“We all have an expiration date. If we didn’t, nothing would ever get done.”—”The Big C”

If you know anything about me at all, you know that I love entertainment. Pretty much any form of live performance or media is something I am going to enjoy (although I don’t much like sci-fi or action/adventure flicks, and have been known to walk out of a movie theatre or a play if it’s just that bad.), and it even extends to books, magazines, journaling, and of course, social media.

In particular, I love television. I always have. It sounds incredibly lame, but when I was a little kid, I used to pretend the people on my favourite shows were real. They were my friends. I talked about characters on TV sitcoms the same way I’d talk about someone in my kindergarten class. I had an Oscar The Grouch stuffed animal that lived in the laundry hamper in the hallway. I’d pass by and have conversations with him. I slept with an ALF doll, and had nightmares about the Whammies on “Press Your Luck”.

I’ve always felt an affinity for TV, that it was this consistent thing in my life I could always count on to be there for me when everything else in the world was chaotic or falling apart. I may have never moved to Atlanta if it weren’t for the TV show “Frasier”. When I got very ill about a year and a half ago, and wrote letters and journals about fearing I was going to die, I didn’t get through the fear because I thought of my family or friends or all I hadn’t accomplished in my life, or that dying at that point in my life would be a sad and terrible waste of potential. No. I thought, “I need to hang on and make things get better, because I want to see who gets kicked off Big Brother this week”. In a time where virtually nobody could stand to be around me and I thought I might either be losing my mind or my health, and getting out of bed was a challenge, turning on my TV and entering a world populated by strangers in a Big Brother TV studio every night made me feel connected to the world. It made me feel stronger to feel a connection with characters that weren’t even completely real, the same way it always did as a child.

Ironically, many of my past romantic partners have not liked TV, or felt it was a distraction, or felt intellectually above staring at a box with sound and pictures. I think I never quite understood myself well enough to know “Must Love TV” needs to be part of the equation, if someone is the type of soulmate I’m meant to end up sharing the primary part of my life with. Just as I couldn’t relate to someone who didn’t care for music, or thought theatre and art and performance was stupid, or never read books, I’m pretty sure my household will always have TV.

As happens every May, many of the shows I’d been watching ended. Unfortunately, many of them have been canceled for good, which always makes me sad. However, I know that in about a month, there will be new things for me to get slightly obsessed by, and I look forward to that.

In the absence of all my normal shows, I started looking around On Demand for something to watch tonight, and noticed that Showtime had started showing “The Big C” again. It’s on its fourth season, but it’s being advertised as a “limited series event”. Looking at Wikipedia, I see they’ve only made 4 hour-long episodes in Season 4 to wrap up the show. (previously, the show was a 30 minute deal.) The last one is airing May 20th.

“The Big C” is not the kind of show that’s for everyone, but it’s definitely my cup of tea. It’s full of sarcastic, intelligent, black humour. The show starts off with a middle-aged suburban housewife (played by Laura Linney, who is wonderful) being diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma, and given a year to live. It starts off in a way that indicates the end at the beginning; each season goes through a different season of the year. However, they don’t really follow through with that, and it isn’t a foregone conclusion that the show has to end with the main character’s death. There are a lot of plot twists along the way. And, strangely, for most of the show, it’s a dark comedy. A majority of the show is very witty and very funny.

So, I was shocked when I started watching Season 4, and found myself sobbing through most of the episodes. Suddenly, it isn’t funny anymore. It’s dramatic and tragic and all those things you think a show about a terminally ill person would be.

One of the themes the show repeats often is that each and every one of us is dying, every day. For a very long time, my tagline on many of my social profiles is a line from a Cake song that particularly resonated with me: “As soon as you’re born, you start dying, so you might as well have a good time”.

One of the reasons the show is painful is because it doesn’t sugar-coat anything. It reminds you that whether it’s cancer or a heart attack or a car accident or plain old age, at some point, every person you know and have ever known will no longer be here—including yourself. It is a sad thought, and a terrifying thought, but the premise behind the show is “If you knew you only had a year to live, what would you do with your life?”.

