Friday, July 1, 2011

Is the Cosmic Joker at work? (Some thoughts on mortality)

When I was a little girl, my parents used to tell me that before I was born, I was just a twinkle in their eyes.  I remember wondering to myself, "well where was I before I was born?  And where do you go when you die?"  While I was raised Catholic and received my education from Catholic institutions prior to graduate school, I am not currently practicing any religion. So while I've learned about heaven and hell and purgatory, I'm not exactly sure if I believe in/have faith in their existence.

During my stay in the cardiac ICU, a man across the hall passed away.  He had undergone open heart surgery and was in recovery when the alarms outside of his room started to sound.  Brian and my mom peeked out as nurses and doctors charged in to save him.  They worked on him for an hour - even going so far as to open up his chest.  We heard them call his time of death and the next few hours were stinging with loss.  There were nurses crying in the hallway and his relatives came to retrieve his items, folded up nicely in the hospital's standard issue drawstring plastic bags.  Obviously his situation was so different from mine, but I recall thinking to myself "How did I survive this? Why did I survive this?  And how come he didn't?"  I wonder if he went into surgery thinking that this could be his last day alive or if he had the chance to say good-bye to his loved ones.  As the cardiac staff researched my SCAD, it became more and more clear how much of a "miracle" my surviving really was.  70% of the people who have a SCAD die relatively soon after the artery dissection.  I was in the ER for four and a half hours before my heart attack was identified & I had 100% blockage in my Left Anterior Descending artery (nicknamed the "Widowmaker" by cardiologists) by the time I made it to surgery.  I struggle to understand why I survived and why the man across the hallway died. 

The nurses in the CICU said I gave them chills and that I must have stuck around so my son could have a mother.  I do agree with this very much.  Early on after the heart attack, we would go on family walks. I was moving slowly, partially because of the heart attack and partially because my c-section incision wasn't healed.  I would lag behind a little and watch Brian push Cameron's stroller (to which we hook Mowgli's leash).  Then I would get totally creeped out thinking "this is what their life looks like without me."  That's so morbid, I know.  I've tried not to do that anymore because it gives me a little anxiety.  But as lucky as I am, it's really hard not to think about what could've happened.  That I wouldn't be here.... Brian would be a single dad and Cam would be without a mama.  I'm sure I would have worried like this as a mother, without the whole heart attack incident, but I'm sure that doesn't help the fear of not being there for your child.  Although, I suppose, at any time, we are all "dying" and that you never really know when your time will come. 

This week, a beloved volunteer at Habitat passed away.  He had been put on hospice, so we all knew it was coming.  That doesn't change the fact that a relatively young (66) person, with a kind heart, was taken from us way too soon.  When I was struggling along as the ReStore Manager, this volunteer came out of nowhere and devoted his time to rebuilding a program that had been struggling along.  His dedication and efforts will not be forgotten.  I struggle to understand why bad things happen to good people... and if there's a higher power, why these circumstances happen at all.  Furthermore, it makes me sad to think that some people believe in and pray to such a power that would allow these things to happen.  While I was in college, my dad became quite ill with a rare disease.  As she was making dinner one night, I remember my mom wondering aloud: " We've had a good life...we've been so lucky.  I wonder why God had this in store for us...."  I have a hard time with the saying "Everything happens for a reason."  Do they??  Or does life just happen until we die?

Of course, I'll never really have any answers to these questions.  I do think it's completely ridiculous that I started thinking so much about living when I had a near death experience. Still, I want my life to be purposeful and I want to make sure that the choices I make are "right"- whatever that means.  There's this commercial I've noticed where some woman exclaims "I've got too much to do to die!"  I always laugh out loud because it reminds me of some funny conversation I had with Jim, where he said "Well, I'm glad you didn't wake up dead.  Let's be thankful for that!"  I hope that when I arrive at the end of my life, whenever that may be, that I'm proud of the existence I did have and at peace that it's my time.   However, in the meantime, I'll continue to be happy I didn't wake up dead, because SERIOUSLY - I have too much to do to die :)

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