Kids have absolutely no concept of their own mortality. Life is a wonder and the world a place to be explored. There are sights to see and sounds to hear and things to touch and smell and taste. There are things to learn. There is a life to be lived without any thought that it might end without warning.
As a teacher, I knew that my students who were all teenagers might have had the experience of losing someone in their lives, but that someone was usually a grandparent or some other older relative. So, they had the experience of mortality but did not have any sense of their own mortality. I have always felt that teenagers have an arrogance about life. That they accept as written that they will graduate from high school and then attend post secondary school, have a career, own property and have a family of their own. In due course, they will lose their parents. But as teenagers, all of this living and losing seems to be far in the future. Aging and mortality are remote concepts that do not touch their lives.
The first funeral I attended was that for my sister’s mother-in-law. Her death was a shock. She was only in her mid 40’s and had died of a massive heart attack. I wasn’t prepared for the visitation at the funeral home. She looked like she was asleep. It was very surreal to me. How could someone who was not all that much older than me die? My first glimpse of my own potential mortality. When my aunt – the cathedral of our family – died, she was not much older than I am now. Her death was a shock. One day she was there and then she was hit by a car and 4 days later she was dead of a pulmonary embolism. It just wasn’t possible that she was gone. My second glimpse of my own potential mortality.
In the course of my life, I have lost both my parents. But it is the ‘natural order of things’ for children to bury their parents. True that both my parents died just before they each turned 70. But their deaths, from complications from cancer, were not unexpected and were, in fact, a release for them and for me and my sisters. In the same year that my mother died, my best friend’s mother, my ‘second’ mother, died after a protracted battle with cancer. Again, while these deaths touched me closely, they were not unexpected and so were a bit remote.
My first real understanding that I am mortal came when my best friend was diagnosed with melanoma. She is just 2 months and 19 days younger than I am. I remember how empty my life felt even as I supported her through her first surgery. All I could think of was me. How would I live my life without her in it? I’ve known her since I was 4 and I’m now 62. She is the sister of my soul if not my biology. Things would seem barren without her in my life. If the possibility of death could touch her, then I was not safe from dying.
This past week, my oldest sister was the victim of a hit and run accident. She has always seemed to me to be the strongest of me and sisters. That might not have been the case when she was growing up but now she has such a sure sense of herself and her truth in this world. To me she has seemed a constant in my life. I might not see her frequently but my world has felt more secure knowing that she is in the world. Her injuries were bad and, for her, life altering – a shattered knee which had to be reconstructed so that she cannot put any weight on the leg for a month and cannot do the work which she loves for at least 3 months. And all I could think about when I heard what had happened to her was that, if the driver had hit her just a bit more full on, she might have died.
Her accident has made me truly aware of my own mortality. Even as I acknowledge that, I also know that her accident has been a gift for me. It has made me so aware of who I AM and who I know mySelf to be. It has made me aware that living is to be savoured and that it is remarkably simple to do that. It has made me so aware of the truth of who I AM. And I know that as I live my life telling my truth and living that in each moment of my life, my body may be mortal but the essence of my spirit that makes me unique and whole and essential to my world is immortal. My body may die and I know that who I AM will not. While I fear the loss of my sister’s physical presence in my life I know that I will always have her presence no matter where she or I am. I know that I cannot now lose her unless I choose for her to be off my holodeck. Just as I know that I cannot now lose mySelf. I know that I cannot remove mySelf from the holodeck of my life unless I, for some reason I have yet to know, decide to live my life as an awake sleeper.