Facing My Death: Embracing My Life
Personal reflections evoked by the pandemic.
Posted April 30, 2020
The coronavirus has moved humanity out of their ordinary world. No one has ever seen the likes of it in our lifetimes. The closest event to the worldwide breadth of this virus is the Spanish Influenza pandemic, which began in 1918.
There are many facets to the effects of the coronavirus and many questions about what it could mean for our future, both individually and collectively.
For me, one of the facets that the virus evokes is my relationship to mortality. When this started, I was cavalier. I thought, ‘what are the odds I will get it?’. Pretty slim. Then, as time went on, my attitude shifted to ‘well, I can get it, but I’m in pretty good health. My case would be mild or moderate and that will be that’. Then, as more time went on, it sunk in that I’m in a vulnerable demographic. I’m 70, so I could possibly die from the virus. This was a sobering realization.
What follows are my personal reflections on my confrontation with my mortality. I recognize I’ve lived a privileged existence, so my concerns and experience around death and dying will be different from others. This blog isn’t meant to dishonor anyone else’s response to COVID-19 and their confrontation with their mortality.
Also, I don’t know how I would actually respond to my dying process. However, this is an opportunity to examine my life. I’m writing this blog because I think this exercise may be of value to others.
I hope to live at least another 20 vital years, but if I died now, I would be grateful for the overall rich life I’ve experienced. I’ve had a good marriage, with our share of ups and downs. I’ve had a deep and connecting relationship with my daughter and her husband. I have rich friendships, both presently and in the past. I’ve had a successful career as an existential-humanistic psychotherapist.
I don’t want to leave the impression that my life has been a storybook. I’ve had some dark times. I’ve experienced bouts of depression and anxiety. I’ve had to repeatedly face my own existential themes. This has humbled me.
Are there things I want to change about myself? Sure. I would think that is true for everyone. The corona virus has allowed me to examine my life from a different perspective. It has shifted my thinking about what really matters in my life. Rather than worrying over details, I want to live with more ease. I want to be better at letting the people I love know that I love them. I want to commit to supporting the causes that I care for by being more vocal in my advocacy.
I want to accept my challenges and regrets as a unique and integral part of my journey of being human.
I also want to reflect on the joys I have experienced and what I am grateful for. This is remembering a friend’s kindness when I was suffering, being appreciated by a loved one, or having a good tennis match. This is remembering the times I was there for my family, helped a friend or colleague by offering support, and comforted my clients. This is remembering a walk along the beach and seeing an exquisite sunrise. All of these experiences combine to offer me solace when I think I could die from the Corona Virus.
What also helps me is to draw on my spiritual perspective. I believe there is more to life, and to us, than our embodied existence. I believe our consciousness transcends our body and ego, and that our physical body drops away from our more eternal consciousness.
I can worry about the pain and suffering I might go through in my dying process and I hope I would be able to surrender to it. As my mentor, Jim Bugental said to his students when they were concerned about his dying, “People have died before me, people will die after me, I figure I can do it.”
I am curious about what this transition will be like. When Steve Jobs died, his last words were supposedly, “Wow, wow, wow." I hope this would be my experience.
By acknowledging my mortality in the face of this pandemic, I’ve been compelled to reflect on what is important to me. This is allowing me to prioritize my life in a more powerful and rewarding way.