Choosing life – observations and takeaways from funeral services

Recently there were two deaths in client families: one lost his mom, the other lost his sister. I attended both services this week. How very different the contrasts in families and how life is celebrated and death is mourned.

First the sister, it was a life needlessly cut short. Her services were religious and somber, and while no one openly spoke about it, I have to believe her obesity had a hand in her death. For such a young woman (late 30s), a heart attack and then a stroke are not particularly normal circumstances or a natural cause of death. The very vague “she has health problems” explanation was essentially politically correct speak for preventable death. In my experience, when a person dies of cancer or waiting for replacement organ or genetic conditions, people are open that it was cancer or liver/heart/kidney disease/failure or something else for which there is only treatment, no cure. It saddens me, because it did not need to happen. And it’s difficult for me to equalize my sadness with my discomfort of my anger that what has happened happened. It hits far too close to home for me and my attitudes to be okay with passing my own sense of harsh judgment on this poor woman, even if it is 99% in my own mind. I have a pretty expressive face; I’m sure my thoughts were written plainly if anyone bothered to look closely.

The reception afterward was full of wonderful comfort foods and an entire table of homemade sugary goodness. I had a glass of water and escaped as quickly as I possibly could. That was Monday. I was back at work with them Wednesday and Thursday for a few hours each day, and their break room sweets are back in action. Ugh. The mom’s need to continue comfort herself by non-stop baking continues. I understand the poor woman’s grief – I am a mother who had to bury a child who died unexpectedly and way too young – but I foresee more preventable tragedy and health conditions in their future.

I find the whole experience disturbing, and I have reaffirmed my commitment that such a demise is not going to happen to me. Which chronologically impossible, as I  am already 20 years older than this young woman at her death, I still feel like I am too young to die of preventable causes right now at 56. If I have to do massive overdoses of sets of sit-ups, planks, push-ups, walking lunges, Bulgarian split squats, dead tread pushes – essentially everything in my nemesis stable that I  have dislike-but-good-for-me relationship with – to remind myself what fitness costs and how sugar derails my efforts, that is what I am prepared to do. The dissonance in my own world from this event and the ongoing sugary fat foods being presented and softly pushed my way is at this moment far too much for me. My mind is so overwhelmed by the disconnect that I will fulfill my contracted commitments for this year (hopefully only another week) and then notify them by mail at the end of the year that they should plan on hiring another consultant next year.

If I am going to have my negative judgment gene engaged continuously, I am going to do my best to voluntarily separate myself from circumstances where I have no hope of influencing changes in behaviors.

Contrast that with Tuesday’s almost 3-ring circus memorial for another client’s hard-partying mother – it was stark. First, no religious ceremony or overtones. The celebration of her life included good food, better booze, music, laughter, funny and sad stories, and people being themselves and acting naturally. There was a buffet meal-like food line with a many healthier options. There was a pretty amazing caesar salad and skinless, boneless teriyaki that was quite good. While In life the departed was a foodie as well as other vices like alcohol, recreational drugs, lots of sexual partners and treatments for the associated afflictions that can come from unprotected sex before the onset of AIDS, her son is a pretty upstanding citizen with many positive lifestyle habits.

Despite her being a terrible, terrible mother (a standard by which I unabashedly judge other parents as indicators of them as people), I liked her almost in spite of myself. She happily signed over custody and care of her only child after cheating on and being divorced by his father, and only stayed in touch with him as an adult because of what he was willing to do for her. She was uniquely self-possessed and owned her many shortcomings while somehow charmingly explaining them away as character defects. In the years we were acquainted I do not believe I ever saw her completely sober, and she angered, frustrated, aggravated me on numerous occasions in my own right in addition to my anger, frustration, and aggravation from her behaviors and attitudes toward her son.

Still, at the end of it all, I can almost admire the way she lived her life on her own reckless, destructive, hurtful ways. Her son – my client as well as my friend – is well-respected and powerful in his own rights. He chose to accept care and responsibility for her as part of his lot in life, and he did so in ways that were compassionate, yet at arms length and very expensive. He told me once caring for her was less about his mother as much as about his own self-respect and the type of man he is and aspires to be, which is someone who does what he can to protect his family, even if it is mostly from themselves. I still do not agree with him on that completely, but as people we are all different about what is minimum standard requirements for being a good and decent human being. At the end of her life, he had no reason for regret or guilt. He did not exactly love her, but she was his mom, and his respect for that biological role in his life caused him to protect himself in the ways he chose while she lived.

The services were very nice, with so many of her friends present who were quite charming characters in their own right. The remembrances were touching, many quite funny, too many heartbreakingly sad due to her own choices and personality disorder. I choose to think of the flawed woman in the best light possible. I know there is evil in this world; I have been exposed to and experienced it firsthand. She was not evil as I define it, but she was self-centered, selfish, and horrible in ways that absolutely disgust me. I won’t really miss her. I won’t miss our interactions. But I won’t say I’m glad she’s gone either. I mostly wish for peace of mind for those closest to her throughout her life.

We met again today, one of our regular face-to-face meetings at his home. His obvious relief at not having to think about or worry about what his mom is doing, what havoc she is wreaking or tantrums she may be throwing looks good on him. And I don’t judge him at all for feeling that way. In life he went above and beyond for her, far more than I would have ever been capable of emotionally or financially with my own parents. He has earned the right to be happy that burden has been lifted.

I identify with the people in both events, because it seems the circumstances of the deaths have touched my own life in real ways. My life and lifestyle choices through the years have not always worked out in the ways I intended, and in painful times I have lashed out and been destructive. Whether I was lucky, smart, just due a better break, or some combination of all the forces of positivity in the world, I survived and came out okay.

But life is changing. Mostly good and great changes.

For most of my life I have bent over backwards not to be judgmental about the choices other people make. It is an impossible standard I have pursued, though, and I know the closer I get to balance and ongoing overall better health, the harder it is to watch in silence while others around me continue to make less desirable choices. I am not one to offer unsolicited advice or opinions, but I am always honest about topics under discussion. I believe exercising my own value systems and evolving positive lifestyle mindset may extend the limits of interactions with others in my social circle. Those who are not so restrained in expressing their (usually negative) opinions are being squeezed out by others who share my enthusiasm for different and more positive and uplifting aging experiences.

I am choosing life. Our individual choices are going to be different, and I completely understand that. But I vastly prefer being around people who are making positive choices and staying active in the journey to graceful aging. It did not take a week of back-to-back funeral services to get me to that realization, but it is helpful to reaffirm that I am making much better lifestyle choices these days.