By Scott Robertson
Sudden death has the effect of making those around it cling desperately to life.
The wife of one of my wife’s co-workers passed away suddenly last week. She was young. She had gone to bed the night before feeling fine. She didn’t feel good when she woke up. Her husband let her lie in for a while before going back to wake her up. He found her sitting slumped over in the bed. She was already gone.
Her death shook my wife’s department. There was no way this woman should be gone so soon.
It didn’t make sense.
It doesn’t make sense.
But it’s real, and it’s true and even in a world where people want to have not only their own opinions, but also their own facts, death is inarguable.
The rod and staff may comfort us as we see our friends and relatives off into glory, but for those of us who remain here, the chilling fact is that it could just as easily have been any of us who never got out of bed last week, whether we’re ready or not.
In fact, for many of us, it would make far more sense than it did for her. Her death came as a shock. But how many of us are overweight? How many of us still smoke? How many are quietly destroying our livers with drink or are killing ourselves with prescription drugs?
I could quote facts and statistics all day and it wouldn’t make anywhere near the impact that this one seemingly inexplicable death has had. Yes, one in three Tennesseans is obese. Yes, we’re still one of the smokiest states in America. Tobacco money doesn’t pay the bills anymore. It creates them, through constantly rising healthcare costs.
And why? For what? Short-term self-indulgence?
Actually, a lot of us have a pretty good notion of what’s likely to kill us. For those of us who are obese, are heading down the path to congenital heart failure, or who drink to excess or abuse drugs, the sudden reality of this death has made me feel like screaming, “Why are we doing this?!?”
It doesn’t need to be our time so soon.
I looked in on my children the other night, spying on them while they didn’t know I was looking. I saw the most incredible people. They’re young and strong and intelligent and thoughtful and good. And I wondered how much of their lives I’ve already condemned myself to missing.
My father once pointed out to me that you never see very old, very fat men. Well, I weigh close to 300 pounds. My heart is enlarged. I have eaten for comfort and I have eaten from boredom and I have eaten for no reason at all. To make it worse, I have been the definition of sedentary.
Twice I’ve gotten gym memberships and twice I’ve let them lapse. Despite knowing the facts, I’ve lacked the willpower to make the right daily choices.
But it’s one thing to know the facts. It’s another to look into my wife’s eyes and wonder what her life will be like when I’m gone.
We all know in an academic sort of way that we could be taken tomorrow, or today, or in the next ten seconds. But we still blithely go on, generally doing what we’ve always done. We don’t realize that as Neil Peart said, “we are only immortal for a limited time.”
So I’m walking.
If you see a large round mound of orange reflector-clad (what good is it to lose weight only to get hit by a bus?) disheveledness shuffling along the sidewalks of Johnson City and Jonesborough in the evenings, that’s probably me.
I’ve bought another gym membership. And I’m asking my wife to help me with my diet.
Perry Stuckey, the senior vice president and chief human resources officer at Eastman Chemical Company often says that whoever buys the groceries for a household controls the health of that household. So I’m asking my wife to load up on the salad fixings and stop bringing home the pizzas and ice cream snacks and other deadly sins. And I’m keeping fruit in my office for snacking.
I walked 10 miles Friday night, just to see if I could. And you know what? It hurts. I’m sore and I’m out of sorts. But maybe I’m buying a little more time with the ones I love. I’ve earned this pain. I’ll own it, as they say, and I’ll ask for more.
This time we’ll see if the shock of a nearby sudden death is a better motivator than my simple knowledge of mortality has ever been.
When my wife told me about this sudden death, I saw fear in her eyes.
I feel it too.
That’s a good thing. A little fear can be a strong motivator. Let’s hope a lot of it can be the first step toward a life-extending change.