LIFE is but a series of short days strung together. Before we know it, loved ones pass away, and we reach the end of our lives. Have we done everything we kept promising ourselves to do before retiring? The sharp reminder that we are fragile beings with relatively short lifespans brought on by the pandemic’s deaths, has led many people to question their priorities.
The scores of elderly mothers and fathers who died of Covid, isolated and alone in hospitals, sometimes very rapidly after showing symptoms of the damn virus, shocked people across the globe. The capriciousness of sudden death reminded us that perhaps it would be better to spend more time with our loved ones now when they are alive and well, than to regret not having done so after they are gone.
I must confess that at nearly 58 years of age I have been thinking more and more about my own mortality and counting how many more years of life I think I may have left on this Earth. “Will I make it to 78?” I ask myself with regularity. “Will I have enough money to support myself reasonably well until I pass?” I ponder.
I could tell my mother was regularly making these same type of calculations in her mind before she passed away suddenly at age 83 in 2019. Her passing plunged me into a deep depression that I am still dealing with until today. I have improved greatly thanks to therapy and supportive relatives and friends. But on one point I have disagreed with my therapist.
“You gave up your newspaper career and professional life when you moved back to Brazil to live with your mother,” my therapist Regina said to me one day in one of our sessions.
“Maybe, but I have no regrets,” I told her. “I lived so many years away from my parents, ever since I left home at age 18, that I wanted to spend more time with my mother,” I explained. Twenty-seven years to be precise. In all of those years I only saw my mother around eight times, for only a few weeks at a time. I went to college in the US and lived in Saudi Arabia working as a journalist in the intervening years, and my parents had stayed in Brazil after my father retired from the diplomatic service.
All of this was brought back into focus this week when I read Tim Urban’s wonderful article in the New York Times, “How to Get Back the Time Covid Stole,” in which he ponders on how many days he has left with his parents before they die. He used various graphs with the article to show how finite our lives are in terms of the number of weeks in a year, and then in our lifetimes. If he lives to be 90 years old, that will be 4,320 weeks. But when you’re nearly 58 like I am, then you’ve already lived 2,784 weeks.
“Check out the grid below. That’s one box for every week of a 90-year life,” writes Urban. “It often feels like we have countless weeks ahead of us. But actually, it’s just a few thousand – a small enough number to fit neatly in a single image. Once you visualize the human life span, it becomes clear that so many parts of life that we think of as ‘countless’ are in fact quite countable.”
His musings are a refreshing look at our mortality as human beings. Something that our society does not encourage us to talk about.
The eleven years I got to spend living with my mother, after my father passed away in 2008, were sacred for me. I got to be there to help my mother as she aged, and to share many laughs with her along the way. I told my therapist that I don’t regret the years I spent with my mother in her final years.
The pandemic has shook everyone up, making us re-evaluate our priorities. I decided that family was more important and acted upon it. What will you do?