One of the more painful experiences of my life was watching my parents die. It had all the makings of a Greek tragedy and yet all the while I knew, somehow, that it could have been different. I knew that if they could have made different choices at any of a number of places along their aging journey, the outcome would have been far better. If only they had been more aware of how they brought about the very conditions they dreaded and ultimately lived through, they would have chosen differently. It wasn’t the physical suffering that was hard to watch, although there was some of that and it wasn’t easy, but it was their unspoken beliefs about themselves and the nature of life that ultimately led them to the sense of hopelessness and helplessness that each, in their own way, took to their grave.
I began in earnest, during the decade my parents lived their last years, to face and grapple with my own unanswered questions about life and death. I was determined to understand and untangle the mindset that was created within me by my family of origin, to flesh out what was mine and what was theirs. I continue to seek a deeper, richer understanding of and appreciation for the life/death experience. Traveling from a place of fearing death, and the despairing outlook that seemed to be melded to my very being, to a radical new place of hope and meaning and purpose has been the most meaningful and transformational journey I have taken in my lifetime. I did not want to die as they had died, nor do I want to live as they lived. I want to believe it is possible to live in hope and die with strength and courage. Of course, I have yet to test my new perspective and I hope I have more time to allow it to ferment and strengthen, but I have changed.
During my fifth decade of life, I’ve discovered a deeper connection to myself and to that which has created all things. I am unwilling to put a name upon the source of creation as it is in all ways too confining, too limiting, too subject to false interpretations. Yet I feel a powerful presence, an energy upon which love and life, and all that is good is founded and sustained. It lives both within us and between us. It lives around us and before us. It sets our course and guides our steps when we choose to walk within its protection. It is both me and not me. It is both you and not you.
I cannot say or ever know what crossed my mother or father’s mind in their last moments. Perhaps they took the hand of their God and were no longer afraid. I would hope that were true. Since that time, however, I have vowed not to live an un-lived life and not to die a meaningless death. Conscious aging has been my goal and conscious living my ongoing quest.