Finding Grace in Facing Mortality

As an author and speaker on the topic of death, loss and living fully, I am often asked what led me to write about such a heavy topic. Fortunately, for me the topic is not filled with fear and pain. Studying and reflecting on death has allowed me to experience life in a rich and meaningful way.

Being prepared for death and living in a state of awareness about life's temporary nature can be a conscious effort on your part, as it is in mine, but for many of us it will be fostered and enhanced by a personal experience with mortality. Being prepared for death and loss means being prepared for not only the loss of those we love, but for our own deaths as well. When I was younger I had a rather serious illness. I was weak, tired, and bleeding nearly continuously, a problem I had never experienced. Though I became very pale, my first instinct was not to go to a doctor, it was to go to the Lancome counter.

You know how it is when you are busy with kids, marriage, and work, if we can just make our face look all right, it will be okay. It didn't even occur to me that something was really wrong. Upon seeing my internist, we learned that not only was I anemic, but my white cell count was way below normal. She said I would have to see a hematologist as well as a gynecologist for the bleeding, because the white cell thing wasn't usual with excessive bleeding. Having worked in medical offices for years, I am not shy about medical matters and am curious about what tests mean, so asked her what it could be. The doctor hung her head and said, "Oh, I knew you would ask that, leukemia or aplastic anemia.

" It was a turning point. Medical terminology that heralds the most dire consequences was being used about me. All I could think of was that my kids needed to be alright with this, that I would see them through whatever this was. Though we were still in the finding out stage, these kinds of words change your life. No matter the outcome, when you have had to sit through weeks of appointments at the Cancer Center , when you have had a bone marrow test and surgery, you come out the other side a different person. Long story short, I am fine.

I spent six months being medicalized, poked, prodded, ultrasounded, and operated on and now I am as fine as anyone ever is, but I am different. I have never again thought that it can't happen to me. Once you accept fully into your being that you can die, that you will die, that you might be dying right now, you never go back. This is not a bad thing. In fact, losing my sense of "it can't happen to me" is the best thing that ever happened to me. I thought I had embraced life before, but it is nothing like after.

The passage through this ordeal stirred deeply in me the belief that it is moments that count, that every choice matters, and that every day is sublime. One of my most treasured friendships is with a spectacular woman, Marcie. She is a dynamic, brilliant, energetic, person, full of ideas and action. Never have I known someone with the fire and energy this woman possesses.

Marcie also happens to be a wheelchair user. At the age of six Marcie developed spinal myelitis. A hastily performed surgery at the hands of inadequate surgeons left her paralyzed from the waist down. Just three short years later her father, consumed by anger and anxiety over her fate, succumbed to pancreatic cancer, leaving Marcie and mother near destitute. To say Marcie's young life was hard would be a gross understatement.

Despite all of this, I have never heard one word of bitterness from Marcie, she is one of the most joyful, loving, and spirited people I know. Our friendship was immediate and enduring, one born of similarities and a passion for life. During a hospitalization for surgery related to her condition, Marcie called me at home one day. She had developed a pulmonary embolism, and she had only a fifty percent chance of surviving it. Marcie said she needed to stay very still in bed for a week, she could die at anytime and she wanted me to know she loved me. Marcie was very calm and matter of fact, as was I.

We had discussed life's transitory nature often. I told Marcie simply that I loved her as well and that I would hold her close in my heart always. What else can you say? I could do nothing but wait and love her. Facing one's own mortality is one thing, but being asked to face the mortality of one you love deeply is another. You certainly don't have to like it, and you won't, but you can be prepared. One of the ways in which I have been able to face losses or potential losses is by living in the moment and only the moment as much as possible.

Stay only in the moment you are in and do not get caught in the trap of fear that leads you to grieve before it is time to grieve. While I feared greatly what might happen to Marcie, I took each moment one at a time. I did not panic or grieve too soon. I sent out positive thoughts.

I spoke with her openly about what was happening and I told her I loved her. What else can you really do? There is a reward to be found in being honest with yourself about life and its transitory nature. In embracing the reality of mortality, you learn to face each decision as significant, because they are. Everything we do, every response we give, every word we speak - is a choice.

We have to understand fully that we are not in control, death and illness always make that clear. However, we do make choices and those choices impact the quality of our lives and relationships. Using death and loss as a lens through which to view life's other challenges helps put all matters into perspective.

Life's greatest challenges are not so great compared to death. This does not mean we won't get frustrated and anxious at times, of course we will, but we can try to let these emotions pass rather than cling to them as if they will hold us up. These emotions do not hold you up - they drag you down. Love is what holds you up.

We must love as fully as we are capable of on any given day. Bad things will happen to us, we can't change that, but we can choose how we will respond. What we can do is live fully and with love, speak carefully and with intention, choose wisely and with forethought, the rest will happen as life does.

Jana Baldridge Vargas is the author of "The Promise of Death, The Passion of Life: A Reflective Exploration of Death, Loss, and Living Fully." Learn more about Jana and her work at


How to Structure Your Marriage - Equality is the WRONG basis for marriage.

Exploring Inner Dialogue as it Relates to Self Esteem Issues in Women - Exploration into the concept of Inner Dialogue as it Relates to Self Esteem Issues in Women.

Revealing The Beauty Within - This article will challenge you to look at the beauty you may be hiding within you, and encourage you to truly discover it and maybe even begin to let it shine into your life.

Discover Training Motivation - The most obvious form of motivation is coercion, where the avoidance of pain or other negative consequences has an immediate effect.

Steps To Creating A Life You Love - Follow these 5 simple steps to create a life you love.