It then reminds us that perhaps every single person should live that way, because all the years are precious. Most of us don’t know we have a certain amount of time to tie up loose ends and do everything that matters. We have an expiration date, but for most of us, death comes as a surprise for which we’re unprepared. As I get older, I notice that not only just in myself but in those around me, the process of aging becomes a surprise for which we’re unprepared. Visits to the doctor start to feel a little more serious. We start to have a few more wrinkles. Sometimes, we pass by a mirror, and no longer see the child, the adolescent, the carefree young person. Instead, we start to see our mother, our father. There’s a realisation that time is not infinite and the clock keeps on ticking—and that’s if you’re lucky.

In the show, there’s a scene where Laura Linney’s character is in the hospital, and her son pieces together a collage of photographs from her life, so it’s the first thing she sees every day. I wonder if I am, on some subconscious level, more acutely aware of how short life is. I’ve lived in a room with a wall that has been collaged with my favourite memories since I was 26. It’s been a pain to take the wall down and reassemble it whenever I move. But it’s also really important to me to always feel like I’m surrounded by moments when I was happy and young and vibrant, and to see the faces of the people I love—even if they don’t always remember I love them, or how much I care. I think I’ve always thought, “If I don’t wake up tomorrow, I want the last thing in my head to be that wall.”

I think about being a thing that has an expiration date a little too much, and it scares me sometimes. My grandmother passed away when she was 50. I was a little over two years old, and it is one of my earliest childhood memories, being in a dimly-lit, sepia-coloured room with a tiny little woman with her head wrapped in bandages. Above her bed was a cross, making everything seem very somber and austere. My mother tells me I could not remember this; children don’t remember scenes in detail at that age. But I do. That is the only memory I have of my grandmother. She died when my mother was only 33. I spent most of my life thinking I was adopted, because I don’t physically resemble anyone in my family. When I was older, I saw a picture of my grandmother, and realised how much I looked like her. I think it’s why my mother always criticised me for being too small, too pale, too thin, too fragile-looking….things I could do nothing about. I always thought she was just being my mother, the type of person for whom even the smallest flaw is worth noting and compliments are rare. As I get older, I realise I must remind my mother of the mother she lost so early in life, and that she’s always been afraid that my small frame and fragile health meant she’d lose me early, too.

For what it’s worth, it turns out I’m a survivor, at least so far. I’ve been in a car accident where the driver was killed, another where my entire family was injured but me, and a third where my head literally went through the windshield, leaving an Alayna-shaped headprint. I’ve had tubes put in my ears, suffered a ruptured appendix at 9, and then developed an infection requiring another surgery. I had my knee completely reconstructed at 15. I need surgery again for a torn ACL. I have virtually no sweat glands and am prone to both hyper-and-hypothermia without feeling it. I get flu-like symptoms when I get rained on. I went to the beach and came back with 2nd degree sunburn on 60% of my body, and an infection that turned into a rare inner ear disorder. I’ve had enough “female troubles” to last a lifetime, and apparently, my heart beats too fast. I’m pretty much a walking medical disorder.

Yet, all things considered, I grew up to be a relatively strong person. I’d like to think even though I am not the healthiest person around, emotionally or physically, I’ve always been a fighter in my own small way.

If there’s one thing that scares the hell out of me, though, it’s death. I have had dreams in which I see my death—not the scary kind, where someone is chasing you, the building explodes, the car crashes, or the murderer pops out from the closet—but the kind in which I am almost able to experience the process of dying. It is never frightening, but almost calm and surreal. The thing always notice most about death is that I feel sad about leaving.

I had one dream in which I saw my death in that same way I see many of my “psychic dreams”, and that of course threw me for a loop when I woke up. It shocked me to see me as someone who was very old, and very small. I was surrounded by people I didn’t really know or recognise, but they were my family (apparently, in my dream, I have a daughter and two grandchildren and a very unruly great-grandchild, which is almost as shocking as the idea of me living to be very, very old.) My daughter doesn’t look like me, or what I imagine I’ll look like at that age. She is taller and stronger and more imposing, and has olive skin and black hair that is starting to show streaks of grey. I can’t imagine her being related to me, because she seems very strong, and I am old and tiny and look very fragile. The nurse tells me it is a few days after my birthday, and there are icicles on the tree outside the hospital room window. (which we have in the Northeast, but rarely here in Atlanta.) I ask her if New Year’s Eve has happened yet. New Year’s Eve is one of my favourite holidays, even though it seems to be a rather cursed day for me.

