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Momento Mori

My news feed on FB reads like a rally against Death itself. So many celebrities have died this year, and many during the end of 2016, which just seems to focus the attention on this aspect of life. Is it more than usual? Is this year an aberration?

The thing is, we have more actors in the field due to the baby boom, and simply a broadening of what is considered a celebrity. That means we may be in the uptick of deaths as this trends mirrors the baby boom era. Makes sense. Read More here.

So, what can we do about this?

Short answer: nothing.

But, we can learn from it. We can take from this an understanding of death, and from that: life.

First, we must remember, we are mortal, we all die, and we have zip to say about it, let alone any real measure of control. Okay, while that is not so positive, we need to hold a space for a lesson, a takeaway.

Secondly, we can take from this that our lives, being finite, take direction from us. Are we living the life we desire? We don’t need to ask if we are at ‘the place’ in our life we may have imagined, because that can get us comparing material or status, but we can ask if we are happy, if we are satisfied with challenges, and if we have a passion in life. These are needs, so we feel that we matter in our heart, our community, and ultimately our world.

Some people may feel that a satisfied life is one of comfort, but I feel we find our true strength, our true gifts, in the challenges we overcome. It’s easy to say “We only get the challenges we can overcome” because if we don’t we die. So if you feel that the challenges in your life are not life threatening, good, go for it! You can handle it!

The Latin phrase Momento Mori means ‘Remember we are mortal‘. It is not meant to focus our thoughts on death, something that one can easily do when we are consistently faced with the obituaries of celebrities, but to remind us to live. The complementary Latin phrase Momento Vivere means ‘Remember to live’, and I believe is the path we can focus on when we are faced with mortality in any form around us. Here are five of my thoughts on how we might want to look at mortality when we face it:

  1. We can be grateful for knowing that person, whether a family member or actor, writer, or notable;
  2. We can remember our experiences with them, or what they did to expand our minds. Perhaps they taught us something, or showed us another perspective in life. These times are ones that shape our life;
  3. We can move forward, and take on their light or cause, or passion to fulfill a dream they had that we feel connected to. This expands the timeline of passion to multiple generations so a dream never dies;
  4. We can be a better person. When someone we admire dies, we can review their impact on our life and other people, and try to emulate that in our daily life. It can be a reminder to do better, to strive harder, to become one step closer to what that person emulated for us that we want for ourself; and
  5. We can forgive. Forgiveness has nothing to do with the other person, and is in fact a personal decision, but the death of someone that is linked to a personal issue or negative memory can spark a desire to forgive those in our lives that we may be spending too much brain power on. Forgiveness frees us, and the dialogue of mortality can spur this movement to freedom.

If we don’t push to find our passion to live the life we truly desire we may miss out on what life can offer us. I am so taken with the thought of living your life, and recalling that we are mortal, that I am going to tattoo it on my arms: one Latin phrase for each arm. I already have four rules for living tattooed there to help me remember how I wish to live, based on The Four Agreements, explained by Don Miguel Ruiz about the Toltec’s way of living and I think this will be another great reminder.

If we don’t remember we are mortal, if we don’t live our life, we could squander our most monumental gift. I sincerely hope that you are able to realize your life’s passions, your deepest most heartfelt desire as soon as you possibly can in your life, and one way of doing that is by helping others achieve theirs.



Time Well Spent

I am, if my life lasts until extreme old age, at my mid life. Many people around this time in their life experience parental loss. It’s a difficult stage of life to process at times and I want to share my experience of being in the midst of this circumstance, and what I learned about my own exploration with it.

I am writing this as a cathartic coping mechanism in part, as I know I am feeling emotions related to this specific circumstance, so bear with me. However, I have something important to share with you that you may find helpful. Let me first give you some background so you can understand why I came about with this lesson in my life’s journey.

In brief, my stepdad passed away in 1997 at age 54 and my biological father, whom I never really had a genuine relationship with, is now  seriously ill. Luckily, I still have a healthy mom. I have mixed emotions of gratitude for the parents that are healthy and alive, but I am still awash with reactive worry for my father, who struggles to stay balanced with his medications and medical issues. Sometimes I feel like I’m a roller coaster of emotions as the drama of issues press erratically at the precariously balanced health of my father.

