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We Are Only Dancing on This Earth for a Short While

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[This particular article is a little lacking on personal finance. Sometimes the personal is more important than the finance - this is one of those days. Please give me the benefit of the doubt for a day or two to bring it back to personal finance.]

A few months back I bought a used iPod Nano off of Craigslist. It's a first generation 2GB version and it cost me $60. I filled it up with some of my favorite albums and listen to it for a couple of hours a day. A couple of minutes ago, I got to the Cat Stevens' Greatest Hits album. In particular the some Oh Very Young came on. Though I have listened to the hundreds of times before, today I broke down and cried.

This weekend my sister-in-law's best friend died. I think she was 32. She had Multiple-Sclerosis for a few years now. It was not a surprise. The writing was on the wall for the past week - it was a matter of when the phone call would come - not if. I had never even had the opportunity to meet her. My only memory of her was actually my wife's. She shared her memory of the day she said, "The doctors say there's wrong with me, but they don't know what."

If there's a Hall of Fame of being bad at dealing with death, I'm a unanimous, first ballot member. Anya from Buffy the Vampire Slayer may be Babe Ruth, but I'm Ted Williams. I'm always conflicted on what to say. There seem to be no words to help the situation. So what can you do? The common sense in me surfaces to say, "No one really wants everyone to be sad when they die." I would like there to be a decent-sized reasonably priced keg party if I die. That and I'd like at least one person somewhere to put a flag at half-mast. Maybe I'm being silly, but I see nothing productive about being sad.

My wife and I got to talking about dying young yesterday. My wife had lost her best friend at the age 22 or 23. She said something to the effect of, "At least Jack (name changed) lived a full life. He had lots of friends and always seemed to cram every minute of fun possible into it." In my infinitely bad wisdom, I came up with, "Did he really, though? He never got married, experienced fatherhood, or any of number other things that I'm sure that he'd be loving to do today." (See, no one can be as bad at dealing with death than me). I'm surprised she didn't break down and cry right there.

I quickly changed the subject to my father. I lost my father when I was 13 - he was 45. 45 seemed like a very long, long "full life". I realize now that it really isn't. He never got to see either of his son's graduate from college. He never got to see the Red Sox win a World Series or the Patriots win a Super Bowl.

I can't believe there's such a thing as living a full life when you die young. Cat Stevens is right, we are only dancing on this Earth for a Short While. Jen, I hope that great white bird gave you a smooth ride to heaven - it's no time for turbulence.

Last updated on June 14, 2008.

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11 Responses to “We Are Only Dancing on This Earth for a Short While”

  1. Jesse says:

    A good way to pay bills is saving money? In response to this article, man that @#$%ing pisses me off. I know its spam but under the guise of legit commenting ugh. Anyway sorry to hear about that lazy…Im probably up there on the scale with you except that I have a whole different way of dealing with it, the nice unhealthy denial method. When my Grandma died last summer (she had a large part in raising me when I was young because my mom had a really bad back and my dad had to work a lot I sort of went into denial mode…Im not sure Ive dealt with it yet. Same thing with other people I have known that died…it just sort of gets shut down. In any case, I love Cat Stevens too, his defection to Islam and subsequent not releasing any more music is just short of travesty. I tear up everytime I hear “The Wind”

  2. Mrs. Micah says:

    Your post reminded me…a week ago, I checked out the Nathan Lane recording of Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. I love the musical and was expecting a good time. Instead I ended up crying.

    I’d seen it done at college with a number of my friends acting. In July of 2006, a part of that group (not an actress though) was killed in a car accident. We were both getting married the next summer. Her fiance was an even better friend and I remember seeing his life crumble in front of him. I still can’t believe that she’s not ever coming back. But I don’t think about it much, which is a good start. And her fiance is recovering too, he’s acting again—which was a big step forward.

    I thought the same things you did…she never got the chance to be a wife, mother. And he never got the chance to be her husband.

    On a side note…I haven’t seen Anya deal with death yet. That should be interesting…but not cool.

  3. I’m only in my mid-20’s, but I’ve suffered a lot of losses — My dad when I was a kid, my younger nephew, my aunt this past year, three close friends including my roommate a year ago in March. Despite that, it never gets easier and you never know what to say.

