband or my sons without acknowledging what we all know but bury deep inside. Death happens. It’s the only guarantee life presents when you are born. You will die. People you love, people who inhabit your soul, will die. I stood in the doorway to my sons’ room last night, staring at them while they slept. For a few moments, with teary eyes, I remembered things outside myself. I remembered to breathe and to feel and to take it all in.

“There’s a starman waiting in the sky, he told us not to blow it ’cause he knows it’s all worthwhile.” 

And Then Life Happens

What will you leave behind?

What will you leave behind?

It has been a lachrymose few days for me. And while I’m rarely teary-eyed for long, sometimes my thinking brain gets trampled unexpectedly by my feeling heart and leaves me a bit off kilter. Life’s challenges can explode like forgotten landmines lying in wait, and recently I’ve been privy to more bad news than good. The shock of the unexpected and the gravity of life’s free fall moments got the best of me last week. I’ve been clawing my way from my heart back to my head for days hoping to gain some traction in the present.

Late last week, I learned via Facebook that a former high school classmate of mine died. It’s not easy when anyone dies. It’s more difficult when the person who passed is your age because, well….Hello, Mortality. Beyond that, I hate learning about death through social media. It’s such an unwelcome, impersonal shock filled with unanswerable questions. I can’t say that I knew this person well. He was among the best students in our class, so I was on the outskirts of his life in AP Physics and Calculus. He was someone I knew from the hallways, the yearbook pages, and the sharing of mutual friends. As the news of his passing spread across my Facebook friends’ news feeds and the online memorial tributes to him increased in number, I grieved along with my friends through some sort of osmotic process. The few interactions that John and I shared happened in the more recent past. I knew more about him through Facebook than I knew of him in the real world, so I suppose it was fitting that I learned about his moving on through the same channel. I can’t say that I had an impact on his life in any way, but I know that his life touched mine in the kind of way that makes you realize that we citizens of Earth have more in common than we think we do based on what we see on the outside.

Today as I was driving home after dropping the boys off at school, still absorbed by life’s absurdities and ill-timed departures, I was following a snow-covered van. We traveled along at 55 miles per hour and the snow from the van’s roof blew off in swirls. As the individual flakes whizzed toward my car, it appeared I was making the leap to hyperspace. In the early morning sunlight, each flake was a tiny fleck of gold or silver. I got caught up in the beauty of this pure and simple occurrence. It made me deeply and honestly happy. I felt better than I have in days. It wasn’t a winning lottery ticket that brought me out of my funk. It was a moment of gratitude for life brought about by a random act of beauty I was finally present enough to appreciate.

I can’t stop thinking now about how wrong we humans are about our journey on this planet. We make life into what appears on the outside. We obsess with how we look rather than focusing on who we are personally and what truly matters to us. We stress about where our kids go to school more than we worry about our relationships with them. We want the respect of others, and we think we will earn it with important job titles, tastefully decorated homes, and luxury cars. We are cats jumping at shiny things. We are clueless.

The effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is. Everything you gain in life will rot and fall apart, and all that will be left of you is what was in your heart. ~Jim Carrey

This quote has been bouncing around in my head for weeks. I’ve been wanting to say something about it, and several times I’ve sat down with my laptop to try to coax the words out of my mind. They wouldn’t come. Then our class lost John and it came into focus. All the epitaphs, composed for a friend who left us too soon, collected the whole of John’s heart and put it on display for all of us who regret that we did not know him better. Short though his life was, it was a life lived right.

We who are still here are lucky enough to have this moment. Don’t squander it. Look around you. Be grateful for what you have. Pay attention to those who matter. Don’t bother chasing the shiny distractions. Time is precious. Someday someone will be painting a verbal picture of you posthumously. Make sure you show them your best side now.

In The Grand Scheme Of Things

You can learn a lot from the tiniest of things.

You can learn a lot from the tiniest of things.