I do not believe my dream is truly a “psychic dream”, although numerous psychics and palm readers and whatnot have told me I will live an exceptionally long time. The hereditary factors in my family—people either die relatively young or live to be exceptionally old in my family—as well as my history of health problems, and my natural constitution, do not point to a long and robust life. For the longest time, I was convinced I wouldn’t live past 30, and I was OK with that. Now I am older and wiser and know how important it is to stay healthy and keep living and creating and sharing my life with those who matter for as long as I can, I am suddenly terrified of the idea that I might die.

It is not helped by the fact that I’ve lost many friends and acquaintances who passed away suddenly, at relatively young ages. I have to visit the doctor on Monday, and I am filled with dread about doing so. I feel so sorry I spent a lot of my life taking health and the gift of being alive for granted, and instead made many stupid choices, some of which *should* have killed me. I suppose that’s everyone when they’re young, but there’s an age where you stop feeling invincible. There’s an age where you realise you never were, and the fact that you’re still here and took that for granted all along isn’t something that should continue.

“The Big C” turned devastatingly sad because it stopped being about characters on TV, and started being about everyone. We may seem so different, but the one thing we all have in common is that one day, we will die…and hopefully, there will be people who are terribly sad that has happened. No amount of preparation, money, lifestyle choices, or prayer will change the fact that we all begin life and end life in a way where the timing isn’t run by us for our approval.

I suppose it’s everything in the middle that matters. That is why all I’ve ever wanted, really, is for my “everything else” to have mattered to someone, somewhere.

“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
Tomorrow will be dying.”

~ Robert Herrick

I’m feeling a little melancholy tonight, something that hit me pretty suddenly during an otherwise positive week. The reason for this is that after I got home from our usual Tuesday night trivia, I checked my Facebook as I always do, and saw a post that shocked me.

It was a post announcing the sudden and unexpected death of someone in my relatively wide circle of friends and acquaintances. I did not know her very well, but people to whom I’ve grown close over the years did have that opportunity to share a genuine friendship with her. She was someone who I’d enjoy reading commentary from on Facebook, who was unfailingly loving and supportive to her friends, and really left a positive mark on the lives of those around her.

I think what hit me hard was not the passing of someone that so many people in my life knew and loved— I only wish such incidents were isolated, but the past three months have been filled with such shocking announcements and loss and close calls involving impetuous decisions— but that this person was someone to whom I could relate. She was an ordinary girl, around my age, who didn’t pass away due to any prolonged illness or a drawn-out battle with self-destructive behavior or because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was just an ordinary girl whose heart decided to stop working properly, and by the time help arrived, she had been deprived of oxygen for too long.

It is selfish, but I want to cry because I see how easily that could be me. I too am just an ordinary girl who happened to become ill, to have a scary period in life where her heart didn’t work the way it should. I take medication to keep that problem from recurring, but for a majority of a year, I was terrified of dying alone. My world is not one that involves me being surrounded by other people much of the time. If my heart stops, I will die. I’ve learned from experience that it takes 15 minutes to get an ambulance when you call 911. By that point in time, there is nothing anyone can do.

I feel sad because of how easily that girl might be me, and because I don’t want it to. I feel sad because of the loss of someone who made the world a better place is not fair, and it is a loss that so many will feel for such a long time. There’s something shocking about death when it happens to someone young and vibrant, someone who assumes they have a lifetime to chase dreams, to follow passions, to love others. It is shocking because it’s a reminder that it can happen to any of us, or anyone we love, at any time. There is not always a warning.

There is not always another day to tell someone how you feel about them, or to make things right, or to make the changes you need to be brave enough and strong enough in life in order to be a happy and fulfilled individual.

There is always the possibility that every conversation, or e-mail, or Facebook status, or night out could be the last one you’ll share with someone—or others with you.

There is no guarantee that tomorrow exists, for anyone, at any age.

When you’re 10, you don’t focus on anything too far beyond tomorrow, but you assume there will always be another one . When you’re 20, you think the number of tomorrows you have are limitless, and you take stupid chances and procrastinate and self-destruct, and still come out OK most of the time. By the time you’re 30, you start to have an awareness that not only is tomorrow not a guarantee, that every single being on this Earth, however wonderful and unique, is temporary.

I can only imagine how much more importance that knowledge takes on at 40, or 50, or 60.

