Death is an unpleasant topic. Naturally, people want to avoid thinking about it. I’m no different. Whenever my wife, the ultimate planner, wants to talk to me about making plans and arrangements for my own inevitable death, like an advance health directive, so she and our kids aren’t clueless about my wishes or forced to shell out money for services I neglectfully avoided covering, I balk or change the subject.
But when you reach midlife, inevitably you start confronting the reality of mortality more frequently. In 2016, that reality has hit me harder.
During one two-week stretch, two vital fathers in their 40s who were involved professionally in the tennis industry – one instructor whom I knew and the other a friend of a tennis academy owner for whom I was working – each died. The teacher I knew, Bobby Hoffman, was stricken with cancer. The other died unexpectedly of a heart attack.
Recently, my father’s partner’s daughter, in her early 50s, who I got to know well during several visits, was found dead of unknown causes. A few weeks later, my father’s partner also passed away suddenly, perhaps stricken by grief.
Earlier in the year, I discovered a woman I had dated when we were both in our 20s, who went on to achieve remarkable success in the newspaper business, had died of breast cancer at 49.
I only have one surviving parent, and he’s closing in on 80. His brother, my beloved uncle, died in 2000 of juvenile diabetes shy of 60.
This post feels like a real downer as I write it. But as a counselor-in-training who embraces the existential theory of counseling – the search for meaning and purpose and concepts such as free will and individual responsibility to chart our destiny – death is an inescapable aspect of life that, if acknowledged and confronted, can be used by individuals to maximize their potential, deepen relationships, set and pursue goals, determine priorities and enhance the joy of living.
There comes a point in life where we are hit like a brick between the eyes to tell us we don’t have forever, like it once seemed. It sounds trite, but it’s true and a lesson learned only with maturity: It’s what we do with the time we do have that gives life its meaning. Time is our most precious commodity. It’s cliché, but true again: We don’t know how much time we have. Bobby Hoffman didn’t; my tennis buddy’s friend certainly didn’t. And the greatest shame would be to piss it away.