A few years ago, my grandfather suffered a massive heart attack that would eventually take his life. Standing by his hospital bed, my family and I felt powerless and fearful.
When the heart rate monitor finally registered a flat line, a pang of sadness devastated us. Through the emotional roller coaster, I also felt relief that my grandfather, an octogenarian, had lived an impactful life. Fond memories of him came to me: his massive chuckle when he heard a good joke or his yummy fatty pork fried rice awaiting me after school. Throughout the process, my family and I experienced a dramatic reminder of an inevitable constant in everybody's lives -- death.
As I continue the process of my mid-life years of "#adulting," I will inevitably experience more encounters with death. I can't help but wonder sometimes, what my ending would look like. Will I be surrounded by friends and family who care for me genuinely? What are the proverbial memories and moments that will flash before my eyes?
As a certified sex addiction therapist, I have the privilege of walking alongside sex addicts as they journey from addiction to recovery -- from self-destructive obsessions to life-giving passions, from chaos to clarity, from temporary thrills to long-lasting satisfaction. When I hear that an addict client has just bought a new high performance car or started an extra-marital fling, my first thought is to find out whether he is experiencing a mid life crisis to reclaim a sense of adventure and youth. Popular media seems to send a resoundingly strong message that youth is valued, death is taboo. Distractions abound.
I don't mean to have a morbid fascination with death. Yet philosophers have indicated that to live meaningful, fulfilled lives is to start with the knowledge that our time on earth alive is limited. To paraphrase Confucius, "To truly live, one must contemplate death." We can then prioritize and focus on that which truly matters.
Often I see a flailing about to not have to deal with the uncomfortable and fearful. Clients say to me, "I'm afraid I'm growing old," or "mid-life sucks." I challenge them back with questions: What would it look like if you embraced the anxiety that surrounds death, to see it as an opportunity for soul-searching and respond with dignity and intention? If you move to focus your present time, energy and resources on things that truly mattered, what would your final moments alive look like? Who would be there? Would it be filled with peace?