When you get to be a certain age dealing with death becomes a more frequent occurrence. For me, as a Gen X-er my experiences with this has been limited to grandparents or work relationships primarily, and has been a rare occurrence. But looking to the future, I see unhealthy aunts and uncles who have not taken care of themselves walking through this doorway. My dad and others who are near 70 have taken a different tact and fight the battle every day to be healthy and take care of themselves. At age 57 my father started running and now regularly competes in half-marathon distance races in his own way. But nothing is guaranteed. You or I could get hit by a bus tomorrow. When you look back on your life, right now at this moment, how do you feel? There is always time to improve.
Sometimes death takes you completely by surprise and rattles your cage a little. Holly and I are attending a wake tonight for the wife of my friend, mentor, and former boss that I’ve worked with off and on for 10 out of the last 15 years. We’ve known this woman for the same time, and have spent countless picnics and holiday parties visiting, and even more time away from work enjoying life. She was one of the most athletically fit people we knew – having competed in an Ironman, competitive swimming, shorter triathlons, running races, and Nordic skiing. She was over a decade older than us, but was elite level fast even at her age, competing in the top wave at many of those races against some of the best in the world.
A year or two after my own Ironman, where I qualified (but didn’t take) for a Hawaii World Championship slot, I did a local very hilly and challenging triathlon. My friend’s wife was racing in the elite wave as was I. Unbeknownst to her, my only goal was to beat her. She was a better swimmer so was out of the water first. She was also very lean and a billy goat on the bike so put more distance on me on the long climbs out of the park venue. I started chipping away on her lead on the run, eventually overtaking her about a half-mile from the finish, and probably beat her by 50 feet or so, but it took everything I had culminating in my barfing at the finish line. Meanwhile, she saunters in cool as a cucumber, winning her age group (as usual).
Thus, it was surprising to hear she died while hiking out west, to “natural causes.” She would be the last person you’d think would die doing a physical activity as benign as hiking. She leaves behind a husband, and three kids – two are basically grown-ups, but one is about the same age as my oldest Birdsnest. The life she lived was full of energy and adventure, and wasn’t much on sitting around. Before kids my friend and her biked on a multi-year adventure around the world, working intermittently in southeast Asia and other places where their skills or company had a need.
When someone like this dies, you reflect on your own life. Am I being a good husband? Am I being a good father? Am I leading by example the life I want my children to lead? How would others reflect on my life? Do I have my financial house in order? I’d like to think I’m doing what I can to maximize each day and stretch that rubberband, and know that I’m not relying on my past achievements to carry me through to tomorrow. Each day is an adventure that should be lived to its fullest. But you also need to balance it for tomorrow. Making sure you’re saving for the emergency, vacation, and retirement. Making sure you have life insurance for both spouses, at least while the kids are under your roof. This is a balancing act, and one that falls in the gray area. My wife and I disagree on how to allocate today’s funds – I’m more of the mindset that we have a wonderful life and more stuff adds minor incremental value, while she (maybe coming from her upbringing that was mired in economic chaos and depravity following her parents’ divorce) wants to spend on today. We both do our best to compromise, but it is not easy. I digress.
So with life comes death, it’s only a matter of time for all of us. As both Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman said in Shawshank: “Get busy living, or get busy dying.” Do you want to hear “..he lived a comfortable, boring life, and provided for his family…” or more along the lines of “he was constantly learning and a curious personality with a drive to improve himself, and his community…he impacted so many lives, and was a hero for his kids…”? Neither is right or wrong, but is something to think about as we transition to another summertime with new opportunities. And appreciate those moments you do have with friends and relatives and acquaintances that have something to learn from or appreciate. You never know when it will be the last time you see that person. You don’t want to spend it on your phone, escaping reality while the opportunity for real moments are there in front of you. Peace.