It has been over a year, actually almost two years now, since I learned I had stage 3 bladder cancer. I’m not going to candy coat it: It’s been terrifying.
I am 53 years old—not a tragic death, certainly, even if I go tomorrow. I have been able to live all the exciting, sexy years. I was able to fall in love, party like a wild woman, graduate college, fall in love again, get married, get divorced, go to graduate school, be a ski bum, fall in love again, get married a second time, find a career, age, watch step-children grow and marry and have babies, and bury friends, several beloved pets, and most heartbreakingly of all, my mother. I am so very grateful I have been able to live such a full, vibrant life filled with love and laughter (and good pasta). But still, maybe I’m not quite ready for the long good night.
This is what facing my mortality has taught me: It doesn’t matter if you’re not ready. You will have to go when you have to, so why not live it up? I am back to being the wild woman of my youth except with emergency brakes and much better sense. For a while, admittedly, I had lost my joy. I worked with a toxic human being who made work a thing of dread, I was isolated and disconnected from my husband, and even my siblings and I had drifted. And then the unthinkable happened: I was told I was in mortal peril and everything returned to the Technicolor world of my childhood. It was an immediate transformation bestowed upon me. Everything was hyper-sharp, awe-inspiring, heartbreakingly beautiful, and oh so fragile and fleeting. I remembered that I was going to die—and it brought to my mind the Latin phrase–memento mori, which means just that.
I know I have one foot crossed over into the other side, but I don’t think I would pull it back even if I could. This is what memento mori has brought to me: a far better marriage—same marriage, just more present for each other (he’s aware he might not have me forever either, so he’s a little more apt to turn off a ball game to talk or eat dinner or share a bottle of wine). I too, am more willing to say yes to his recommendations. Now I say yes to going to the restaurant I have no interest in, yes to the movie he wants to watch; I even sit next to him once in a while when he’s watching sports and go so far as to feign interest in God know what they’re doing on the field. I simply say yes. And not just to him. I play hooky with a friend that needs a fun day out of work. I join friends for dinner even when I am overtired because I am honored that they want me with them. I invite childhood friends back into my life and remember the riches they bequeathed me in my youth and why I loved them so. I call family members because I love them and my mother would want me to check on them. I go to parties, even when I don’t feel pretty or skinny and still have a good time. I say yes because I don’t want to miss any more of this life—not one drop. I remember every day that I have to die and so, I live.
I utilize psychesthesia every day. I live with all my senses. Living memento mori amps up the volume of life—the sky is brighter, the birds more beautiful, the heart more tender and compassionate, and joy more animated. Nevertheless, I am not a saint—people still really piss me off. Writing a check in the check-out line? Tool. Being rude to wait staff? Tool. Quickly pulling onto the road in front of me and then going really slow? Tool. However, now I am able to put it in perspective. I am mad for a few minutes (or hours on a bad day) but then realize I don’t want to squander my priceless time on destructive and bitter energies. I would rather spend my time appreciating the infinite beauties rather than focusing on the daily annoying minutiae that can totally derail joy. So here’s my gift to you—memento mori each and every day; once it moves from being an abstract concept that happens to other people to you appreciating that at any moment it can be you, life becomes a thing of astonishing splendor savored with the best of friends and family. Salute.