Taking Stock

“You’re alive! Don’t you get it?”

I just read an interesting article entitled, “How the World’s Most Venomous Fish Convinced Me to Stop Working Myself to Death.

The details were fascinating, but I knew what the conclusion was going to be before I even started reading. Speaking from experience, there’s nothing like a brush with mortality, or the actual mortality of someone you love, to make you reassess your priorities.

For example, when the police called me to say that they had found my boyfriend’s body in his truck, still clutching his asthma inhaler, in the pharmacy parking lot just a few blocks from our apartment, I swear I could see my whole entire life crumbling around me as I sank to the floor. I instantly came down with the flu, and couldn’t hear a sound for three days. Go figure.

You’d think the quiet would have given me plenty of time to think, but shock isn’t like that, really. I felt more like the blue screen of death you see on your computer right before it completely and utterly crashes. There was very little brain function going on. And in the months and years that followed, I emerged as an entirely different person.

Most people, whether they know it or not, take life for granted. It’s only when you look the grim reaper dead in the eye that you suddenly realize that everything is temporary. Everything.

Once you know the temporal nature of life, a lot of things cease to matter. The only real important thing is that you’re alive, and that’s a gift. You look round and you see people getting all worked up about the silliest things, and you want to shake them.

“You’re alive! Don’t you get it?”

That feeling makes you unwilling to work at a job that you hate or stay in a toxic relationship. It makes you focus on quality of life, which you have a bit of control over, rather than quantity of life, which you clearly can’t control at all. It makes you truly figure out what matters to you.

But most of all, it makes you appreciate, for the first time, absolutely everything. It’s all a gift. It all goes by so fast. It’s all so special.

I knew that by experiencing the worst thing in life, I had been given something really precious. My eyes were truly open. I wanted to always live in that state of awareness.

But I knew that over time, I’d fall back into my life routines, and the feeling would fade, or at least be smothered by the minutiae of the day to day. Mortality awareness takes a lot of work, and I can understand why most people kind of put that off until the last possible moment. It can be an extremely unsettling feeling that is very hard to sustain.

I wish there was a way to explain this to you so that it would sink in deep without you needing to experience tragedy on your own. Having your eyes opened is priceless. And sure, I’m not nearly as “woke” as I was during that first year, but I do make a conscious effort to remember what it felt like. Because meeting death causes you to truly fall in love with life. And I want to love life with every fiber of my being. I want that for you, too, dear reader.

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Contemplating my Death

Looking the grim reaper square in the eye is a bit unsettling.

Having recently gotten married, and having comingled our assets and combined our bank accounts as one does, it was time to update our wills. In my case, this was long overdue. My old will was all about assets I no longer have and people who are no longer in my life.

Writing a will is the responsible thing to do. It takes a great deal of pressure off the loved ones you leave behind, and it helps to ensure that your wishes are carried out. No sense in causing a familial World War III when you don’t have to. You’d be amazed at how petty some people can be while picking over your leftovers.

But contemplating one’s own death is no fun. Looking the grim reaper square in the eye and acknowledging his or her inevitable visit is a bit unsettling. I greatly prefer pretending that I’ll live forever. (But then, that scenario doesn’t really sound very pleasant, either, given how often I forget to floss.)

It’s particularly squick-making to have to imagine the whole death process. Do I want to have my life artificially prolonged? No thank you. Does that include withholding nutrition? Images of me wasting away as I circle the drain. Ugh. Yeah. Withhold nutrition unless I ask for it. But that’s a really hard thing to say to future me.

And what to do with the body I’m vacating? Good lord, but there are so many options these days. It’s like shopping for shoes. Except you’re disposing of the shoes. In a really upsetting way. And you’re trying not to freak out your relatives in the process.

There’s a lot to think about while making that choice. I mean, I’ll be beyond caring. But I’ve kind of grown attached to this body. I want it treated with respect. But I also don’t want it to take up space, or get pumped full of completely unnecessary and toxic formaldehyde, or cause undue expense.

I always thought I’d go with cremation, but then I learned what a huge carbon footprint that process places on the planet. So now I’ve decided on aquamation. That’s a new process. Your soft bits get dissolved, and only your bones remain, which are reduced to “ashes”. From an environmental standpoint it’s a much gentler exit from this planet. As this website explains, “Unlike cremation, there are no emissions with  aquamation. It uses about 1/8th the energy. If cremation were a diesel truck, aquamation is a Prius.” If I have to be a vehicle, I suppose I want to be a Prius. (How very Seattle of me.)

