Sunday, January 3, 2010

My Midlife Existential Revelation

In the early morning hours of December 30th, I lay in my mother's guest room listening to the deep breathing of my daughter sleeping in the single bed next to mine when it hit me in a searing flash of insight. I was going to die.

"I'm going to die!" I stifled a moan and wrapped my arms tightly around myself. Someday my body - which I'd been taking completely for granted - was going to give out, break down, shrivel up, and when it did I'd be dead.

I'd be gone forever.

After this horrifying realization, sleep was impossible. Later that morning, gripping a cup of coffee, I shared my profound discovery with my mom. She didn't seem all that impressed.

"We're all going to die, dear," she said, turning a page of the newspaper.

"I know that - of course I know everybody dies," I said impatiently, "But I don't mean everybody. I mean me! ME! I'm going to die, Mom. It's awful."

"Yes it is." agreed Mom, "Think of how I feel."

I looked at her. "Why? Do you think about it - about dying?"

"I think about death all the time," she said, matter-of-factly.


Until now, I'd never given a single thought to my own mortality and here my mom had been dealing with hers on a regular basis. And my mom is a healthy, vibrant woman. For that matter, so am I. But...

"Dying really sucks," I muttered bitterly.

A few days have passed and I'm still digesting the fact that I'm gonna die. It's changing my perspective. I don't think life is meaningless, but the fact that I'm going to die no matter what I do makes some things less important. Like dieting. I mean, since I'm going to be dead, shouldn't I enjoy McDonald's french fries while I still can? On the other hand, maybe it's time to take care of myself - get all holistic and healthy - to postpone that appointment with the grim reaper as long as possible.

And there are much bigger issues to rethink - like my relationships, my life's purpose, and how to dispose of 30 years of really embarrassing diaries. My inevitable death is confusing and upsetting. I'm not sure if I'm having a midlife crisis, an existential crisis or a divine revelation!

I know I'm not alone. Many of you, like my mother and my husband, apparently, have already come to grips with the fact that you (and by this I mean YOU, not everyone in general) are going to expire. I'm curious - when did you first gain this knowledge? Does it make you live more cautiously or with more abandon? Do you eat bacon?

There's actually a book about this subject called What's Your Expiry Date - Embrace your mortality, Live with vitality, written by Patrick Mathieu, a guy with serious heart problems who has been interviewed on Oprah & Friends by Dr. Oz. Mathieu says by accepting your mortality you can live a fearless, focused, regret-free life.

Sounds good to me, although I haven't actually read the book and probably won't get around to it. After all, life's just too damn short.


Carol Moss said...

Great thoughts, as always, Marjie. While I'm happy to talk for hours on the topic of death -- and living -- and spirituality, one of the best philosophies is contained in a song called, "Temporary" by John Bucchino. He posits that everything, the good times and the bad and especially, us, are temporary and that the key is to hold tightly to what you love so that when you have to let go, it won't hurt so bad. Here's a link: Happy New Year! Carol

Marjie Killeen said...

Carol - beautiful song, thanks so much for posting the link. It's sad to think that everything is temporary though. I'm going to think about that one some more! Happy New Year to you!


Patrick Mathieu said...

Hi Marjie:

Good for you for facing your mortality and for encouraging your readers to think about this as well! I know that embracing my own mortality has changed EVERYTHING about how I live my life... all for the better!

By the way... if you don't think you'll have time to read my book :-) you can always start by taking the Mortality Manifesto Pledge at

Keep up the great work!


-Patrick Mathieu

Marjie Killeen said...

Patrick, I'm so excited you read and commented on this piece! I'm going to have to read your book after all. Everyone, please check out Patrick's Mortality Manifesto Pledge.

Carol Moss said...

Well, I suppose some things aren't totally temporary, like love and creativity. That's why you MUST keep writing.

Dan said...


I just read your post on your existential revelation. I just turned 42 and I am having the same fear/panic swap me in the face! Do these fears abate, or does this require pharmaceutical intervention?

Marjie Killeen said...

Dan, I'd say the dismay/realization comes in waves. I can slip back into blissful ignorance for long periods of time, and then wham! I'm reminded of the frailty and impermanence of my existence. I just attended two funerals last week - hard not to be aware of your mortality in those situations. But realizing that life is short has an upside. It makes me determined to enjoy and express myself today! I hope you find the same silver lining in time. Wine helps too. Happy Valentines Day and thanks for reading. XO

Dan said...

Thank you Marjie. In times of trouble, I will look to Mother Mary...and Merlot :)