Death. Most of us try not to think about it. It’s that thing that we all know we have to do at some point, but try to put off until the very last moment. Like learning for a Maths exam, or visiting your mother in law… (just kidding, my MIL is awesome!)
But eventually, through various circumstances – some tragic, and some purely inevitable – we are confronted with our own mortality. And we have to choose how to handle it.
My preference is all-out panic.
As a naturally introverted person, with a tendency towards creative anxiety, I often find myself constructing the worst possible outcomes for perfectly normal life circumstances – and most of them involve a horrifying death or at least a mortal injury or two.
Husband home late from a gig in a nearby town?
He must have hit a kudu on the road, and his phone flew out of the shattered window, and he’s trapped inside the wreck and can’t call for help… should I contact the police? Or go out in my PJs and search for him?
Or did he just decide not to message me about coming home a little late because he didn’t want to wake me up?
Front door of elderly neighbour’s house standing wide open?
She must have been attacked by the drug dealers from the dodgy place around the corner. She doesn’t have any family in town, so it will be weeks before they find her body – tied up and beaten in her bathroom… etc… should I climb the fence and investigate?
Or is the housekeeper there, and she’s just left the front door open for some fresh air?
I usually hide the panic pretty well. And 100% of the time (so far) it has been completely unnecessary. My loved ones continue to be safe. The world continues to spin. Tragedy has not yet struck.
Confronting my own mortality
A month ago I came down with the most vicious flu, combined with a chest infection which caused bronchitis. A barrage of antibiotics and a couple of weeks later, and I was pretty much back to normal except for a weird pressure behind my right eye. Back to the doctor I went. He stocked me up with nose drops and cortisone, and an assurance that it was probably just a sinus infection.
Two weeks later, the meds haven’t worked and I still have a dull ache behind my eye. At 2pm in the afternoon, I’m pretty sure it’s a persistent sinus infection.
At 2am, in the cold and dark, I’m convinced it’s a humungous brain tumour… I see myself going to the doctor, where he’ll tell me I’ve got three hours to live, and I’d better send out a group WhatsApp to say goodbye.
So off I go to the doctor, who doesn’t instil much confidence with the words, “I don’t like what I’m hearing young lady. I’m sending you to the specialist for a head scan.”
Miraculously the specialist has a cancellation on that day, and I rush off, trying not to cry as I think of all the things I still haven’t accomplished. “I wanted to make the world a better place, and now it’s probably too late.”
Before the head scan, the specialist shoves a fancy stick with a camera on the end into my sinuses. I get a mortifying HD view of the inside of my nasal cavities on the TV screen in front of me. Snot and all.
The specialist gives me the all clear. He can’t see anything untoward, so no head scan necessary. He sends me home with more meds, and instructions to come back in two weeks if nothing’s changed.
Also a bill for R940. Which makes me regret my career choice in addition to everything else.
The waiting game
So while I wait to hear my fate in two weeks’ time, I’ve got a lot of time to think. And plan.
But instead of planning my funeral, I’m planning my future. I’ve decided that no matter what the outcome, I’ve still got a lot of life to live, and I had better make the most of it, because the last 30 (or so) years have gone by rather quickly.
This whole episode has helped me to prioritise my life again, and has helped put some things in perspective.
Yes, it is probably a complete overreaction to a nasty sinus infection. And I do realise that this all sounds pretty insane. But it was a valuable reminder for me that if I’m serious about the future, I’d better get cracking.
My motto: “Think less, do more, be 30-something“…