Thursday, April 9, 2009

Finding Meaning in Mortality (thank you Daddy)

There is something about being with my Dad and thinking about geological time that has made my mortality real to me. I suppose this is not very profound, nor unusual. My Dad will be 75 in May. He visited for my daughter's tenth birthday. I am having a hysterectomy in the end of this month and have a not insignificant chance of endometrial cancer. Attempts to biopsy my uterus non surgically were unsuccessful, so a diagnosis will be made intraoperatively. Somehow, all these circumstances have given me an out-of-mind experience.

OK, I can not really have an out-of-mind experience, rather I am thinking from the third person, observing my life from as much of a distance that is possible from inside my own head.

My Dad travels the world, and frequently goes to China for his Medicine In Public Health Initiative. I have always admired my father, and been afraid of him; afraid to stand up to him. Now, for the most part I can defend my ideas and viewpoint matter of factly when it differs from his. In the last few years I have grown to like him from up close; instead of just admiring him from afar. All of the admiration, though has not stopped me from seeing the less functional parts of my personality reflected back at me from him.

It recently seems as though I am walking around acutely aware of what I do not find healthy in my relationships. I have worked very hard to trace the lineage of my specific behavior patterns. I hope I am truly working even harder to change them. This hyper-awareness and classification does not tend to foster good relationships. It is an odd irony that dissecting my dysfunction and naming it gives a strange objective awareness of interactions even as they happen. I considered it some kind of victory to actually HEAR what I sound like. Oh. THAT bad thing is just what Mommy does! Oh, I sound just like Daddy! For some reason, not everyone else is just as interested to hear me name the negative behavior I have just understood, even as I take my part in it. This is especially true for my parents. I do not per se BLAME them for my behavior, I just see where some of it comes from. Now that I am a parent, this has been af high importance to me.

I can be a really negative critic. I have not only traced this behavior, tones and gesticulations included, but also have seen it played word for word, nuance by nuance by my daughter. Now that I have diagnosed it, it is time for the treatment. Like most medications, there can be a bad aftertaste. I know I will not live forever, but tasting my mortality, seeing it and accepting it, has made my behavioral redo much more of a priority. Now the difficult task has become to stop those words, change that tone and control myself BEFORE the words come out of my mouth, before my eyes roll heavenward, before that sigh escapes my lips.

I stand with one foot in Benevolent, Understanding, Unconditional Motherland, and the other in Mother You Know What Land. In a raft rushing down the B*%$ River I try to desperately steer my way to the Loving shore. I am so close. I am sure that this struggle will continue for the rest of my life, however long that is.

Which brings me to the point of the discussion. I have already lived over half my life . At fifty-one the probability of living fifty-one more years is infinitesimal. Even if I do live over ninety like both my grandmothers, it is only forty-some years more. Looking and listening to my Dad, I am suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude. Imperfect as he is, inherited outlook and all, I love him dearly. I love the parts of me that came from him, observed as well as unknown. I can see all of this unfolding before my eyes in my daughter. As I turn from his puns, to the quick older-then-ten understanding in my daughter, I can share in their laughter. The kind of jokes, the same ironic sense of humor, and lightening quick cognition is in all three of us, is in our giggles. I have been concentrating on righting my wrongs so much that I have stopped appreciating the already-good. I have learned something, and I have passed my Daddy's best to my daughter.

I have been thinking and examining my rationale for my life, what the God of my understanding expects me to do with it. I am trying to understand how He or She wants me to invest this precious capital minute by minute. Faced with death, confronted with this mortality, I am still expected to keep on going day by sweet day. The immortality, then of my family must be just this. The way my Dad turns and glances to see if we have caught that last funny remark, caught that sly astute observation, and breaks into a huge grin despite himself, lives on, reflected back at him in my daughter's twinkling eyes. I was listening to their detailed imaginary world game, and suddenly I felt an extreme deja-vu descending. I had a whole world of people we gossiped about when I was her age. The world that our imaginary friends inhabited was quite detailed. Forty years later, it sounds just as entertaining. I see myself relaxing and letting go.

Whatever it is: fifteen hours or fifteen years, my job is to love and enjoy. My catalogue of the unacceptable was long and detailed. It is time to reward all the good I have received with the highest compliment; emulation. I will strive to accept everyone around me as they are right now. I will thank both my parents by being the best they gave me to work with. I will temper the negative to the best of my ability, and strive to stop this endless rehashing of my bad behaviors. I will enjoy all these moments of clarity, and I will try to put them to good use. I will behave as the best I can expect to receive in this world. I will always endeavor to treat all those I come in contact with, ESPECIALLY my family, with all the love I can muster. At the end of the day I will look back, not to punish myself, but merely to learn for tomorrow, and then let it go. I will try to be the best of my relatives, TO my relatives, every day. I will honor my Dad, and show my appreciation of him by being the best HE showed ME. I only have this life, as far as I know for sure, right now. I can pray and meditate and reach the God of my understanding only now;not yesterday,and not in tomorrow. So, I will try to stay in now and live in now, and love in now. Thank you Daddy!


