This week I had coffee with a young man. He is celebrating his 28th birthday this week. He asked me, “At what age did you start to become aware of your own mortality? When did you start thinking more about your own death?” I’ve been thinking about it a lot in the last few years. I told him I think it happens when you hit your 50’s. Your 30’s & 40’s are a blur of career building and parenting. Then suddenly your kids move out and you start to look at your life differently.
As I’ve reflected on his question, I’ve decided there are a few major life events that provide the conditions to start thinking about death.
1. Health: Your own health influences how much you think about dying. And apparently the reverse is true as well. The more you think about dying the more you focus on healthy habits. Last year, when I was diagnosed with cancer, I couldn’t help but think about death. My own death. Melanoma is scary and deadly. So, I thought a lot about dying. Anyone I know who has had a serious illness has thought about death. No matter what their current age.
2. Grandchildren: Now that I am a nana (to the most beautiful little girl – in case, I haven’t mentioned it) I think a lot about the fact that I am ageing and that there is another generation coming along. It is a natural progression but when it becomes parts of your reality, you come face to face with your legacy in a different way.
3. Your Parents: My dad was just diagnosed with dementia. It has been a sad few weeks for me. As I watch my parents age and their health decline my own mortality is once again brought to my attention. My mother is only 20 years older than me. I often look at her and think ‘that’s me in 20 years’. Many of my friends have lost a parent by this stage. When I ask them about it, they all tell me it feels like the passing of the torch. Your parents no longer are the family matriarch and patriarch – you become that person in your family.
So, it happens. Time marches on and one day, you find yourself thinking about how much time you have left. Although we never really know, in your 50’s you know that even if you live until 80 you only have x amount of years left (you can do the math). So, what do we do with that awareness? I’ve been thinking a lot about ageing well. I’ll blog about it soon.