Thoughts Before I Die

The Type A label was created for personalities like mine. It’s not a New Age term.  It was coined in the 1950s by cardiologist Meyer Friedman, who observed a relationship between incidences of heart disease and personality type. Those most likely to suffer a cardiac event also tended to have more driven, impatient, high-stress personalities.That’s me.

There are a lot of things I want to accomplish before I die, and that date is closer than it was 20 years ago. As a life-long multi-tasker and over achiever I never learned the art of doing nothing. I struggle to slow down, much less chill out. This balancing act is one I arrange and re-arrange every day of my life. I’ve learned to be aware of it and am not afraid to walk away from situations that threaten to dive bomb my equilibrium. Experience has taught me when you lose sight of what matters, it’s a difficult recovery.

Much is written (some of it by me) about managing and making the most of life and living in the now. My biggest struggle is and always will be prioritizing things so I can have some of everything. There are a lot of things I want to accomplish before I die, and that date is closer than it was 20 years ago.

I also read a book about a woman who had a heart attack.

A Story About a Heart Attack

She was younger than I am, but our lives have parallels.  She has a demanding job she loves, a husband, children and the overwhelming task of managing of all of them. She is the glue that holds the family together.

The heart attack came with classic symptoms she ignored because she was “too busy” and suddenly she was having an emergency double by-pass and a close brush with death.

The story begins when she returns home. With eight weeks of healing in front of her she is depending on her family, but they have never stopped depending on her. They do not function without her: she is the cook, the maid, the appointment keeper and all things in between.

When she was in the hospital her husband did not do laundry, open mail, grocery shop, cook or clean. He was waiting for her to come home and be the person she was before she had the heart attack.

Unable to return to her old role and devastated when nobody steps up, she leaves a note and buys a ticket for the first train departing from Penn Station. She has no computer, no email, a burner phone because she will need to find a cardiologist—and no place to go. It’s the perfect blank page.

As her family deals with the shock of her absence, she begins to search for and find the balance she has been missing. She makes a list of things she never made time for, starting with the realization that she never learned how to swim. It’s the little things.

Want and Need

I appreciate the difference between want and need. They are not mutually exclusive because life is meant to be lived. I have seen them intersect in various stages of my life and learned to keep both in perspective. We trick ourselves into feeling deprived if we use these terms interchangeably. These days I focus on what I need, as I truly have everything I want.

I appreciate the difference between want and need.  They are not mutually exclusive because life is meant to be lived.  As I read this book I began to revisit important things I have been putting off. There are major items like a trip to Italy with my husband, and agreeing on a time and place for retirement, but many of them are small things. Things that got shoved aside for no good reason; just excuses I made.

Signing up for the Zumba class I promised myself, the Mexican cooking class, and a trip to see my favorite cousin—are things that did not happen because I failed to give them the importance they deserved. I wonder if Carrie Fisher had a list like that.

I’m in good health, with no plans for an early exit, but I am Carrie Fisher’s age.  Reading this story rattled me because I saw myself. I was waiting. 

Waiting for the right time is a false promise that our lives will get better or we will be happier when:

  • We get a better job
  • We make more money
  • Our partner gets his/her act together
  • The kids leave home
  • We finally have the big house and nice car

Alas, none of these is a bringer of happiness and nothing on this list will make your life better. That magic lives inside us; defined not by what we want but what we need:  food, shelter, love, faith, friends and purpose.

All that Remains

I confess the whole death thing is unsettling; it’s the one appointment you can’t get out of. Reading this book is a reminder that everybody dies, but not everybody is living. It wasn’t morbid as much as it was eye-opening, the kick from behind I needed to move forward.

I confess the whole death thing is unsettling; it’s the one appointment you can’t get out of.  After I die I do not want the specter of work to hover around me, filled with unanswered voice mails and meetings I won’t attend. I want to see that in the rear-view mirror, a good memory rather than an active part of my life.

As I look online for trips to Italy I realize if you wait until you are ready, you will wait for the rest of your life. Since none of us know how long that will be there is no reason to put off those small things and throw some muscle behind the big ones.

Later runs the risk of becoming never.

3 thoughts on “Thoughts Before I Die

  1. Very thought provoking and an enjoyable read. After having a triple bypass myself my thoughts also went to death and dying and what do I want with the rest of my life. Thank you for your insights.

  2. This is just what all of us need to hear and act on. Since Jan. I have gone to a funeral for a 24 year old who died i his sleep and tomorrow will attend the funeral of a 43 year old who died of a massive heart attack. None of us know how much time we have and need to make every day count.

  3. This blog has special meaning for me today. This weekend we buried a beautiful and vibrant young woman the mother of beautiful twin boys. I’m sure she believed she had so much more time. Susanne is so right life turns out to be much shorter than we think

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