  1. your dad seems like a wonderful man and you a wonderful daughter we all think about ourselves and our parents you dont want to know about mine i was a drunk since i was 13yr now at 60 i have been sober for 30 i wish i was when my mom was alive i went through chemo and radiation and drank also i was a mess i got it together after her death i am sure it was my cancer and drinking that help it along and that i am sorry for i know her prayers for me were heard by God i wish i was able to pray like she did maybe one day i will be able to

  2. staying sober for 30 years is an admirable accomplishment,and to beat the terrible disease of addiction one day at a time is something that sure would/does make your mother proud of her son. all the animals you comfort are also blessed by all you give them and return blessings to you. animals,like prayer,do not exist in the past or future,just the now. thank you for your prayers.

  3. I continue to learn more about my own mortality as I go through more physical problems/surgeries. Many writers have written about the paradox of becoming wiser as you get older,wishing you knew then with a young body what you know now,etc. I also was an endurance athlete;competing where girls had not gone before. I can also learn to push for what I need to do now with the Eal I had then; to learn from my young self as well. Brian cubann's Blog today made me remember that writing my book(s) should be just as much as an identity minute by minute as opening my first business was. Nothing would deter me and I kept it open first in my life to the point I almost LOST my life ignoring the illness in my body. Now I have to have that zeal bit also must integrate the mind/body integration. I can not leave one part behind and expect the other to work alone. This is what positive visualization is about for the athlete. This is what it is about for me as I struggle to get stronger. I need to eat and drink(water I mean!) to fuel the body to heal and give mind food for thought:fight to keep the IQ going(will re committ to the piano calling my name upstairs music is healing;brain reconnecting),to write with the passion I had to open my Just Cats!

  4. Thank you for your thoughtful post. I've been meaning to post a comment for some time, but life seems to be full of distractions. I only seem to have enough focus to tweet.

    Anyway, I've been reviewing my relationship with my own father, who has passed away. I miss him of course, but there's more to it than that. It's certainly made me think about my own mortality--something I hadn't given much heed to before. My cat's passing was my first real, terrible encounter with death. So much that was precious is lost...unless I do something, unless I show through my own actions that they still live through me. So much to ponder. It seems I can barely articulate my thoughts.


  5. Dear Cheryl, I really appreciate you writing about the effect reading this had for you. I know we definantly have things to teach each other and I feel blessed to have the chance to correspond with you. You have inspired me to work on a blogpost about my excruciating, paralyzing grief when my closest friend MY cat died. I have eleven cats now; some left over when my cat practice closed, yet that grief from the absence of the one is untouched. It is still there. Coincidentally, the day you posted this, I agreed to be a Forum Moderator for Pet Loss and Euthanasia issues for to help the Vet Med general Moderator. She needs help because PET LOSS ISSUES ARE THE MOST UTILIZED BOARD so, we are not alone. I will write a lot more on this; I have been thinking about it for fourteen years and need to share what I have learned. I think I will post this on my hospice4animal site too.

    I am sorry about the loss of your Dad. I agree with you, the best legacy you can have is to proceed to live your life to honor his memory.

    One thing that strikes me to tell you is that animals,our pets, represent true unconditional love. When a beloved pet dies, in contrast to a relative, there is no baggage to dilute the grief. No matter how close you are to your parent or sibling, there are always complicated struggles and unfinished emotions that interfere with pure missing that person (in my own experience). There is also ongoing loss and a true feeling, for me, of being verify and very very empty as we try to proceed with normal life without any real way to celebrate the contribution or acknowledge the hole in your life that is left. Our soceity has not evolved to the point we allow the validation of that loss though our pets are equal in status emotionally as children. Part of the motivation for my writing about end of life issues for animals is to recognize and elevate our pets' status in our soceity; to acknowledge what already is. You have given me the idea that there should be a mourning period and allowances given the pet owner just as of a family member has died ...because one has.

    Thank you Cheryl! xxxjmedvm

  6. Dear Jaime,

    Thank you for your comments. I would love to read your blogpost about when your cat died. Please let me know when you do post it.

    That's awesome that you're going to be the forum moderator for pet loss and euthanasia issues for I should check it out. Two of my friends recently lost their cat and are devastated. They said I was one of the few people who understood their grief.

    I understand because of the death of my cat. When I went to pick up her ashes at the vet's, I almost lost it. I'll never forget the kindness of the vet in sitting with me while I cried my heart out.

    I agree completely that there should be a mourning period allowance for people who've lost their beloved pets!