I hope I am around to find out. It’s odd that I should wish that more than anything, coming from the girl who never planned to live past 30, who thought dying young never meant having to disappoint anyone or hurt anyone or fail to do anything remarkable in life.

The oddest thing happened. I passed that point in my life, and all of the sudden, life became valuable. Death became less glamourous, and far more frightening, and real. I didn’t want the story to end the way I’d always planned. Now, I can’t stand the idea that I’m not going to be here forever, because however much time I have, it will never be enough.

In “Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World”, Keira Knightley remarks to Steve Carell that she wishes they had been able to have more time together. He responds by telling her no amount of time ever would have been enough to erase the need for that wish.

I feel terribly sad because the relatively small part of the Universe I inhabit lost another special piece, and it doesn’t seem fair that there wasn’t enough time for her to truly live the life she loved. I am also sad because I know there will never be enough time, for any of us.

People often accuse me of being too straightforward. I say what I feel. I yell when I am angry. When I absolutely adore someone, I always let them know. I cry when I am hurt. I want every disagreement with a friend to be over quickly, and result in us still being friends. I follow my heart, even if it isn’t logical, even if it accidentally hurts others. Yet, I wish I had still more courage than I do to put myself out there, to take chances, to say what I feel, and do seems right for me. I wish I had more meaningful connections in my life than I do, because at the end of the day, that’s far more important than nearly anything else.

I realise that part of the reason I am this way is because I’ve spent so much of my life approaching it with a focus on the present, not the future. I didn’t want to be the person who endlessly planned for a future that might never happen, at the expense of experience and life that might happen today. In some ways, that’s irresponsible. That is not how we, as adults, are meant to live. Yet, in other ways, it’s realistic and showing respect and value to life, to the idea that the past can’t be altered and the future can’t be determined—but you can change your life, and touch the lives of others, with what you say and do today.

I know that when the day comes that I am not here anymore, it will ultimately be a surprise for me, and I will recognise that I still didn’t have enough time for all the living I wanted to do. I know that if I’m lucky, I’ll have more time than most people. I also know that perhaps I won’t be that lucky, and if I am, it will mean losing a lot of special people along the way.

Sometimes, I want everything life is planning to throw my way right now, because I don’t know what it has in store for me—and there never is going to be enough time. There is not enough time that I should feel I have the luxury of hitting the “pause” button, and thinking I’ll get around to dealing with life tomorrow.

I have seen bits and pieces of my future, in the form of various psychic dreams and visions. I don’t know how much I believe in all that, but I am not discounting the power of my intuition, a gift that’s served me very well throughout my life. If any of that is to be believed, though, life has unplanned surprises and twists and turns for me, and none of them involve dwelling on the idea of mortality.

Yet, life is so fragile and so temporary, it’s hard not to. Why should I, or anyone I love, be an exception?

When I think about it, there are a few people in my world I simply can’t imagine living without. They are very few and far between, but the world without those few special individuals would seem to stop for me, and I don’t know how it would restart itself in the same way ever again.

Every time someone in my circle of friends and acquaintances passes away, I remember there are a handful of people in the world who feel that exact same way about someone who is no longer around, and that sense of grief touches me immensely. I don’t know how or why, since it is not my own personal grief, but I have a tendency to feel emotions on behalf of others, and it’s not always a positive or endearing trait. I have to detach myself from focusing on many of the world’s greater problems and tragedies because I don’t have enough emotion to feel for every person who is suffering, and I inevitably end up trying.

Nobody is permanent, and that is perhaps the most frightening bit of knowledge I’ve ever come across in my life.

So, yes, today—I am sad, and cried for the loss of someone I didn’t know well at all. Perhaps I cried for me, and all the people I have lost, and all the people I will someday lose, and all the people who will turn out to represent a path not taken in life, a person who might have made a huge difference but never did. Perhaps I cried because I understand the magnitude the loss of this person has left on people in my life, and I do not wish that type of sadness on anyone. Perhaps I cried because I just don’t think it’s fair that we all search so hard for love and family and friendship and connection and romance, only to find out that every single one of us is a temporary fixture.

Reality is harsh, and sometimes it makes me cry, because the little romantic idealist inside of me has never been quite ready to handle such harsh truths.

I’d like to go on pretending there are endless tomorrows for as long as I possibly can. Yet, I think I passed that point in my life a long time ago.

