I recently returned from back East, where I attended a funeral of a man I have known a long time.
Funerals always cause me deep reflection. When I was a kid people 60 years old were considered old and they looked old. They walked with canes or sat in wheelchairs. I didn’t know anyone who was 70 years old or older.
Last year I turned 70 and it hit me that I had outlived every old man I knew as a child. This led me to thinking how lucky I am and I started accepting each and every day as a bonus day, one extra day in a life that could have, by my past experience, already ended.
When I learned a guy I grew up with passed away, even though I hadn’t seen him since high school, it hit me harder than expected. He is gone. It can happen quickly. As we age we ail.
Don’t get me wrong, I feel great. I eat right and exercise regularly but you never know. My father was in great shape when he was killed in an automobile accident.
Treating each day as a bonus day is a nice approach. I stop and think, I could easily have not had this day but since I do I need to appreciate it.
This approach hasn’t really changed me much. There are still some days when I just wake up and I groan; the chores ahead, the challenges and struggles that we all deal with on a continuous basis are sometimes just not conducive to getting out of bed with enthusiasm.
I’ve always been like this. Some days I wake up in a good mood, other days I don’t. I have never been able to hit on a direct cause and effect, it just happens.
But now even on those not-so-good days I have still been able to stop myself and say, “Hey, this is a bonus day. Don’t complain too much. There are those I have known who don’t have this day.”
Once I stop and make that conscious effort to realize how lucky I am, I feel a bit better. I feel, regardless of what the day brings, at least I am still here to experience it.
A good friend was a hospice worker and she told me she had seen people approach death in two distinct ways. One is to go kicking and screaming, resent dying and fight it every way possible. The other is to accept the inevitable. She said that the latter definitely had a better, more peaceful ending.
Talking about the negative effects of the aging process with my eye doctor, he said, “Well, it’s better than the alternative.”
By this he meant that old age is better than dying. To which I responded, “Well, we don’t know that for sure.”
He was taken aback, thought about it, then said, “I guess you’re right.”
We don’t know that continuing this life is better than what comes next. We may die and find out there is a heaven and we all go to it and that it is more wonderful than we can even imagine. Or, there may be nothing. We don’t know.
For me, I’m in no hurry to find out. For good or bad I am still here and I’ll accept that. I have always lived in the present. That won’t change now.
What has changed is that, for me, every day feels like a bonus day and I will keep taking them and appreciating them as long as they last.
Gabriel A. Fraire has been a writer more than 45 years. He can be reached at gabrielfraire.com.