There are a lot of words pinging around in that space inside my head -- sometimes they come together and make some kind of sense. When they do, I put them here, to make room for more.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Reading the obits

Ok, so one of my guilty pasttimes (can’t really call it a “pleasure”) is reading the obituaries. It’s a little sick, I know, but I also know I’m not the only one (you know who you are out there.) And I don’t know what it is that fascinates me so: is it finding the cause of death and thinking, phew, I don’t have that (yet)? Or consoling myself with the fact that they were really old and lived a good, happy life? Or maybe it’s seeing their list of accomplishments, measuring myself against that, and wondering how many more years I have to have fulfilled as much.

Whatever it is, I keep doing it, and I’m particularly drawn to the younger people, the ones who got less than what I think should have been their full share of life on this earth. Although my wise friend Michele once told me that “we don’t all get eighty years; for some of us, a far shorter time is still a full life.”

So of course a few days ago I read about a 40-year-old woman who “died suddenly, by accident, on Martha’s Vineyard”, and had to find out the rest of the story. It was awful, and tragic, and it happened as she was doing something we all could be doing: riding her bike with her family on a beautiful vacation day. A freak accident, where she lost control while riding on a sidewalk, and a tractor-trailer just happened to be right there, and she hit it and was killed instantly. Talk about bad timing, which of course sounds flippant, but what are the odds, really? And am I the only one who plays out these gruesome scenarios in her head when going about my mundane life? Planning for the tragedy that may never occur, but is always lurking there, as it was for this poor woman.

And then I also think about what she left behind: a devastated family and co-workers, people who adored her, who said she brought a smile to their faces, who described her as loving and vivacious. And, being narcissistic, it makes me wonder what people would say about me if the same were to happen. “She was nice, but kinda selfish.” “I think she yelled at her kids a lot.” “She was very impatient, especially while driving.”

I thought about this a few weeks ago when a friend called me because a coworker of hers was killed accidentally. The woman had been rushing to work, crossing the street, NOT in the crosswalk, when she was hit by a car. A mother of two who had a few hours before that, I have no doubt, been spreading peanut butter on bread, brushing hair into a pony tail, taking chicken out to defrost. I imagine her kissing her husband good-bye, while racing out the door to drop the kids at daycare, impatient to unload them so she could address the work issues awaiting her. Which, of course, she never got to address.

And as unsettling as that whole scenario was, it wasn’t the thing that so undid my friend. When she read the obituary, it was clear this woman had been a paragon of virtue: not just because she volunteered in all the little ways many of us women do, but she had gone so far as to implement a program in her local hospital. She had taken an idea and fleshed it out and given it life, and now her community was a better place.

“She has a legacy!” my friend moaned. “If I were to die tomorrow, what would they say about me?? That I showed up for work every day??”

Which is really what it comes down to for me: am I living a life I would be happy to see written up in an obituary? Because you just never know when the grim reaper could come for you.

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