My concept of dying has changed during the journey from being a child to becoming a senior citizen and grandparent to be. I don't remember how young I was when I realized my parents were not immortal and it was within the realm of possibility they'd die while I was a child. In my younger childhood years death frightening uncontrollable force that snatched love ones away from you permanently. I was so afraid of death my father decided to do something about it. He wanted me to talk to the tooth fairly who knew that he and my mother would live a long time. He dialed the phone and handed it to me. The female who answered the phone introduced herself as the tooth fairy. She asked what was frightening me and I told her I was scared my parents would die while I was a child. She proceeded to tell me she knew for a fact that both parents would live a long time and that I had nothing to worry about.
My father's plan to ease my fears backfired. At the time I had serious doubts about the existence of the tooth fairly. I wondered which of his friends he'd called to set up this trick. I became convinced my fears were spot on, and perhaps death was even more frightening than I originally thought, because the topic resulted in my father lying to me rather than speaking the truth. I spent a good deal of my childhood frighted about death and dying.
Then came adolescence. My fear of death gave way to youth's universal illusion of immortality. The fact some older family members died during this time did not bring back my fear of death and dying. I was convinced death might touch others, but it was of no concern to me. Losing the fear of my death allowed me live recklessly. I took way too many chances. Looking back, I feel very blessed I managed to survive that decade of my life in spite of the death defying risks I took.
The combination of getting married and starting a family took me off the path of recklessness. I began the era of taking taking my health seriously. I wanted to do all I could to make sure I'd be around for family milestones ranging from the first day of school all the way to walking my daughter down the aisle. My attitude toward dying in phase of my life transformed from youth's universal illusion of immortality to something I can avoid/postpone with the proper diet and exercise.
My illusion that I had the ability to postpone the time of my death was shattered when at age 58 I received the news I had prostate cancer. It was then, I came to the frightening reality that I have little control over the time of my own death. For me, cancer came like a thief in the night to steal my good health.
I didn't think so at the time, but I've since changed my mind; it's good to have the reminder my time on earth is limited. Experiencing this reality on a personal level changed my life.
The Bible has something to say about living with the reality that our time on earth is limited. Here's the verse:
So teach us to number our days,
That we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Here's some wisdom I've gained as I've learned to count the number my days. I've learned the importance of friends and family. It's all to easy to sacrifice both in pursuit of financial gain or my own personal interests. I've learned the importance of forgiveness. I've experienced decades of the disruption of important family relationships due to forgiveness. I've resolved to be thee first one to forgive, and to be the one who takes the first steps to restore broken relationships. I've also learned you can't reconcile any relationship if one party is unwilling to forgive. It takes two to reconcile. I've learned to become less dependent on work as the source of my identity. I'm working less and spending more of my free time with friends and family. I'm traveling more and taking more trips with my wife and my family. I've stopped waiting to retire to travel and have fun with both my wife and family. Last but not least, I've learned the futility and joy killing power of worry. The best way to ruin your life today is to worry about tomorrow. I'm practicing living in the moment. I never realized how easy it is for me to live in the past or in the future losing out on the joy that's right in front of me in the present.
I'm surprised the anxiety that came with the diagnosis of cancer was transformed into something positive as I've learned to number my days. It demonstrates to me whether or not you believe in God, the wisdom that's contained in the Bible can be found in no other book. If your life needs transformation, I suggest picking up a Bible and reading it. Start with the book of Proverbs. There's no reason to allow cancer or the effects of treatment to rob you of the joy of living and loving.
Rick Redner is the author of the award winning book:
I Left My Prostate in San Francisco-Where's Yours?
This is my 100th blog about prostate cancer!