During my last physical examination, the doctor asked, as they normally do, about my family’s medical history. You know the routine questions about your health.
How you are feeling?
Do you get enough rest?
Are you exercising?
Do you smoke and drink alcohol?
Blah, blah, blah…
I’m okay with these questions. But then she asked about my parent’s medical history. It’s a basic question used to identify hereditary factors that increase my chances of acquiring certain diseases or other health complications.
In most situations, I’m really good at avoiding or distracting people whenever the topic of my parents comes up. I’m not proud of it. There are a lot of reasons for this, but for now I’ll say it is because I still have difficulty talking about their death.
Back to the doctor.
I explained to her that my father looked like he was in excellent health. Unfortunately, he drowned while he was still relatively young after his fishing boat capsized. It’s possible that drugs played a role in his drowning, but it is unclear. When I talk about his death, I normally leave out the drug use part.
As for my mother’s early death, a respiratory disease she acquired after taking diet pills called “phen-phen” caused it. Her symptoms started with a shortness of breath. The disease gradually worsened to the point where a walk to the mailbox felt like a marathon for her. Within a few years of her first symptoms she was sitting in a wheel chair, breathing through an oxygen tank, and had a hole in her chest with tubes delivering medicine directly into her system. It was an awful site.
The few times that I’ve shared this story, people normally respond with “that’s awful” or “I’m so sorry.” But this time the doctor said,
“Wow you’ve had some back luck.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond.
Something about her comment bothered me down to my soul. I normally need time to reflect before responding. I didn’t have it, so I shrugged my shoulders up-and-down as if in agreement with her.
But I didn’t agree! In fact, if I had that conversation again it would be totally different.
I’d say something like –
Yes, my parents’ death was a personal tragedy. I lost my father in my early 20’s and my mother in my early 30’s. Watching my mother in those conditions was unbearable. And even though my grandparents raised me, my parents’ death had left me in a state of shock and depression for a short time. I did feel extremely unlucky back then.
But I’m not.
From my parent’s early deaths I received an awakening few people rarely experience until it is too late. Overtime, I have gradually become aware of my own mortality. I don’t mean this in a depressing or suicidal type of way. I feel the opposite.
It’s a gift.
I have an appreciation for life that comes from my proximity to death. Because of their passing, combined with my faith, I have a desire to live and not just exist. I’m intentional about my life. I will do everything possible to avoid drifting like someone caught in a strong current at sea.
And when I am drifting, at least I’m aware of it. It takes more than just breathing to be fully alive. I like what William Wallace’s character, Braveheart, said,
“Every man dies, not every man really lives.”
Becoming mindful or aware of one’s mortality is powerful. I’m focused on quality and not quantity. This is who I am. This is an appreciation for life, which I found at the intersection of tragedy, faith, and hope. So no, doctor, I’m not an unlucky person.
In fact, God has blessed me beyond belief. It is the people who live as if they will never die that are the unlucky ones.
Benjamin Franklin said it best,
“Some people die at 25 and aren’t buried till 75.”
So my question to you, doctor, comes from a book I recently found. Are you living or existing?