Daily Prompt: Finite Creatures – At what age did you realize you were not immortal? How did you react to that discovery?
My first memory of someone dying was that of my Uncle when I was 13. It was the first time I saw my father cry, the first time I was exposed to open grief- my Uncle had died suddenly at age 56 from a heart attack. So old to my 13 years, so young now I realize. I can’t say that it had any impact on thinking about my own mortality though.That came much later, and really entered my consciousness after I started volunteering in a hospital visiting patients, when I was in my 40’s.
Many of the patients I visited were my age, and suffering through some unspeakable illnesses. Many remained hospitalized for months, never leaving before dying there. One woman became a grandmother for the first time and the caring and kind nurses allowed her daughter to bring the baby in to lay with her dying grandmother, a woman in her late 40’s, only hours before taking her last breath. Three patients I had been visiting for many months all died within the same week, one in his 30’s, the other two ages 45 and 55. I became very aware of the fact that disease can pay a visit at any age, that there are surely no guarantees of living to “old age” and just as these people had been struck down in the middle of their lives, so too could I.
I used to walk the halls with a patient who had come out of his remission from cancer, and was once again undergoing treatments. We talked about how he felt, his fears, and I remember his wide eyed look and saying to me, “this could kill me.” It hadn’t really entered my mind until he said it. He was tall and strong looking, had a wife and 2 teenage kids. It did kill him. Quicker than anyone had thought it would. I saw him one week and the next week when I came in he was lost in his own world, talking but making no sense, the cancer having unexpectedly spread to his brain. I talked with him, playing along with his fantasy, knowing I would not see him again after that day.
I never took for granted being able to walk out of that hospital, being able to feel the sun on my face, see the blue sky, watch the trees change color in the fall or the flowers bloom in the spring. I still do not take it for granted. We are fragile human beings, blessed if we are healthy, something not to be taken lightly. So much can go so wrong and invite the angel of death to pay a visit.