    Whatever you say or do, be prepared for someone to take it the wrong way, but understand that it doesn’t mean that you’ve done anything wrong. Grief messes with people’s minds. People are angry, and it’s especially tough when there is not clear person to blame.

    The thing to keep in mind, though, is to be supportive of others’ grief. Let them grieve in their own way. Don’t be judgemental. The situation isn’t, “o.k.”, but it is o.k. to cry. It’s also o.k. not to cry.

    Share memories with friends and don’t be afraid to laugh, but do be sensitive to others.

    And while many people find comfort in their religious beliefs, be sensitive the the fact that some people may not share the same beliefs.

    And for the record, yeah, I hope people shed a few tears for me when my time comes.

  4. FFB says:

    First Wisdom Journal writes a real touching story now you’re doing it. I’m gonna short out my keyboard! So sorry to hear about your loss. There’s no good time to go. A person’s always too young. There’s always another experience to be had. When I was younger I had no thoughts on mortality. Now that I’m married with kids it’s something I think about. I want to see my kids and their kids grow up. Hopefully in the end they can say they had great times with me.

    For a guy who says he doesn’t handle death well you wrote a great eulogy.

  5. irina says:

    My husband who is my best friend is dying. We talk about death often. We hold hands. We arrange for signals he will be giving me from that *other world*. My husband who suffers Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), an incredibly cruel and extremely painful condition, has an amazing endurance and love for life.

    We, people who are relatively healthy, don’t know how fortunate we are. And *by relatively healthy* I mean, we can get up and get out in the morning, our life doesn’t depend on a certain medication. We complain about little set backs in our life and often forget about the big picture: we are alive and it is a mystery and miracle in itself.

    Many years ago my husband wrote a poem, One Way Street. It reads like this:

    A cigarette smoked is irredeemable
    A life burns out the same way
    Quickly, irrevocably and in one direction.

    When my husband wrote this, he was in his 20’s and he was perfectly healthy and carefree.

    It is so true. We all travel in one direction, some just faster than others. I try to keep the big picture in mind all the time, it keeps me from sweating the small stuff.

  6. Joseph Sangl says:

    There is nothing like being able to do what you are most passionate about. Every single day, I say to myself, “I can’t believe I get to do what I get to do for a living!”

    But it would SUCK to have it cut short!

  7. It really depend on how look at it. Nobody can say on behalf of the dead if they have lived a full life. How would you know they are not living a full life? Nobody knows.

  8. Mark Krusen says:

    I can’t even imagine the death of a mate. My wife and I have been together for only 23 years. Those years have brought into our lives all kinds of emotions as you can well imagine.This is the very reason I can’t listen to sad songs on the radio. The best I do is tear up the worst turns me into a blubbering idiot.(It doesn’t help that I’m Bi-Polar)I can’t imagine a life with out her. And when that thought is brought into my mind by a song. Get out the hanky’s. Not very masculine of me I quess,is it?

  9. Rook says:

    I do understand now why older people in the movies say, ‘save yourself, I’ve had a full life’. You are right, 45 is not a full life, but I approaching 40 and I think I’ve lived a much fuller life than someone who is 10 years old.

    I dealt with death by realizing that even though we lose people all the time, new people are coming along into the world. Kind of zen, I guess, because the most difficult part of losing someone is watching the world continue on without them.

  10. Rob says:

    Good post, LazyMan.
    Yes, it’s true. This is a short visit we get here.
    Death is a concept too complex to understand when you are a kid. But when your 2 grandfathers die when you are a kid (I was 9 and then 12) and none of the adults can explain what is happening (at least consistently), you are confronted with the cruel reality of life.
    Now, as an adult, you are still reminded every day. One of my best friends from high school died 5 months back. I never talked to her after we graduated, but her family still took the time to let my family know she was in an accident and died.
    Reality is we are blessed by whatever time we have on this earth, but the longer we stay the more attached we get. So work on your attachments, and you’d be happier.

  11. David says:

    Sorry to hear that Lazy Man…I feel for you too, as I lost my dad when he was 46. He seemed so old – until I got to be my age and now 46 doesn’t seem that far away OR old.

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