The telephone rings at an odd hour and immediately your gut tells you the news is not good. Before even answering the phone your mind begins to race and anticipate why someone would be calling; your body preparing for the worst. In the few seconds it takes to actually say “hello” you have run through a list of names and possibilities; maybe someone got engaged, or had a baby, or won the lottery, maybe, just maybe, the news is good. For those who have experienced this phone call, the news is rarely good; it is either something that requires a late night run to the hospital or a sleepless evening staring at the ceiling with tears. Ultimately the few seconds of thought usually ends in the conclusion that an older relative is in the hospital or passed on; news that differs from that train of thought is much harder to digest.
When someone young dies the instinct of self-preservation kicks as we naturally compare our life and our body to the person that died; feigning our personal fear of dying young. It is easy to distance your own mortality from that of a younger friend when the reason for their death is caused by a controllable event; so sad but that won’t happen to me because I never ride motorcycles, skydive, drive without a seatbelt, work in construction, do drugs, wash skyscraper windows, play extreme sports, miss a monthly breast exam, bike without a helmet, work in Bagdad, take anti-depressants, run with scissors, etc. etc. etc. Truly scary is when the cause of death is something that is unavoidable, things normally assumed to happen to those with many years fully lived.
An amazing member of our extended pack of friends died of a massive heart attack driving home from the gym last week; he was 49 years old. While some younger people might view 49 as old, they will learn with age and increased wisdom that 49 is solidly within one’s prime of life. The mundane events before the heart attack serve as a reminder of how delicate life is and how it could end for any one of us in an instant; in the car while phoning home, talking about dinner plans and what was on TV that night, a casual mention of feeling ill and sudden silence followed by a crash. We can each relate to the above routine, but for our friend routine was broken suddenly, tragically, leaving behind stunned loved ones and more then likely a very messy desk at work.
It is unhealthy to live every day dreading our impending death but it is important to remember that our time on earth is fragile and finite. In real life there are no cheat codes to grant users an extra 30 lives; we only get one turn at this game. The sudden death of a friend put things into perspective and reminded me how important it is to live life to the fullest. What defines a full life is different to each of us; we must understand our goals in life as individuals and not adopt those of their friends, family and the media. What kind of job is fulfilling, provides enough compensation to accomplish non-career goals, and allows enough personal time to actually have a life outside of work? What is important to you; is it family, friends, travel, volunteer work, gardening, photography, singing, dancing, underwater-basket weaving and are you making time to do those things? If you died tomorrow what would others remember about you and would they know to clean out your bottom drawer to spare your mother any embarrassment? Unfortunately life is not like the movies or a fairy tale allowing us the opportunity to finish our story, tie a little bow on it, have a happy ending and expunge our house and offices of incriminating evidence.
Our friend would not want us to be sad and mourn, but to celebrate his life. What I do mourn most is the lost opportunity to know him better and appreciate all he brought to the world; his ability to command a room of people, make a new friend instantly, pour a drink or make us laugh. He left the world too early with too many stories left to tell, but his legacy serves as a reminder to all to embrace life, fill it with friends, have fun, see the world and to cherish love; if we continue to put off until tomorrow what is important to us today we might never get around to what matters most.