The Inconceivability of Dying

How do we live, knowing what’s to come?

I’m not sure what’s prompted me to write this. I never have been, and don’t want to be a downer. Someone who comes across as depressing and dismal. Many people perceive me to be a badass and that’s fine with me. But every now and then, I find myself mired in darkness, thick as treacle, but without the sweetness.

Maybe it’s the cold, gray Chicago day. Or the time of year with its impending holiday cheer and uber-conspicuous consumption of stuff we don’t need: Black Friday! Cyber Monday! Take it Up the Rear Tuesday!

Perhaps the catalysts for my murky ruminations, especially of late, are the constant, niggling reminders of my own mortality. Doctor visits. Tests. Generalized aches and pains that come and go. Just when I think they’re gone, they come back like junk mail.

When I was younger, “death and dying” wasn’t a topic to be dwelled on. I was fairly reckless in the way I lived my life, the way many people were “back then.” Partying was the norm. Drinking, experimental drug use, etc.

I was lucky, blessed really, that I hadn’t experienced any significant health issues. Oh, I had a benign tumor removed from my breast when I was twenty-one, but other than the yanking of my tonsils when I was five, I sailed through life unencumbered by the fears that would grip me, many years later.

As the years passed, and I saw several close relatives endure the ravages of cancer, and then drop dead, I finally had to face the fact that my time was finite. As is everyone’s. Along with this came the realization that my particular gene pool, sucked.

When both my parents died from Stage 4 lung cancer nearly five years ago, while I was being treated for breast cancer, the Truth came home to roost. And that is, we are all on borrowed time.

Knowing this…that we’re all going to die someday, how is it possible to live a happy life? Or, is that the very reason we must strive to be happy?

I ask this out of genuine curiosity. I’m not here to bum anyone out, but, as I have to be especially vigilant where my health is concerned, I find myself obsessing over matters that never came to mind…before. For someone with OCD, like myself, these dark thoughts dig in and take hold like a hawk that lights on a cute baby bunny, and swoops off to places I’d rather not go.

For those of you who are able to be “mindful,” and meditate and generally achieve a state of calm, how do you do it? What’s your secret, please? Yoga? Chanting? Some new supplement that I haven’t yet come across? (And I’ve tried them all.) I need some help here.

Speaking of yoga, I gave up my beloved cardio for a day and tried that, as well. Once. Bought a handful of DVDs, fired one up and got dizzy after thirty minutes of struggling to hold poses and control my breathing. I’ve found that constant movement works better for me. I can’t sit for long. I always have to be doing something, cleaning something, going somewhere to get something. And on, like that. Yes. It’s exhausting. But, at the very least, all that loco-motion keeps me fit.

So, back to death. As we go about our day to day routine, worrying and fretting over the mundane, with the full knowledge that one day, we’ll simply shut down…what keeps us chugging along? Continually striving to do better, be better, achieve that dream, reach that goal? Make more money?

When you think about it, objectively, it seems stupid to have to die, doesn’t it?  What the hell are we here for, anyway?

What the hell is Donald J. Trump here for??

I’m being stupid, I know, asking questions that man has asked since jump street, but I hope to initiate a conversation that will, perhaps, help someone like myself, who could use a light sprinkling of fairy dust. A kiss from a unicorn. Or a good, hard kick in the ass.

Even as I piss and moan over our mortality, I’m still chasing my dreams. I haven’t given up, yet. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. For me, that’s a dangerous state to be in. And, I don’t stew over myself, only. I worry about my husband, our cats, my sister, her family. Bring it on! I have enough angst for everyone.

My parents eschewed organized religion. My Jewish father and Italian mother were not what I would call, believers, at least while they were still relatively healthy. After their diagnosis of lung cancer, as their own dire fate loomed, that may have shifted. I believe it did for my father. How genuine that shift, or whether it was born out of fear, I can’t say.