I know that I need to stay present, and spend my most precious resource, time, with the people I love. I know that they will pass on, some sooner than others. That’s life and a very logical progression of every single entity on Earth. I also know how emotionally fragile it can leave you, as it did when my stepdad passed. For all intents, he was simply my dad, and I grew up with him for the vast majority of my life. It was devastating, heartbreaking, and his passing upset the family balance heavily.

So here I am recalling those memories while hearing words of discomfort from my living dad, while I remain very close with my mom. These really are three completely different types of relationships with a parent: one dead, one sick, and one healthy. In a time when many people have step families, I believe this could be fairly typical, but that fact bares little comfort for those of us in similar circumstances.

As part of my volunteer counsellor training, I am trying to sit with these emotional states more often, noticing them, and exploring them. I find writing highly productive in exploring and analyzing the feelings, as there has been more than one occasion where insights have come as a result of writing.

Part of the outlet is that writing is relatively slow. It helps to pour the emotions out slowly, which assists in analysis, and I can think them through as they well up. Usually I am feeling a sensation that tells me I am ready to write, which means there is a pressure to get an emotion out. It’s hard to explain, but all of a sudden I am ready to sit down and start the process.

I recall in my younger years, I would not have this kind of pressure release mechanism, and like any pipe system that doesn’t have it, I would explode in a mess of emotion, not necessarily of anger, but also frustration; often at the wellspring of emotions that sprang forth unannounced and unwanted. Monitoring and writing out how I feel, is a much smoother, ‘at the time’, attention to self.

I have to remember that time spent with family and loved ones is the best medicine for feeling disconnected or worried about the future, or several other reactive emotions that our brains have a tendency for. It will provide memories that we can draw on in the event of their passing, and it will minimize regret of not being there.

Time, although a man made concept of reality, is the single most powerful currency we all have to give. I plan to give much of my time to my remaining family, all of them, as often as I can, because it’s value increases as we get older and more mature. Simple economics really, it become scarcer, and therefore as our finite supply diminishes, the value we give it increases; sometimes dramatically.

I will share with you the change in attitude that came over me in a  short time frame considering my life long, poor relationship with my biological father. I had resentment and unresolved feelings for him that waxed and waned year after year. But when he became ill, and I had time to spend with him over this past summer, I started to get to know a person I never really knew. The stories I plied my brain with were after all, simple conjectures and here-say that I had created from fragments of thoughts and feelings that bore little resemblance to the real living man himself.

I sat by his side while he shared story, after story, after story, about his life. His naval history, his time in Egypt, his recent love experiences, times in his old house, and many others. He is a good story teller, and I wanted to soak up information from him because my real experience of him was like the hard, cracked soil of the desert, in want of moisture. In listening to him, that hardened part of me started to  soften, and I began putting pieces of his experiences together, from boyhood through mid and late stages of his life.

The puzzle that was my father was being filled in, where I merely only had the outer border before. In time, week after week, as we spent many hours side by side in storytelling mode, me listening and him sharing, my disposition changed. And like the desert plains after enough rain, flowers started blooming.

Time changed my relationship with him. I enjoy calling him now and  visiting. I miss him if I haven’t seen him in a couple weeks, and I look forward to the next time we speak. I also feel that in genuine feeling in return, something that is new to our relationship.

I may have not been able to do this year ago. I may have been too self-centred, too stubborn, too unconscious to realize my part in the failing of our relationship. Being open to explore, and simply listening to his life unfold was the greatest gift my dad has ever given me, and it all happened because I started with the gift of time.

I am grateful that it wasn’t too late to get to know him. I am grateful that he didn’t die in the hospital just months ago. I am grateful that the universe allowed time for me to spend time with him and I am able to start having a real relationship with him, all these years later. What happens now is what matters most, and I think I am extremely lucky to know my dad right now.

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