My body is revolting. It is telling me things about the life I have lived and the myriad of ways I have abused it. I am 54. I could easily live 30 more years or more based on my health as I saw it 30 years ago. But now, I get warning signs. I lose friends. Friends younger than I are dying suddenly. I am surrounded by cancer.
Why have I written all these very not-cheerful words? Because we all have a time when we face ourselves. For some it is at 40. For others, 70. For me it was 50, but I ignored it until this past year. I became overly sentimental and mawkish about the smallest details. Everything meant something. A cough, a twinge, a sudden chill.
Well, I have left off the over-attention to death paranoia, for the most part, and settled into a sensible way of looking at things, the way one ‘puts their papers in order.’ A cliché, but a worthy one. I can think of no other phrase that covers it fully that we all understand. Put your things in order. Put your papers in order. Preserve, reserve, throw out. Organize. Leave notes. Instructions. Wills. The very word brings a new chill.
But I owe my children lots. They were there in the toughest of years. They heard the worst of us. The worst of me. But I am alive. And I love them. I read others occasionally who say ‘too little, too late’. I don’t believe in such nonsense. It is true, I cannot have those years back. I can not have back 1986 to make better decisions that eventually affected my health.
But there is now. This moment. Right now. How long does it take to dial a phone. Write a note. Stamp an envelope? How long to scrawl over a page, ‘I love you and I always will.’ Or, ‘It was not your fault’.
I inherited some rather vile self-loathing that took me years to recover from. I was told things that gave me night terrors. Then there were all the things that were never said. Things like, ‘it wasn’t your fault,’ and ‘if I had a daughter over again, it would be you.’
I read once in a book, a question. It went straight to my heart. It posed the query: ‘Why don’t you want your children to have a better life than you did?’ It concerned abused children who grew up to be neglectful parents, despite their best efforts. Yes, despite their best efforts. I forgive myself for not always being there. I’m here now. We are all still here now.
And so I have started putting my affairs in order, putting my papers in line, my ducks in a row, and picking up the phone more often than not. Because even if I live to be 90, no love is wasted.
I hope you will forgive my wandering thoughts. Certainly I am not the first to think about death and what will come. But it is about time I put it into writing. Someone said, many have said, in their own ways, that understanding death is an important part of living life well. I am not afraid to die. But I do have some misgivings about the way it comes about, the pain, and the suffering, and the suffering of our families after. But I am not afraid of the end anymore. I am wholly sure that I will spend eternity with my heavenly Father and that part gives me peace.
I leave you with this jisei, my humble version of a Japanese death poem I wrote in 2015. If I understood the genre correctly, it not only looks ahead to death, but reflects on life. Thank you for listening. It means a lot to me.
The last gift
I did not say no
each decadence I tried
days of mirth
every offer to indulge
Now I return
every volume of my life
each gift you gave I savoured
I close my eyes
and listen to my life
to city traffic
each loving and filthy part