I hope there is a tomorrow, and that it is just a little happier.

There was a period between early 2006-2007 in which I lost a great deal: my home, my circle of social acquaintances, friendships, relationships, lovers, financial security, freedom, even things as basic as my reputation and sense of myself. It was a particularly trying time, and in retrospect, one of the most important in my life. Many people say there’s a point in one’s life, usually in the late 20′s and early 30′s, where one is confronted with life in such a brutal way that it marks the transition to adulthood. Usually it happens due to the death of a parent, illness, an unexpected child…something that makes you look outside yourself, grow up, and take some responsibility for your future. It teaches you to start looking toward the future, not just at today, as so many younger people do.

My life-changing crisis happened a little earlier than it did for many of my peers, but it affected me in the same way. It turned my world upside down, and for an extended period of time, I wasn’t sure how to make it through or what to do with myself. Looking back, I see it brought as many gifts into my life as painful experiences. For every loss I endured, every struggle, there’s something meaningful I likely wouldn’t have in my life now if things hadn’t worked out in the way they had. It often takes life-changing experiences where you wonder if anyone in the world understands, is on your side, is able to help you through, to learn exactly who you are and stop taking time to “find yourself”.

I learned I’m much stronger than I think I am. I’m much more capable–emotionally, mentally, practically—than I generally consider myself to be, and thus, much more so than I let on to the rest of the world. I learned that for all my drama and histrionic scenes and inability to cope with emotions quietly and rationally (something I know now is a combination of a highly sensitive personality and long-term suffering of anxiety issues), I am resilient. I don’t always feel like I want to get back up again…but I do. I sometimes feel so devastated by circumstances that I don’t know how I’ll cope…but I always do. Underneath the layers of emotion and over-sensitivity, often mistaken for weakness, is a survivor. To a certain extent, that survivor is even pragmatic, self-protective, and able to adapt to change. I learned that part of myself, while often invisible to all but those who know me well, is what has kept me safe and resilient through a number of negative situations. It defeats my self-destructive tendencies every time, tells the masochistic side of my personality, “Hey, I am stronger than you”. (Freud would have a field day with me.:P)

In any case, this period of my life brought losses of other types: in particular, five friends and/or lovers (of varying degrees of closeness) passed away during that time period. Not one of them was older than 45, and I saw clearly that I wasn’t the only one in my circle of friends and acquaintances that was regularly challenging the inner self-destructive demons. I wasn’t the only one haunted by things nobody ever talks about. Not everyone has an internal survival mechanism that’s strong enough to win, despite what life throws your way.

I’ve lost a lot of people in my life, in a variety of ways, to the extent where it’s a lesson to me: nothing and nobody will be there with you forever. There is no forever. Even I, myself, am not even necessarily promised a tomorrow. I attempt not to focus on that knowledge, because it brings out the pieces of me that are cynical and self-destructive. But, the only promise people cannot make is the one I need the most: the promise that that person will not abandon you. I know that better than anyone, and therefore, abandonment hurts me more than anyone…even if it’s just a friend who no longer wishes to be friends on Facebook, or an ex whose wife won’t let him be in my life anymore.

Why does all this sad, depressing reflection matter? It matters because recently, I hung out in an area I no longer spend time, because it reminds me of someone, and the reminders are sharp and painful. They are often euphoric, and painful at the same time, the ultimate in emotional masochism. I thought I could handle that, until I realised our car was driving past the place at which my friend passed away, and 30 seconds later, I was crying behind my sunglasses.

I told myself it should not have mattered; that was a different life, a loss I’d mourned a long time ago. But, The Guy I Am Currently Dating, either not aware of how touched I was by the situation or not knowing what else to do, parked in an area that required me to walk by the building. I stopped for a minute, and as soon as I did, I felt my heart beat in my throat, too fast. I couldn’t breathe. Everyone told me it was walking in the cold when I’m ill, and the strain it put on someone on the combination of medications I’m dealing with…but I felt like I was going to collapse. I just stood in front of the building like I couldn’t move.

This week, at night, I’ve been seeing that place when I close my eyes at night, and I cry. I haven’t made peace with a loss I’d closed my heart on and moved past and think about once or twice a year, because I can’t not think “This is the place where someone I loved faded away forever.” I can’t not think about where that place will be for me.

