How Accepting Death Brought Me Life

Let me just start by saying that I’m currently lucky enough to be healthy and without any terminal illnesses that I know of (knock on wood). #thankful. However, I want to acknowledge that I am dying. We are all dying. Any one of us could die at anytime.

I realize I’ll lose about half of you right here, because the idea and subject of death is too overwhelming to acknowledge for many people. That’s okay. There was a point in my life when I felt the same, but the older I get and the more I think about dying and the reality of it, the better my life becomes as I live it.

When I turned 30 this past year, the reality of my own mortality started to hit me. Before that point, in my teens and twenties, the thought of death was so far and distant in the future, that I never spent time thinking about it. It was always there, way back in the shadows of my mind, but I always thought to myself every time it surfaced, “I’ll get to that later.” Mortality just wasn’t something that I acknowledged before I turned 30. The anxiety surrounding it was too great for me to face.

Death is scary and most people will spend their entire lives ignoring the fact that we’ll all face it at some point. Once I started to come to terms with death head on, acknowledged the fact that I could not control it, that it was inevitable, that many people whom I’ve loved before have gone through it already, I started to feel more comfortable with thinking about it at all. Once I could think about death fully, it forced me to think about life.

When I thought about my life at the time, I realized that it was centered on existing versus living, just biding time to get to through each day, not really living at all. Every part of my day was conquered as a task on checklist, just getting through one chore to go onto the other, most as equally unpleasant as the next. Get out of bed, get myself ready, hair & makeup, dressed, get the kids up, get them fed and dressed, load them into the car, drop them off at school, go to work, get through the 200+ emails that accumulated through the night, acknowledge the employee who hasn’t shown up, take on their workload, deal with the problem files, handle the complaints (from clients and employees), fix the mistakes, answer the questions, take the blame, keep current on workload and email load (average 1000 emails a day), keep the books straight, bills paid, angry people at bay, payroll, HR, train the new employees. Teeth grating, daily migraine, constant toxicity. Face and acknowledge the stress head on. It’s the business. Then, go home and clean the house, cook the dinner, play with the kids, give them their bath, do a bedtime routine, try to keep up on the emails in the middle of all of this (lose that battle, so just fight the fires), try to spend time with the kids that is meaningful, feel guilty that I don’t have enough energy to, feel guilty from neglecting all my relationships with friends and family who think I’m just unfriendly or ignoring them, get a guilt trip attack from dad for this every other day, usually too drained to fight, get into bed, get another guilt trip from my husband for not giving him enough love or attention. No time for myself in any of that. 10pm. Sleep. (take an Ambien to shut the mind off). Reset. Start all over in the morning (Take a Phentermine to start the mind up again).  

I would wake in the morning, throat closed and nauseous from anxiety, already stressed from a day not yet lived, just looking forward to the night and going to sleep again. Sleep was my only time of peace. Just getting through. That was my life. And I know that is the life that many people “live.” A life of existing and not of living.

You can have all the material wealth you’ve ever dreamed of, but if your mind is always at war and never at peace, then you have nothing at all.

I’d get myself through the days by thinking about what life could be like one distant day in the future, that it would all be worth it one day in 25 years when I was 55 or 60. Only then, I would finally start living an enjoyable life. Problem with that is that we don’t control the variables. Whose to say I’d survive until then? We’ve all seen young people die. It happens every day: illnesses, car wrecks, accidents, things outside of our control. And if I do survive to retirement age (which probability is in my favor), what does my life look like? How is my health after 25 or 30 years of self-medicating to get through the day? Or the years of combating the severe stress – what are the effects on my physical health? More importantly, my mental health?

All of you are sitting here, reading this, thinking to yourself, “Oh all of that sounds fine and dandy, but her husband is Harry C. Marsh, a lawyer who runs a successful law firm, so it’s easy to just give up and quit and move onto something else. Lucky her.” And you’re absolutely right. I am lucky in that regard, I am. I won’t sit here and sugarcoat it and say that it’s anything different than what it is. I am lucky and grateful and appreciative. I am. I acknowledge this truth.

However, I will say, that despite all of that, some of the happiest years of my life, were the years before all of this. The years when I spent my time creating instead of processing, the years when we had very little money to our names, the years before the stress came and we got all the joy we needed just from being around one another, when it was about relationships and experiences. Because, those were the years in which I truly lived.

I am one who can with absolute certainty tell you that money cannot and will not buy happiness. I know this for a fact and from personal experience. I used to think I could find happiness in material wealth, and I’ve spent a lot of money buying a lot of things I didn’t need, attempting to fill some void deep within myself (can anyone say Louboutins?) I would get pleasure for awhile at first after big purchases, but by the end, almost no pleasure would come from at all. I couldn’t fill the void with money, because material items don’t fulfill a life. It can make things easier, sure, but it doesn’t erase your problems, it doesn’t make everything happy and joyful, it doesn’t make the anxiety go away, or the depression. It is not a cure-all. Some of the worst years of my life have also been the wealthiest years of my life. I will say it again-

You can have all the material wealth you’ve ever dreamed of, but if your mind is always at war and never at peace, then you have nothing at all.  

So when I turned 30 and started thinking about dying, it forced me to start thinking about living. Thinking about how I was living my life caused me to re-evaluate my entire existence. I started to think about the things that mattered to me, the things that would constitute a fulfilling life- relationships, experiences, creating, kindness, being a good person. Just existing versus living was no longer an option for me when I started to look at the story this way. I couldn’t wait for some distant day off in the future that would maybe come one day. I had to make a change before it was too late. There are no do-overs in life. We don’t get second chances to try again.

Money can’t follow me to the grave and from my years of working in the law firm, I’ve seen the damage of what it can do when it’s left behind. Families, so willing and eager to throw away relationships in favor of fighting over money. Wounds and anger never healed. Lives torn apart.  I don’t want that.

Instead, what can follow me in death, are the memories of my daughters, of a mother who was present and happy and worked every day to make them happy too. What can follow me in death are the things I create with my mind and my hands, the memory keeper and the experience-capturer of a family who lived. What can follow me in death are the relationships I formed with my friends and family and the experiences we shared with one another, the stories that will live on.

What can follow me in death is the legacy of a life that didn’t just exist, but a life that was lived.

One comment

  1. Well said Kaitlin and so true. I have always promoted “Live the day” and had the sentiment reinforced when I got open heart surgery 4 years ago now.
    As Snoopy replied to Charlie Brown, “No Charlie, you live everyday, you only die once”

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