Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Death and Taxes

I think about mortality almost everyday.  It's kind of strange, because in my personal life the concept is so foreign, as nobody close to me (knock on wood) has died yet.  The closest feeling I can approximate is when someone you're close to becomes so far away from you that it's almost as if they had died, because either they've changed so much that they aren't really the same person anymore, or you know that your paths will never cross again.  Yet everyday, I wonder about my impending death and how I believe it will probably come sooner than my life expectancy.  I wonder if my life were to read like a story.  Would it have a definitive arc, a beginning, middle and end?  Would the ultimate time of my death "make sense"?  I think it would be the most satisfying for me if I knew that when I died, it was because it was just in the right moment in time.

I suppose my idea might be a strange one; you always hear that there's never the right time for this kind of thing to happen, loved ones will always mourn the dead, even if they were over a hundred years old at the time of passing.  But when people mourn, I always remember what a Sunday school teacher told me when I was in 4th grade, that people are really mourning for their own emptiness that follows a death.  I wonder what my reaction will be when someone close to me does eventually die.  So far however, I've had trouble mourning, mainly because the people that have died in my life were a bit removed from my personal proximity.

A little under two years ago, I posted about my feelings about my father's mother here:


and her funeral here:


My mother's mother passed away last week.  It was kind of surprising because we had just seen her a year and a half ago in Korea, and she seemed pretty healthy, but she had just been diagnosed with late stage cancer I believe a half year ago, and I suppose at 88, anything can happen relatively quickly.  As with my other grandparents, I wasn't really moved at all by her death, as she was pretty abrasive with my sister, mother and me whenever we visited.  But I could see why she was that way, her husband died 33 years ago when she was 55, and had to take of her polio stricken daughter (my aunt), who still lived at home.  She also took over the family business and as most of her children departed for America, I could see how she could become somewhat hardened emotionally.

I think the biggest sadness I felt for my grandmother was for her life, rather than her death, because of the state of her affairs when she passed.  Although she was a successful real estate businesswoman, I don't know if that ultimately brought her what she desired, as I have a strong suspicion that she felt somewhat abandoned towards the end of her life.  She definitely gained respect, but perhaps at the cost of love.  Of course, being a proud Korean woman, she would never admit such, but it's something I think I observed from talking with my sister about family.

I sometimes read about deaths on CNN, where young people die from some freak accident, or rare illness that comes out of nowhere, and how "tragic" it was.  I almost consider posting some of those stories on the wall somewhere to remind myself how fleeting life really is and to encourage myself to take advantage of the time I have now, to give myself the impression that I'm freerolling on life right now.  I sometimes think to myself, "Damn if I were to die today, it would really suck because I think that the 28 years I lived don't really make for a good story."  Is that the thought that pops into people's heads whenever they attend funerals for young people?  Do they bemoan the incompleteness to the dead's overall life, instead of the fact that he "didn't get to do xy and z" or that "they will miss him dearly"?  Is there any solace if a young person passes but would consider his life to be complete?

A few months ago, my best friend almost got himself killed or permanently paralyzed because of his own stupidity.  He luckily escaped unscathed, coming probably inches to tragedy.  I suppose this event brings the idea of "carpe diem" to the forefront more vividly than any news article, and is probably even infinitely more salient to my friend.  And I would think he would agree that he would be disappointed as well if his life were to end at this juncture, not just because of the thought of the prospect of death and leaving behind loved ones and whatnot, but because of what he's capable of doing for the rest of his life.  And I think God would probably agree as well, which is why he spared the gak from impending doom.

Living day to day, it's hard to keep that kind of idea in focus however.  Forward thinking you always think, "Oh I'll have time for that later."  Wasting time is so easy.  It takes a lot of effort to not waste time.  And I don't necessarily mean keeping life busy, but more making sure you take the time to figure out what you really care about and doing things that show those values.  Personally, it's definitely been a struggle, but I am thankful for the opportunity to kind of look at life from a bigger picture lens from time to time, and to try to realign myself with what I think is important.  I just hope that the feeling of purpose comes sooner than an untimely demise.