You can scream you can shout,
But when your time runs out
Deep inside you’ll know
May be rich, may be poor,
But when you knock on Heaven’s door,
Well you have to go.
lyric from “Better Make It Better” by Swing Out Sister, 1987
Time can go by pretty fast. Working eight hours a day, doing activities over the weekend, or having a fun conversation with someone, time can get lost, unless you’re watching the clock.
The events over the past several months, not including COVID-19, would have made me nearly forget a very important milestone. That is what happens with time flies.
Two years ago, March 29, 2018, I received a kidney transplant.
Five years ago yesterday, May 7, 2015, I was told my kidneys failed. The exact date (May 7th) and day (Thursday). I had between three to five years to get a transplant.
Life doesn’t navigate the way you want or hope it would go. No matter how many motivational books, leadership classes, and meditation practices you take, this journey we call life can and will venture into choppy waters. It requires us to adapt to the surroundings that are out of our control. It also requires us to face fears that are known or unknown.
One fear I struggled with was death. I am stoic when it comes to reacting to death. I separate the emotional and feeling aspect and seek the philosophical and rational view of death. On the Kubler-Ross scale of grief, I fall on the acceptance level.
I had an idea in mind on how I was going to write this piece in late March. That idea took a backseat when a high school friend fell into a river after a boating accident. Authorities recovered him after several weeks of searching.
It hasn’t been a good four months for anyone so far. A pandemic, unemployment, death, and uncertainty, reigns. Too many mixed messages floating around like a runaway Cat in The Hat balloon at a Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade (wait…that did happen).
Over the past few years, I developed a measure of clarity in the taboo subject of death . In order to do that, let’s rewind back five years ago this week.
In May 2015, my kidneys failed. While hospitalized, I had a nightmare that I was going to die. There was no guarantee that I would receive a new kidney. I was prepared to spend as much time on dialysis until my body gave out. Three years later in 2018, prior to my transplant, the surgeon said that there is a 50/50 chance that the new kidney will work or my body would reject the kidney. When I was being wheeled into the operating room, I mentally prepared myself for a possibility that I may not make it out of there.
I did make it out of the operation, with a new kidney. Knowing that I have faced a multitude of personal and health challenges in my 44 years on this planet, I discovered internally that if I don’t see another second, minute, or day, then I’ve done all I could with the time I had. With that mindset, I was at comfortable with the fact that death is a part of life.
I thought that 2018 would be a promising year. “Not so fast, my friend!” as the longtime ESPN college football analyst Lee Corso would utter. 2018 took a turn that was challenging.
Six weeks after the transplant, my grandmother was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer two days before her birthday. Instead of envisioning my demise, I was seeing a family member facing death. Time became an agonizing and cruel partner during the last two months of her life. My mom called me on the morning of Grandma’s passing. I told her that I will pack an overnight case and drive up to my hometown, where Mom and the rest of the family was gathered at Grandpa and Grandma’s house. I took my time driving up there. There wasn’t much I could do, and yet, I was calm and at peace with it.
I didn’t have to see her at the viewing during the wake or at the funeral. I was in the acceptance phase since May.
I got a second chance to live. Grandma had 90 years. I’m halfway there.
In late August, I came down with an infection and spent a week in the hospital. Doctors made some moderate changes to my medication after discovering my white blood cells were dangerously low. We never knew exactly what type of infection I had (it was definitely not COVID).
Then, in a three week span in late October and early November, I was in two near-fatal car accidents. A medication (non-insulin) I was taking had an adverse side effect that caused my low blood pressure to drop dangerously low and severe dizziness. I confided in a few close friends about the accidents. I didn’t feel the need to tell everyone…until disclosing now.
That’s how my 2018 went: promising and then the bottom fell out. A life-saving operation, an infection, and two accidents that should have put me six feet under.
I consider myself to be one resilient bastard. It runs in the family. I learn from what happened, correct the mistakes, and move on.
What was I talking about at the beginning? Oh yeah, death. There are several lessons I’ve learn from these near-death situations over the last five years that are now part of my value system. Some of it will be the usual cliche, some will be controversial, and some will be understandable.
Life’s not fair. It was never meant to be fair. Teenagers are notorious for crying “It’s not fair!” when they can’t get their way. We have this incessant need to make everything fair. The reality is we can’t make everything fair. Is it fair that someone received a cancer diagnosis? Is it fair that someone was discriminated against? Is it fair that the lazy employee got a bonus and the hard worker got the short end? No, it’s not fair at all, but we can’t be Superwoman and Superman and right every wrong. We can only control what we are able to handle.
When it’s your time to go, you have to go. “But you’ll never be prepared for that final blow” Time is indefinite. Life isn’t. By accepting that death is a part of life, I don’t constantly worry and fear death. Death is going to happen everyday. Births are going to happen everyday.
Diffuse, allow, run to it, and embrace (DARE). In therapy, I was assigned to read a book from Barry McDonough titled “Dare: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks Fast”. It was a guide to confront anxiety. I have severe anxiety in social situations, Zoom, or using the telephone (I’m a stutterer). As it pertains to death, I use the DARE method a little differently. I diffuse what is causing my fear about death, I allow the fear of death to “come in”, I run towards death, and I embrace it.
“When you’re very anxious, you end up trapped in your head all the time— the prison without walls. – Barry McDonugh
“In these uncertain (difficult/challenging/strange) times…” Every day is uncertain. The only certainty is that you are present. All other things around you are uncertain.
A “new normal” is everyday. A term being tossed around during this COVID pandemic is “we’re facing a new normal.” I feel that statement is inaccurate. We face a “new normal” everyday. What was normal on Wednesday, will not be normal on Thursday, and Friday will not resemble Wednesday or Thursday.
It’s okay not to be the loudest or the smartest person in the room. Those who feel that they need to display both of those characteristics will end up looking foolish. stop talking, listen to what’s being said, and keep your ego in check. People gravitate to people who listen and ask questions when need be. Nobody wants to hear from a blowhard know-it-all.
Know who is in your corner. Not everyone is going to love, admire, or respect you. co-workers, family, friends, and acquaintances. That’s reality. Don’t ask them for help. Don’t compromise your values, capitulate, or be overly friendly, and don’t get used by them so you can get into their cliques. They’ll smile in your face, and then go behind closed doors, hoping you fail.
You’re not perfect. Stop pretending that you are. Social media can suck us into a virtual trap of showing how “perfect” we are. You’re not fooling anyone. No one wakes up in the morning with their makeup already on from the night before…unless you had too much to drink.
You need alone time. “Better use your wits or you’ll lose your mind…” What no better way to re-calibrate your compass than taking some “me” time during this pandemic. Extroverts see this as a veritable hell. Introverts see it as nirvana. We all get wrapped up with the environment around us (news, work, family, yada yada yada). Give yourself permission to “zone out” before you mentally and emotionally burn out. Talk to a spouse, parent, friend, minister, or a therapist . Writing helps me unload the negative garbage and the funny stuff I soak up in my brain daily. A weekly session with a therapist and daily reminders to use my mental health “toolbox” when I get in a rut and need to reframe a dilemma.
Death is not an easy or simple subject to talk about. It’s complex, takes a lot out of you at times, and, let’s be honest, scary as hell. Mental health used to be a taboo subject for decades. Today, most of American society has embraced mental health as a necessary weapon to combat the rising number of suicides, depression, schizophrenia, et cetera. Death, to me, is a subject that I am growing comfortable dealing with personally.
Is death still a taboo subject for you? Is it hard to talk or understand it?