Our family celebrated everything, without truly understanding the significance behind holidays like Christmas or Yom Kippur. I won’t deny that we had a hell of a lot of fun, regardless. My mom used to joke that my dad considered himself a good Jew because he ate brisket on Rosh Hashanah. I laughed at that then, and I still do. My folks were a couple of characters.

So, my two siblings and I were brought up without any religious instruction. I consider myself to be a spiritual individual, but I’m not sure what that means. I’d like to believe in something… you know? Something that makes all this other crap make sense. Something that will allow me to be less afraid – and present, in the here and now.

Who wants to waste the time they do have, worrying about the time they ultimately won’t?

What do you think? Should I give yoga another shot? Revisit the book I bought but never read: “Buddhism for Dummies?”

As I ramble on here, it occurs to me that a passage from the wonderful, 1997 film, “Eve’s Bayou,” encapsulates everything I just wrote, yet does it so much better. I haven’t been able to forget it and give the film two thumbs up, if you’re interested.

The character who speaks the following dialogue is named Mozelle. She is a psychic, both blessed and cursed in that she can see the future, which provides her a tidy living amongst her neighbors in the bayou, but in return, every man who falls in love with her, dies.

In a conversation with her young, precocious niece, Mozelle says:

“Life is filled with goodbyes. A million goodbyes. And it hurts every time. Sometimes, I feel like I’ve lost so much, I have to find new things to lose. All I know is, there must be a divine point to it all, and it’s just over my head. When we die, it will all come clear, and we’ll say, ” So that was the damn point.” And sometimes I think there’s no point at all, and that’s the point. All I know is most people’s lives are a great disappointment to them. And no one leaves this earth without feeling terrible pain. And if there is no divine explanation at the end of it all, well, that’s sad.

“No point.” Maybe that will have to do.

Sherry McGuinn
Sherry McGuinnhttps://medium.com/@sherrymcguinn
Sherry McGuinn is a long-time, Chicago area, advertising/marketing writer, blogger and, for the last fifteen years, screenwriter. A big-time dreamer and proud of it, Sherry has had two short films produced, one in L.A., the other in New York. Both won several awards and screened at festivals but she is still "fighting the good fight," in order to become a full-time, working screenwriter. A passionate straight-shooter who never rests on her laurels, Sherry writes about damn near everything because how do you encapsulate…life? Unflinching in her determination to “just tell the truth,” Sherry strives to educate, engage and inspire others to follow their dreams. A lifelong animal lover and advocate, Sherry resides in a Chicago suburb with her husband and their three fabulous felines.
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Joel Elveson

Gret article, Sherry! We all know we are going to die. When, where or how is not something we are privy to. What happens to us after death for some reason is clearer or at least in my faith it is. Your article is not dark or depression. As far as all these holiday sales I can say number one we in the Jewish faith do not partake in that activity as our focus is one the traditions. President Trump in all likelihood did things with regards to the Ukraine which were less than legal but no President did more in terms of illegal activity than any other President. Why are we here? We are here because one day G-d decided he wanted us in this world.

Len Bernat

Sherry – I am simply a man of great faith. I believe that something wonderful awaits me after this life because of my faith. But for now, my purpose is to impact the lives of others in a positive manner so that after I am gone, they feel they are a better person because of the lessons they learned from my words and more importantly, from how I lived my life. To me, it is that simple – it is the source of joy in my life.

Laura Mikolaitis

Sherry, I think it is great that you’ve expounded on this subject matter. You’ve managed to do it with a sense of humor, also, which I can appreciate. I don’t doubt that many of us have these same or similar reckonings with our mortality. I know that I do it from time to time. Oddly enough, it tends to happen to me around this time of year also. For me, there’s a tendency to feel overwhelmed by the holidays. I think it has more to do with the commercialization of it than anything because I have fond memories of many past Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations with my family and friends.

