“When I Go”

From _Loss_ by Donna Ashworth

After Friend and I talked about her BEAST lawyer last week, somehow we got to thinking about being at peace with death. I told her I’m okay with it–if it were my time tomorrow, I could accept it. She confirmed that my declaration did not feel delusional or arrogant. I have no intention of dying, and I would not want it or like it, but I would have few regrets, I think. Let me be clear: I would certainly regret any pain and suffering that my death might cause my loved ones. But maybe knowing that I’m at peace with my own mortality would help mitigate their pain? In Being Mortal, Atul Gawande tells us that if the person whose life is ending is at peace (it’s redundant, but there isn’t really another expression for it, is there?) with their own end, then their loved ones are far less likely to experience depression and prolonged grief after their death. This is what I wish for my people. I can go first, literally and figuratively.

A few years ago, another dear friend announced his retirement after nearly 30 years with his company, many of them in leadership roles. His LinkedIn page filled with gushing expressions of gratitude and admiration. I thought about him all day, and wrote him spontaneously in the evening:

…And what will the organization and its people be/feel like without you? 

When my kids were little I used to be afraid to die.  I was afraid they would forget me, and that I would not have a chance to pass down my core values, to have a hand in helping them become excellent people.  But then I realized that as long as I am here, I am the one responsible for that, so nobody else thinks to do it for me.  But if I died, and if I lived well, then people would take what they loved best about me and sustain it for my kids in my place.  If I were successful in building the village around them, then they would not be dependent on me alone to get what I most wanted them to get.  

So now I don’t worry so much about it–partly because they are older and I have had time to instill some things, both by example and by teaching.  But also because I trust that my own circle will enclose them and nurture them if/when they are needed.  That reminds me, maybe I should remind and thank my circle for doing that. ๐Ÿ˜„

Today I have even more confidence. The kids are three years older, their complex adolescent personality formation accelerating. I see my imprints deepen, for better or worse, and we have reflected together how they see my influence in their attitudes and expressions. We agree to help one another identify and manage our respective deficits. The tribe is still strong and willing, and I have hopefully been more explicit about my gratitude and aspirations. But really I just trust Son and Daughter to keep me with them, alive or dead, near or far, like Ashworth’s poem says.

I wrote my 30 ethical earworms for posterity last year, saved now among 504 total posts on this blog so far. If they read one a week starting if I died today, that’s almost 10 more years of me in their mind’s ear. They will continue to become who they are, and find the places where I fit, to carry me most comfortably and usefully.

On the path of life, we leave pieces of ourselves all along the way, accumulated and spread among our relationships. What do we do when our loved ones die? We honor them by nurturing, strenthening, and cultivating those parts of them that live within us, more intentionally and meaningfully than when we had them physically with us.

So it’s a Peace & Mortality Mindset of living, I suppose. Try to not take any day, any moment, with any person, for granted. Take advantage of any and all opportunities to connect in meaning and love. Act with reckless abandon on any and all impulses of empathy, kindness, generosity, and compassion. None of us knows when the end will meet us or those we love. What can we do today to make any of it just a little less painful?

Let’s get on it, ya?

7 thoughts on ““When I Go”

  1. “Act with reckless abandon on any and all impulses of empathy, kindness, generosity, and compassion”
    Very large, heart cracking, simple and worthy. Thanks. Happy holidays. Something good to take into the new year.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So much to think about here, Cathy. If we can balance living with the awareness and acceptance that we will make mistakes with the intention to live in such a way that we have no regrets when we dieโ€”that to me is a good life. I loved the โ€œWhen I Goโ€ poem and am tucking it away in my (kick the) bucket binder.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Donna! This poem came across my feed just on the heels of my conversation, so I took it as a sign to think more about it all… And additional conversations continue to occur organically since! *fascinating*!! And yes, I think self-compassion is a huge part of mitigating regret… hmmmm…. Big hugs my friend!!


  3. a beautiful sentiment Catherine. So much of living, and acceptance of dying, seems to include the concept of ‘letting go’ but up to this point ‘letting go’ has simply felt like an abstract concept. I recently came across a rather pragmatic definition gleaned from someone’s NDE (near death experience): ‘letting go’ is to 1) forgive everyone and everything, 2) express gratitude generously, 3) Love all aspects of your life, from the glorious to the not so good. I think your closing paragraph captures these 3 ideas perfectly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ooo, yes!! Huh… a NDE must really reorient one’s perspective, I imagine… How lucky for those of us who have not had one to gain such wisdom anyway. Thank you for reading, and best wishes to you and your loved ones this holiday!! ๐Ÿ˜€


  4. Pingback: Books and Media 2022; Looking Up and Ahead | Healing Through Connection

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