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July 19, 2015 / Karen R Adams

the ‘d’ word

Let me say first that I’m not dying.  Or rather I’m not dying any more than anyone else is.  I don’t have a terminal illness, other than the one we all have.  It’s just that I just finished a lovely book, The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe, and it’s got me thinking about living and death and family, friends, patients… and myself, of course.

This is a vast improvement over the first time I began to think of my own death, which was around when I turned 35, and went something like ‘OMGI’m35I’mgoingtobedeadin35years!’ followed by complete change of subject.  Which is appropriate, I guess, for that age.

Now I’m 61 (and a half, but who’s counting, shit, I am), and what looked like it would last forever now has an end time to it (still unknown but closer).  Plus my mother has Alzheimer’s and is slowly fading away.  Her end time is a lot, lot closer than mine, I think; she knows it, and knows there’ll probably be a point where she won’t know it’s coming, just more evidence that life can be messy.

Anyway.  There’s lots to like in the Schwalbe book, but there’s this one section that has completely caught my attention:

I often think about the things Mom taught me.   Make your bed every morning – it doesn’t matter if you feel like it, just do it.  Write thank-you notes immediately.  Unpack your suitcase, even if you’re only somewhere for the night.  If you aren’t ten minutes early, you’re late.  Be cheerful and listen to people, even if you don’t feel like it.  Tell your spouse (children, grandchildren, parents) that you love them every day.  Use shelf liner in bureaus.  Keep a collection of presents on hand (Mom kept them in a ‘present drawer’), so that you’ll always have something to give people.  Celebrate occasions.  Be kind.

I read it and immediately wondered: What have I taught my children, that they will remember after I’m gone?  I can think of lots of things I didn’t teach them, like if you’re going to be away from home in the winter and there might be a freeze and loss of power, leave some water running so your pipes don’t freeze.  How to wear make-up or perfume.  How to walk away from toxic people in your life.  How to cook something besides mac and cheese – though thankfully they are both very smart women, and while they may not have known this when they left home, they do now.  Maybe I taught them how to figure these things out themselves?  Though again, smart women will figure out how to figure out.  Mostly I worry that what I taught them doesn’t fall so much on the positive side of the scale, but falls more in the realm of ‘mom did that, and I don’t want to do it, too’.

Then I thought: What did my mom teach me?  That a mom should be a child’s biggest fan.  That there are times (many, many times) when a mom can’t fix the hurt, but she can listen.  (That didn’t really sink in until recently.)  That there is a point in the relationship between parent and child when the parent fully steps back, and then asks, in a genuine way, if you’d like her to clean your oven.  (True story.)  That everybody hates cleaning house… but loves the order a clean house gives.  That a daughter can be whatever she wants – even when what she wants is wicked scarey to the mom.  That if you don’t know how to do something, figure it out – and really, only ask for help when you can’t figure it out.  When the baby dies, a mom drops everything to catch the next plane.  That a mom has a life beyond being a mom, and if you’re lucky, she’ll share it with you.

Really what I’m wondering is will someone remember me when I’m gone.

I loved visiting old churches when I lived in England, as well as the oldest of the old things I could find, like the stone circles.  Yet I couldn’t bear to walk in cemeteries.  Not because they’re spooky, but because they are evidence of lives that were once dearly loved that no one remembers anymore.  The poignancy of that clogs my throat.

And honestly, I don’t know why I care.  It’s not like I don’t know that there is something after we go home from play, because I do.  I’ve seen it, and I believe.   But I do care, for reasons I don’t yet understand.  Maybe I’m just looking outside myself for life’s meaning, maybe I want people who live after me to know I was here and I was special.  It’s such an odd thing, because I know what really matters is where I return when my life here is over, a place I expect is filled with the validation and love and sheer exultation in my life.  Which means the most real part of me is filled with validation and love and exultation in my life.   No outside recognition is necessary… but it sure is sweet.

PS  Did you catch the part about my daughters figuring things out, and my mom teaching her daughter, not necessarily how to figure things out, but to do it?  That’s the legacy, I guess, even if those who hand it down become nameless over time.


I amanother me an acupuncturist in Greenfield, MA.  I have a Facebook page where I like to philosophize, comment on and pass on the things I’m learning.  You can visit me at Karen Adams Acupuncture on Facebook, or on my website:  I’m also the founder/owner of Greenfield Community Acupuncture.  It, too, has a FB page: Greenfield Community Acupuncture, and a website:  If you’d like to speak with me, use the form below.  I can’t wait to hear from you – really.  It’s a thrill to talk to people who read this page.

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