Moving on with your life doesn’t mean forgetting, and coping with the past doesn’t mean it ever stops hurting. I tried to talk to this with both a very close friend and The Guy I Am Currently Dating, but nobody’s interested in engaging discourse about something so sad and personal. There’s no need for me to call up the loss and pain others carry around because I was recently confronted with mine.

Part of me wants to go back to that building, and curl up next to it, and cry…because I never did. I never went back to that place, never returned to any of the spots in which we hung out together, never wondered who lived in the old apartment we’d made memories in. I just refused to think about the existence of any of those places and moved on.

Of course it’s natural that I’ve been crying, listless, depressed, overwhelmed by loneliness this week. Of course it’s natural that I’ve been questioning my relationship….which has been fraught with miscommunication and lack of simply being on the same page, particularly since I got sick. I believe that we have many different soulmates in our lives (a huge part of my basis for an essential belief in non-monogamy), people who come into our lives to open our eyes to different things, teach us about different parts of ourselves, understand us in a way few others are able. I do not believe in the traditional idea that this is one person who will complete you and you’ll love unconditionally and with perfect understanding forever. I do, however, believe there are many who touch us in an essential way that forms who we are, who we become along the way.

I have been quietly mourning the loss of one of mine…although I know nothing is forever. I do not know when I’ll feel at peace with goodbye. I did what people do; I laughed and drank and spent time with my friends, and tried to forget how much the experience of walking past that space affected me. I didn’t talk about it, because nobody could understand.

I am a highly emotional, intuitive person…and I don’t know how to explain the experience, except I felt something, and it was magical, and overwhelming, and devastating, and I wish I’d have been in a situation to experience it alone. Because more than anything, I felt I needed more time; more time just to *be*, to be close to the memory of someone you’ll never hold again.

Sometimes, I see this friend in DreamLand, and it reminds me that emotional memory is both devastating and of great comfort, at the same time. All I know is that since that day, I’ve constantly wanted to cry—whether from joy, sadness, fear, loneliness, anger, anxiety—and I don’t understand why. I don’t understand why I feel so misunderstood.

Today, I do. You never stop missing those that claim a piece of your soul, no matter how long ago.

I suppose this isn’t really the most cheerful topic on which to share my thoughts, but this blog is one that’s been formulating in my head for awhile. If you’re not in the kind of place where reading this is beneficial to you, please, by all means, skip it and come back tomorrow.

One thing I really want to work on this year—-and not just this year, but as a general outlook on life, for the rest of my life— is the idea of living in the moment. For a very long time, I was an expert at this type of outlook, at valuing the “now”, often at the expense of making responsible decisions or practical plans for the future. However, over the past two or three years, something strange has happened. I’ve become very “future-oriented”, the kind of person who books her calendar months in advance and actively works toward long-term goals, and avoids engaging in relationships, friendships, and situations that don’t seem to fit in to my future plans. In short, I’ve become the opposite of who I always thought myself to be, and while I’ve seen some benefits in this newer, more adult way of thinking, I also feel like I’ve lost something important. I’ve lost the ability to appreciate the small things, the joy in today, the light-heartedness that seems to fall by the wayside when you’re always thinking about some other point in time. Over the past year, especially, I’ve become very affected by thinking about the past, and being afraid of the future, and have seemingly abandoned my ability to focus on the present. As a result, I’ve lost some of the joie de vivre that’s always characterised me, and my approach to life.

I think a big contributor to this problem is that, over the past year or so, I’ve become much more aware of the idea of mortality, and for the first time in my life, it’s occurred to me that one day I will not be here—and that mixture of both certainty and uncertainty terrifies me. I’m not sure what’s made this thought so present in my life all of the sudden; it happened a few months before turning 30. Perhaps it’s the simple fear and panic that accompanies growing up, getting older. It could also be that this year really reinforced the idea of being a temporary fixture in life, and threw mortality at me in a very “in-your-face” kind of way. Shootings outside my front window, friends telling me a new story seemingly every month about someone who passed away too young and without warning, friends who are no longer just losing grandparents, but parents, and my own relatives suffering from severe health issues and a general decline of quality of life—all these things are frightening to me, and really force me to think. Unfortunately, I think just a little bit too much already.