I turned 45 years old at exactly 2:12 a.m. today. After a restless night, I was awake quite early this morning as the sun began to rise. I found myself thinking, while the rest of the creatures in my house slept, about how old I thought 45 was when my own mother was 45 and I was a whopping 19 years old. Back then, 45 seemed ancient. At 45 my mother was recently separated and embarking on a new life, one she probably never had expected when she was just 19. Now that I am 45 I can attest that I do not feel as old as the Sphinx. That 19 year old girl still lives inside me. She’s just been roughed up a bit on the outside and the extra 26 years have widened her eyes.

I had a wonderful birthday. Started my day with a 20-mile bike ride that I never would have been able to do 10, or even 20, years ago. Followed that up with hours spent lounging by the pool with my family and good friends. Throughout the day, dozens of well wishes popped onto my Facebook page from friends new and old, each one a little present in itself. For dinner we grilled out and I got to open more gifts than I probably deserve at this advanced age. And, as the day wound down, I headed up to the boys’ room to read to them just as I do every night (for as long as they continue to ask me to).

It was then that I noticed one of our four African Dwarf frogs was not doing well. It was upside down at the top of the frog tank, one of its buddies hanging close to its side helping to keep it up at the top of the tank. I told the boys that he (they’re all named after dwarves from The Hobbit) would not likely survive the night. It was a tough moment that we all knew would come someday. We did not expect it to be today. We purchased these frogs three years ago. Truth be told, they’re more my pets than my sons’. I’ve been the froggy momma. I clean their aquariums, feed them, talk to them. They are my precious charges. Seeing one belly up hit me harder than it should. After all, it’s just a frog, right? Everything has to die. I know this. I’ve been expecting these small amphibians to perish ever since the day I brought them home.

But today, as I celebrate having enjoyed 45 amazing years on this planet, watching a little creature struggle in his final moments was poignant and poetic. I tell my boys all the time that life is death. There cannot be one without the other. It is the one black-and-white truth we are guaranteed. Everything that is alive will at some point die. Nothing and no one escapes. If all goes well, we are wise enough to cherish our moments and lucky enough to have a plethora of them to recall. But it all comes down to this. We come into this world and we leave it. The life of that darling little frog is no less important than mine. It’s as much a part of the grand scheme of things as I am. Its passing on my birthday, as heartbreaking as it is, is simply a reminder that my days are numbered too. I must remember not to squander them. The next 26 years, if I’m granted them, will pass in an instant. Then I will be 71 as my mother is this year and looking back on 45 and wondering where the time went because I still feel that 19 year old girl inside.

Why It Pays To Have Balls Of Steel

In the hot air balloon high above Boulder

This morning as the boys were getting ready for school, I finally got the chance to watch a video clip of Felix Baumgartner‘s record breaking skydive, which actually happened yesterday. (I’m always behind the times.) I will never understand people like Felix, daredevils who need to be doing the next big thing. I mean, I’m all for testing your limits and pushing yourself, but parachuting from the stratosphere seems to go a wee bit beyond sane. He jumped from 24 miles above Earth’s surface. His free fall lasted for 4 minutes and 20 seconds. At one point, he was spinning wildly out of control at 833 miles an hour. I can only shake my head as I think about it. The man must have balls of steel, which would explain why he fell about a hundred miles an hour faster than he thought he would and was able to break three world records.

On the drive to school, I let the boys watch the video on my iPhone.

“He broke the speed of sound with his body,” I told them. “Sixty five years to the day after Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in a jet. It’s unbelievable,” I said. Still amazed.

“That’s crazy,” Joe said. “What if his parachute hadn’t opened?”

“Well, he wouldn’t have felt a thing,” I replied.

“Why would someone do that?” Joe asked. “Too many things could go wrong. Sometimes parachutes don’t open. I wouldn’t even want to jump out of a moving airplane. I’d never jump from outer space.”

“I think I’d like to skydive,” I told them, “but not from that high up.”

“You can’t skydive,” Joe said. “You’re our mom.”

“Moms can skydive,” I told him.