I think part of it is because, in the past few years, there were health challenges for my mom, my husband, my aunt, and others close to us. So, there’s this apprehension when the holidays roll around. Although I try to mitigate the best I can, I still find myself feeling blue. The good news is that eventually, the magic finds me, and I’m able to enjoy the gifts of being with my family and friends.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that tomorrow is not a promise. I try to live each day as best as I can, although I do stumble. But, we are here, and that is a gift. So, the best I can share with you is that I go with it. Being present, embracing the moments, living with kindness are all good things. Worrying has never gotten me anywhere except more anxious. I read something recently where someone said that they’ve learned to “accept it and let it go.” It’s freeing when you do. I’m not sure this has answered any of your questions, but you’ve opened up a dialog, and I’m so glad that you did.

Darlene Corbett

Hi Sherry, I love your no-nonsense creative writing touched with humor and sass. Although I am a person of faith and like Len I believe there is something beyond what we can fathom, sometimes I do wonder “What is it all about..should I say Allie?” By the way, I remember Eve’s Bayou. Didn’t the elegant Diahann Carroll play Mozelle? Thank you again for writing what many of us question even on occasion. How can we not!?

Helen Heinmiller

Hi Sherry I loved your article! I love raw honesty and asking the big questions. Why are we here? I think the answer will always expand just when we think we figured it out. The only advice I can share is experience it all and relish the good and bad. Live courage through pain and joy through your triumphs. Love your beauty and your flaws and feel alive in every moment. Try yoga again for the hell of it or try something else. We are perfect and flawed at the same time and experiencing it all seems good enough to me.

Aldo Delli Paoli

Death is also part of a person’s life cycle. This is why it is important to accept and have a positive attitude towards death. In everything that ends there is the beginning of something else. Death is not in opposition to life, there is no duality in this, as we think. Death is complementary to birth, at least in this world. We see death as a desperate moment, because we identify ourselves with the body, with the objects and affections that are external to us. We think that with death we lose all this, and indeed it is true, but the house, the car, the relatives, the work are not us. In life we ​​give a lot of weight to material things, we identify with these, and we neglect the value of inner life.
Even if I am a believer, I can say that it is not necessary to have “faith” to understand these things, it is not necessary to follow a religion, just take a journey inside us, to discover and experience our connection with the soul, that part of us that can survive in every circumstance, that transcendental dimension that is inherent in ourselves.

Maureen Y. Nowicki

WOWZA! I learned volumes about you today, Sherry. I read it all, I heard what you were asking and proposing in this meaning of life, and my inner voice just shouted for me to ask you… what about your freakin’ manuscripts? What has happened to your two babies you are waiting to move forward on? Isn’t it wild and yet maybe telling that I went to your creative side and how you express in the world – those outstanding ‘Sherry’ gifts. I say girlfriend, go after more creations – maybe in creating, life becomes your special kaleidoscope and everything comes to a dreamy prism of YES, THIS IS THE MEANING OF MY LIFE! Thanks Sherry, love you work.

Larry Tyler

We are born walking toward the light and each moment here should be spent living without expectation. The life cycle is infinite without end. I love this thank for a great post.

Ken Vincent
Ken Vincent

Have you died? No. Well, it isn’t really hard. I takes no particular talent or job skill or even training. Anyone can do and everyone will. I’ve been pronounced dead twice and had a brief glimpse of the hereafter. Yes, there is a hereafter and no, I can’t really describe it. The human language just doesn’t accommodate what it is like. What is the point of living then? Beats me, but someday we will all be aware of the purpose.

Susan Rooks

Well, I don’t know about there being no point in a life, Sherry, but I do know it’s tough to say goodbye to family, fur babies, friends, and colleagues. I don’t know what life is for, but since I’m here (as far as I know, anyway), I’m going to make the most of my time!