The idea of death is certainly not new in my life. I’ve always been a little preoccupied with it, although in a much different way. In my life, I’ve been to more funerals than weddings, and my earliest childhood memory is one of being in a dimly lit hospital room, saying goodbye to a woman I barely remember, one who was very frail, and sad, and had a white bandage wrapped around her head. Later, of course, I realised this woman was my grandmother, who died at age 50 of liver cancer that had spread to her brain. I have no idea why this image sticks with me, and it’s almost more like a scene from a movie, than a memory. However, it was my first exposure to mortality, to saying goodbye, and that’s always monumental. I was just barely 3 years old at the time.

I lost three of my four grandparents before the age of 12, as well as numerous other relatives. I survived two difficult car crashes, and some other thoroughly frightening situations, before the age of 16. I’ve said goodbye to friends, lovers, and classmates barely older than myself. Death and mortality are not new to me. In fact, these events are probably responsible for me living through my teens and 20′s with an approach to life that’s been all about experience, at best, and blatantly self-destructive, at worst. I had the strange capacity for putting myself in risky, threatening, or uncertain situations, and feeling more of a sense of elation, than fear. At one point, I began to identify that I was putting myself in potentially dangerous situations simply for the adrenaline rush. I thought I didn’t care about the consequences, even if the consequences involved me not being here anymore. It turns out, I did care, a great deal—there was just a much more confused, darker part of me that simply refused to acknowledge or think about them.

Then, something happened. Something clicked in my mind, and pointed out my approach to life wasn’t about appreciating life to the fullest, it was about recklessness. Slowly, changes came about in my life, and before I knew it, I’d started to turn into a different person—one that was both me, and a me I didn’t quite recognise.

Oddly enough, the defining point in this process wasn’t getting older, being involved in a long-term relationship, or seeing my friends get married, have babies, and change *their* lifestyles. It was the death of Brittany Murphy, which happened just a few days before I turned 30.

I didn’t know Brittany Murphy. I knew who she was, but wasn’t even a big fan of her movies. However, I was strangely shocked and affected by her death. For two or three weeks afterwards, I read every article the internet posted about her death, and why such a shocking thing would happen, seemingly out of nowhere. It was a depressing, and potentially obsessive new hobby that I really couldn’t quite understand.

And, one day, it hit me. I identified with Brittany Murphy. Reading all these stories about this teenage actress who’d become somewhat lost and directionless in her twenties, struggled against self-destructive behaviour, and was looking to find her place in the world….on some level, it occurred to me that I could be reading my own obituary, and it shocked and saddened me. One article even described her as a “pale-skinned redhead of Irish-Italian descent.”, and the thought coalesced in my mind. I was sad about Brittany Murphy, because in a lot of ways, she was similar to me, and not much older—-and I wasn’t ready to die yet.

Over the past year, the result has been that all my reckless behaviour has seemingly disappeared, and I’ve become much more focused on improving my life, creating things, and defining the kind of person I’d like to be, rather than just simply trying to experience as much as possible. It’s become a looming thought in my head that I might not be here next year, next decade, or at any given point I might like to be here. At some point, it’s a certainty that I won’t be. And those thoughts have made me more frightened of my own mortality than I’ve ever been. Perhaps it’s just because I know for sure that I truly *want* to be here, and for as long as possible. While most people seem to know that inherently, I didn’t always.

Since around the age of 14 or 15, I truly believed I wasn’t going to live past the age of 30. I chalked it up to intuition, psychic dreams, and an ominous feeling like something in life was out to get me. All of my friends have had to hear about the mythical Mack truck, and why I felt making plans for the future unnecessary.

So, it is still strange to me that I’m still here, when for so long, I genuinely believed I wouldn’t be. It is strange to me that all of the sudden, making plans for the future isn’t something scary, but necessary. It is strange that I think about the future in terms of “my future”, as something that applies to me. It’s been a lot to go through, this dramatic psychological shift that happened in a little more than a year, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it or who I am these days.

But what I do know is that it’s more important to me than ever to appreciate life, without focusing on the ever-present threat of death as a natural counterpart. Nobody can go through life thinking “I’m happy I didn’t die today”, without being unhealthily focused on all the things that might present a danger to you. Many people, however, are able to appreciate each day as a gift, separate from the past and the present, and beautiful in its’ own right. I’d like to be one of those types of people.