But can you imagine the details and descriptions I had to wade through to arrive at that choice? I mean… ugh. Nothing quite like picturing yourself getting disposed of like meat that is past its expiration date.

The next step is writing a personal letter explaining who I’d like to receive which of my tchotchkes. I’m struggling with this. How do you adequately convey how much someone has meant to you with a thing? It just doesn’t quite cut it.

But in the end, that’s all that will be left of me, save the memories. And that makes me want to create as many of those as I possibly can. So now that I’ve mapped out my journey into Death Land (and dragged you along for the ride), it’s time to get on with the business of living.

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Ph. Deities

Recently I had a consult with a specialist about a bump that occurred on the roof of my mouth. The minute this doctor walked in I could tell he was going to be “one of those”. The arrogance came off him like a stink.

Sure enough, he was obnoxious and had absolutely no communication skills. He was shocked at my knowledge of oral anatomy (my third useless degree was finally good for something) and he was condescending when he answered my questions. He was so full of himself there was barely room for me in the examination room.

“Oh, honey,” he said, “this is nothing. I could show you lumps the size of cherries!”

I thought, “All right, cowboy, slow your horse to a trot. I’m not here to watch you do tricks.”

But he did reassure me that it wasn’t cancer or a tooth abscess, so that was good. It’s probably a blocked saliva gland. But he couldn’t be sure without doing a biopsy. I said, “That will be expensive, won’t it?”

He replied, “Everything’s expensive. That doesn’t matter.”

I looked him square in the eye and said, “In my world, that matters a great deal.”

I mean, seriously, what a jerk. Since he was sure it wasn’t cancer, I decided to forego a biopsy. I’ll go back if anything changes. To someone else. But every time I feel that bump with my tongue, I’ll think of that dimwit.

I’ve never understood the transformation in so many doctors. I’m assuming most of them get into this career to help people, but somewhere along the way they become “eaten up with the dumb asses,” as a friend of mine likes to say. I suppose that’s bound to come when you do battle with the Grim Reaper on a daily basis and regularly win, but it isn’t the least bit attractive.

I know most mothers want us to marry doctors, but honestly, I couldn’t imagine a less desirable partner than a rude know-it-all. I’m surprised more nurses don’t engage in violent crime. It that is the wake-up call that reminds them why they’re there, it would be fine by me.


[Image credit: allatsea.co.za]

Dead Woman Walking

Last night I looked into the face of death, and the scary thing is that she looked like me. Or rather, how I would look if I had made much worse choices in life.

I was working on a bridge that is so large that it requires three bridgetenders per shift. Two of us act as flagpeople, standing on opposite ends of the bridge so that idiot drivers don’t crash the gates and drive into the drink when the center span is being lifted vertically by the third bridgetender. This means that as a flag person, I’m stranded on the street level as the bridge rises, and I have nowhere to go if a weirdo comes along. And we do get our fair share. This can be fun at one in the morning. Not.

So I was down there, doing my thing, and out of the shadows walks a skeleton. I got on the radio and called my coworkers.“Uh, guys? Keep an eye on me, will you? I’ve got a crazy.“ They can see me on camera. Not that they can do anything, but at least they can bear witness.

This woman was my height, but she couldn’t have weighed more than 90 pounds. Her skin was stretched so tightly that I could see the bones in her skull and elbows. Her hair was brown like mine, but so dry it seemed like it would crack and fall off if touched, and she had sores on her face and arms. She was probably my age, but she looked 40 years older.

She weaved her way toward me and kept saying, “I’ve got to go.“ And I was wishing she would go. Far away from me. Because she was a heroin addict, and I knew, without a doubt, that I was looking at a dead woman. She was beyond help. She was lost.

That was one of the longest bridge openings of my life. And before it came down completely, she had climbed over the sidewalk gate. One million pounds of steel could have easily crushed her foot, and I knew there was nothing I could do about it. She was way past listening to reason, and I wasn’t about to wrestle her to the ground. All she was worried about was getting to the methadone clinic on the other side of the bridge. Apparently she didn’t know it had been shut down months ago due to lack of funding.

Someone must have been watching over her last night, because she retained her limbs and went on her way. But as I watched her stagger off into the darkness, I couldn’t help but think that she was someone’s child, maybe someone’s sister or mother, and for all intents and purposes she was dead already. It was very sad.

Most of us don’t ever have to look death in the face. We keep that sort of thing at a distance from the general public. But last night I looked it right in the eye, and I hope to never have to see it again.


This looks just like the woman I saw, only she was even farther gone.

(photo credit: healingtalks.com)