Laura Staley

Thank you for grappling with a topic that stirs inside most everyone, Sherry. I appreciate your humor, the questioned you have asked. As someone who loves life fully even when it sucks really bad-whose come through lots of challenges most people don’t really want to know about because they’re that yucky, I would offer that my daily meditation practice since 2014 August continues to be a game changer as I cultivate that witness consciousness that allows me to sit in the seat of my inner quiet and watch the hilarity of my thoughts, notice my body sensations, emotions, burns, breath, pings, and pangs. Flowing through life with a deep commitment to equanimity from this place of my Fly on the Wall helps me see the hilarity, feel and flush the heartbreak, and keep going knowing I can have happy feet at the same time my heart clutches, at the same time I’m crying, laughing, then being quietly aware. Not certain this makes me a constantly “happy” person but I do feel grounded, centered most of the time-and know how to return to this centered place time and time again as a beautiful practice in being alive in this moment. Yoga, dance, and other body postures really support this too. Plus, I committed to myself that no matter what goes before I get to choose how I respond. I guess I took your questions seriously. I also love, love, love emotional intelligence/leadership trainings that are experiential. Knowing I’m gonna die actually frees me to focus on what Mary Oliver would say “let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” We often struggle against what supports our healing. We’ve been trained to struggle rather than take the path of practice, least resistance, the “yummy” way of what our hearts have been telling us. The mind often tells jokes or lies. The body has much to teach our busy, busy minds.

Sarah Elkins
Sarah Elkins

Sherry, I think about death and the meaning of life far too much sometimes. It was especially overwhelming when our older son went through a really tough time at 19 years old. Thoughts like: He didn’t ASK to be born, how do I rationalize living life well when I don’t even see the point sometimes?

Thank goodness he woke up from that year and has grown dramatically, emotionally, since then. It has been kind of amazing how those questions about the point of living have mostly been left behind for me as I’ve watched his transformation from teenager to young adult. I find so much joy in my adult children, and in this current iteration of life in general. Maybe that’s the key to leaving the majority of those thoughts of mortality behind, being grateful and finding joy in small moments.

I do still think about my mortality, but now it’s with a more specific theme of legacy. What will I leave behind? How will people remember me if I disappeared tomorrow? And instead of those thoughts leading me down the depression rabbit hole, they motivate me to bring the light wherever possible.

Thank you for sharing this, Sherry, it is always comforting to know we’re not alone, that others grapple with similar questions and doubts.

Mike Pitocco

Interesting thoughts Sherry. I found myself years ago…..good job, family, home in the country, etc, etc talking a walk one evening and wondering to myself, “Is this all there is? There’s got to be more to life than accumulating stuff, waiting for the next vacation and living for retirement….even more than really good things like family and friends. More than just living and dying.” Not too long after that evening my wife and I decided we should plug into some kind of church in town to expose our young son to some sort of religious upbringing so that one day he could decide for himself about those things. I was raised Catholic, but it held no meaning for me. I did believe there was a God. Even as a young boy I sensed there were too many man-made rules. I asked my wife to check out a church for us to visit, but make it anything but Catholic. Well – long story short – not too long after a Baptist pastor was in our home asking me if I died that night did I think I would go to heaven. I said, somewhat satirically, “Yes, I’m a nice guy and I haven’t robbed any banks lately.” I had been raised to believe that as long as my good outweighed my bad I would go to heaven. The pastor showed me in my own Bible that salvation is not based on good works, but on what Jesus did on the cross – dying for our sins…..and, according to the Bible, by believing that Jesus was who He said He was – God’s Son, that He died for my sins and rose again on the third day I would be saved. My wife and I accepted Christ as our personal Savior that night. Since then I know without a doubt what my purpose is – why I’m here – where I’m going – that heaven is my real home – we’re just passing through on this earth but for a minute, but eternity awaits and the decision we make while we are here will determine where we spend eternity. Sounds as though you are searching Sherry – that is a good thing. I would encourage you to keep doing so. I would also suggest that the answer does not lie in Yoga – as healthy as that may be. Know that I’ll be praying for you. I respect people of all faiths, but I believe that the Bible is indeed the Word of God…..and it teaches that there is only one way of salvation, and that is through Christ.

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