“What if something happened to you? We’d have no mom. We’d cry all the time,” Joe said. “You don’t get to skydive. We won’t let you.”

“Wait,” Luke chimed in. “Mom…you could do indoor skydiving. We’d let you do that.”

“It’s not really up to you guys, but I appreciate your concern,” I told them.

“Mom…would you jump with some other person attached?” Joe asked.

“Yes. I would do a tandem jump with an experienced skydiver. They wear the chute and deploy it. I’d just be along for the ride.”

“Okay. Well, I guess we could let you do that. But, you only get to jump if you go with a licensed professional,” Joe informed me.

A licensed professional? Where does this kid get this stuff?

I have thought about doing a skydive. The entire idea is quite ridiculous when you consider how afraid of heights I am. But, jumping from a perfectly good airplane is something I’ve long thought I should do. Perhaps I figure that maybe a skydive will make me less fearful of heights. My hot air balloon trip last year, which took us 4,000 feet up without parachutes, tested that same theory. However, climbing toward the top of Grays Peak this year, I determined the fear was still present. I told my sons that everyone has to die of something. If I’m skydiving and my chute doesn’t work, at least I will have died doing something interesting instead of having a stroke while watching LOST reruns and later being found stiff and lifeless in my bed. I don’t have balls of steel (I don’t even have balls, contrary to what some people who know me believe), but I’m going to die of something someday anyway. When I get to that point, years and years after I’ve jumped from a perfectly good airplane, at least I’ll have something interesting to look back on as my life flashes before my eyes. At least, that’s what I tell myself when I consider finding my inner daredevil.

 

 

Hope I Die Before I Get Old

Have you ever noticed that sometimes you can go months without thinking about something and then, suddenly, circumstances present that idea to you repeatedly within a short time span, bringing it back to the forefront of your mind? Well, that happened to me this weekend with the idea of growing old. After my 44th birthday at the end of May, I’d kind of drop kicked the getting old concept right out of my head. I didn’t want to think about it anymore. It was too depressing. This weekend, however, I had several conversations about how people are living to be reasonably old these days. Elderly people can live long enough that they, like my grandmother, wonder when they will ever die.

When I was a kid, way back in the 1970s, people talked about wanting to live to a “ripe, old age.” Now that many more people are living well into and beyond their late 80s and early 90s, though, that song and dance about aging has changed. Recently I more often hear people saying they hope they don’t live to be too old. It’s the whole retirement thing. People look forward to retirement, so they retire early. You could very easily retire at 65 today, though, live to be 95, and run out of your retirement savings. That’s a grim prospect.

My grandfathers retired at 65. Neither of them lived to be 75. They didn’t have a lot of time to enjoy their “golden years,” but they also didn’t outlive their pensions either. My grandmothers lived to be 93. They both ended up penniless in less than idyllic nursing homes (not that I think any nursing home situation is idyllic but you know what I mean). When I think about those two options, I have to believe that my grandfathers ended up with the better part of the deal. I’m not entirely sure I want to live to be 98 like the woman who shared a nursing home room with my grandmother during her last six weeks on earth. That poor woman had outlived everyone. She had one relative, and he lived in another state. She was alone and bedridden in a nursing home. No. Thank. You.

Although I seem to be getting older at a rate faster than I would prefer, living to a ripe old age doesn’t appeal to me. What is the benefit in living thirty years beyond your retirement party if you can never afford to party again? I’m not looking to die young (or, in my case, young-ish), but I’m not sure that living to 100 is the greatest bargain either. When I was in college working at the campus movie theater, I got to see Harold and Maude, which is a quirky cult film about a young man obsessed with death. He meets a robust 79 year old woman who believes in living every day to its fullest. It’s Maude’s assertion that 80 is the perfect age to die. When I was 20, I thought Maude had the right idea. Now as I dance ever closer to her magical number, I still find myself thinking she was onto something. But, you might want to ask me about it again when I’m 79 years and 11 months and see if I’ve changed my mind.