Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Matters of Life and Death

“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?” 
― Thornton WilderOur Town

In the past 18 months I have been in the hospital three times, twice by design and once in an emergency. For the two scheduled times, surgery was required and I was home that same day, but I had to be put under anesthesia.

Each time, in the days running up to that appointment, I prayed I would wake up afterwards.

It made me wonder, do we ever appreciate life while we have it? That made me think of "Our Town," where the entire last act is conversations among dead people and that very topic comes up.

I'd like to think there is a place where we can all sit around and have these types of discussions but I just do not know.

In the days leading up to this second surgery, I spent a lot of time cleaning the house, writing out instructions for MH "in case something goes wrong" and getting stuff done. Much of it was not important stuff, but the little things I knew I would not be able to do in the days afterwards...should I live.

Life and death were on my mind a lot in the days leading up to the second visit. They still are, and have been since the trauma that put me in the ER could've killed me.

The day of the second surgery, in the cool early morning, I watched the stained-glass window effect of my feeder intensely. I sat outside to watch the hummingbirds. I listened to the jays, cardinals, goldfinches and watched the chimney swifts catch insects aloft. I thought of my grand-nephew and the house his parents just bought. I'd like to see both it and him.

I thought of people condemned to die. They sit in cells and, when the appeals are exhausted, learn when exactly their lives will end. How do they feel? I thought I had an inkling.

Would you rather go quick and unexpectedly or spend weeks lingering on? There is a reason the "ideal" is to die in your sleep. But what if you left things undone the day before? I kept thinking of the "day after" should things go wrong.

I have not been very forthcoming about the state of my health with most of my friends and family. That reflects more on me than them. The ones I've told have cheered me greatly, but they have their own lives and families and troubles and live some distance away. After all is said and done, we're all really on our own.

I am lucky. There is much that has gone wrong in my life but much that has gone right. Am I neurotic in dwelling on the End? Perhaps. While I was in the hospital this last time I was reminded that catastrophic illness can be an equal opportunity killer. John McCain and brain cancer. The guy in the pre-op bed across from me telling the nurse he was in for an extensive hernia repair, much worse than the reason I was there. Children with leukemia.

Live each day as if it is your last. It's not just a cliche.