BY FRANK TERRANELLA
As I rapidly approach the end of my fifties I find that I have a different sense of my mortality than people younger than me do. Younger adults don’t think much about dying (except to
fear it) because the odds are they’ve never been very sick. But I actually think that facing the fact that you will not live forever is very healthy and helps you live a better, fuller and happier life.
You may recall the longstanding soap opera “Days of Our Lives” that begins with the words “Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.” Well, the average life span of a Baby Boomer is about 30,000 days. If you’ve reached age 50, you’ve used up 18,250 of them. By the end of your fifties, you’ve used up 21,900. If you’re lucky, there have been a lot of good days in there. But just as the hourglass runs out, so do the days of our lives. But most people don’t want to face that reality. That is, until they get sick, really sick.
About 12 years ago, I got really sick. It started with a heart attack, which is one of the most effective ways for the Grim Reaper to get your attention. And just in case I didn’t get the message, five years later I developed testicular cancer, followed five years after that by prostate cancer. I was lucky in that the heart attack was minor (my clogged arteries were unblocked by angioplasty) and the cancers I had happen to be the ones with the highest survival rate if caught early, as they were. So the bottom line is that I’m fine now. But I also have been forced to face my mortality.
Surprisingly, I have found this to be very positive development. I now know more certainly than I did that my days on this planet are limited. My vacation plans are now influenced if not governed by my bucket list. Younger people go around never contemplating kicking the bucket. We all are guilty of that when we’re young. We postpone good things like sailing the Mediterranean until some amorphous time called “retirement.” I now know better.
Before my heart attack I was in a job that I did for the money. After my heart attack I looked for a job that I would enjoy and I found it. With the likelihood of less than 10,000 days to go in this lifetime, I have planned vacations in my 50s that allowed me to visit every state in the continental United States. I have ticked off bucket list stops like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park.
I think that if we all knew the exact date when we were going to die we would not waste time doing things that are unimportant like watching sitcoms. While everyone places different values on activities, I think we all would set different priorities if we knew we had a year to live. I am a two-time cancer survivor, and I know that cancer will get me eventually. The obituary pages are a testament to its ability to cut short lives. That knowledge provides a certain clarity of purpose and urgency of execution. My 401(k) is less important than my desire to experience all that life offers.
George Burns, who lived to be 100, is quoted as saying “If I knew I was going to live so long, I would have taken better care of myself.” I think the converse of that is “If I knew I was going to live so short, I would have taken better care to live life to the fullest.” With most of the sand in the bottom half of the hourglass, we post-50 men and women have a better sense of this than our younger friends and family. And that’s a good thing. I just booked that Mediterranean cruise.
Bob Smith said:
I agree we have to live well because who knows, right? I don’t ever focus on the 10,000 days or so the mortality charts might say I have left because that’s just an educated guess. The reality is that all we have – all we have ever had – is a day, a moment, that we hope will continue and be repeated many more times. I’m focusing on every single “right now” in which I’m fortunate enough to be vertical and still blinking. The future will come or it won’t, but when it does, it will still be right this minute.
Frank Terranella said:
You are absolutely correct. It’s best to take it live in the moment and take it one day at a time. I thank God when I wake up in the morning. I’ve stopped buying green bananas.