My encounters with death were few and unremarkable. Up until a couple of years ago, the only close losses I experienced were of loved grandparents whose death, while devastating, was still considered part of the circle of life. I thus maintained an aloof attitude towards non-existence, purposely avoiding settings that would trigger what Irvin Yalom described in his book Staring at the Sun as the fear of death; the root of much of contemporary anxiety.
This aloofness abruptly ended a couple of years ago when I experienced, within a few short months, two potentially life-altering and life-ending events, which landed me twice at the Accidents and Emergencies department of the Nicosia General Hospital. The first was a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) that escalated into a life-threatening pulmonary embolism, which required hospitalization, months of exhausting back-and-forth with doctors and tens of blood samples. The second was a cycling accident where a car hit me from behind landing my head inches from its big wheel. While I got off fairly unscathed with only a slipped disc, I was still taken to the hospital with substantial pain and held immobile for hours until a multitude of scans was completed.
These two events ended my delusion of immortality, which—surprised to realize—I carried from early adolescence well into adulthood. It suddenly became obvious to me that with my medical history and lifestyle options of trail running and road cycling, there is a calculated risk of dying and leaving two young kids behind. This realization of my mortality, or, simply put, this newly experienced fear of death, was novel for me. I tried to rationalize the whole thing as a PTSD from the survival of the blood clot. I’m not sure how successful or even useful that was; the online forums certainly didn’t help.
I was at a crossroads, confronted with two options: either resume my life as previously lived or substantially alter my lifestyle to minimize the likelihood of early death. While contemplating these two options, the same thought circled in my head, with my usual obsessive manner. The thought went like this: “the safest place to be is locked in a basement”. I wouldn’t have it. I thus veered towards the first option and gradually resumed my usual extracurricular activities. Nevertheless, I had to still come to terms with the fact that I was somewhat more afraid than before and that my body was substantially less capable. I also took a few precautionary measures to mitigate the risks, notably I am on a lifelong regiment of blood thinners to avoid future blood clots and decided not to venture on solo bike rides. All in all, within a few months, life resumed as previously, and I take great pride in the fact that I battled through and regained my lost confidence and physical abilities, limited as they may be.
The thought of death resurfaced these past couple of months, prompting me to consider how these two traumatic experiences affected my relationship with myself and the kids. These thoughts came while I was running trails at the top of Troodos Mountain and triggered by two recent events. The first is the premature death of my dear aunt who was one of the most loving persons I have ever met and a central pillar of our family. The second, is my father’s stay at the hospital with a suspected heart attack and a simultaneous covid diagnosis (the heart attack was a false alarm and the covid symptoms were mild, 100% recovered).
While running the trail, I realized that I had spent very little time absorbing the picturesque scenery as I was mostly looking at my feet trying to avoid falling and landing head-first on one of the many sharp rocks protruding from the ground. It was then that I thought of the kids and how cynical I became with the prospect of my demise, having accepted the risk of falling and dying. This is not a carpe diem story. In fact, I think that living each day as if it is your last, is a nihilistic recipe for depression; raising kids and being productive at work is not all fun and play, and leading a life of no responsibility will, in the long run, and assuming each today will not be the last, generate misery and anxiety.
While I don’t live each day as if it is the last one, I am much wearier of what I say and do, realizing that it might be the last interaction I will ever have with people, the kids and Sunshine. I purposely try to create positive memories with the kids. This also extends to the way I interact in their presence, which is not easy, as it requires patience and restraint, especially when it comes to disciplining them or dealing with interspousal disagreements in their presence.
My health scares did not make me fear death. I just processed its inevitability. I also realized that unexceptional persons—those without generation-defining impact—such as most of us, will be remembered solely based on our daily conduct. Our legacy of being good people or good parents will be the sum of our daily interactions, and thus requires continuous effort and vigilance to, simply put, not be arseholes. I’ll leave you with this profanity, as I don’t have any useful insights on the matter; getting older is far from ideal.
This is part of a series of entries titled Fatherhood Diaries where I record thoughts on life as a new dad. Click here for all the Fatherhood Diaries.