Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


About death

Every morning when I wake up, I remind myself, “I’m going to be dead soon.”

You might be surprised how inspirational that is. Rather than depress me, it jars me into making the most of every day.

 “Making the most” can be advancing my business career, or my writing career, or reading, or handling a bunch of niggling tasks so they can be out of mind, or spending time with friends or loved ones, or even just playing “Skyrim” for an hour on the PS4. But whatever it is, I do my best to make sure it was what I felt I should be doing.

Because I’m going to be dead soon.

Over the years I’ve been accumulating dead friends. A couple of them killed themselves, some of them were much older than I was, some of them misused drugs or alcohol or both, and some died relatively young of terrible diseases or accidents. Someone I went to high school with died on his motorcycle shortly after graduation when a car hit him on a back road. A very close friend died seven years ago last month; tomorrow, he would have been 66. I still miss that guy every day.  Another friend I started my theatre with died of ovarian cancer probably… 10 years ago? 15? I’m not sure because I can’t find her obit on the internet any more. That alone should tell you how fleeting life is. 

I’ve also got dead relatives. My father died 30 years ago. (Still miss him.) My grandmother died when I was 8. Every single one of my many aunts and uncles are dead, and some of my cousins, too, including my cousin Suzie, who was a dwarf and who was my favorite when I was a boy. My mother is 96, strongly aiming for 97 in September, but in a reasonable amount of time she’ll be dead too. And so will I, and you, and everyone else, too.

So it’s best to appreciate people while they’re here, and to enjoy every day possible.

I think often about death because I also ask people what they think happens after we die. When I asked my father in 1992, shortly before he died from cancer, he instructed me about ancient history. “When Pharaoh wanted a pyramid built, he invented Ra the Sun God so those guys would build it for him.” Solid practical insight from an atheist. My friend who would have been 66 tomorrow believed that variations of himself would live on in the multiverse. Meanwhile, ironically, my practicing-Catholic dating partner doesn’t believe in an afterlife, while my non-practicing Lutheran self does. 

I’m generally healthy, generally well-situated, and generally filled with joy. I don’t know why. I certainly have known plenty of depressed or depressive people; I’ve just rarely been one of them. When my wife of many years left me last year, I was sad for a bit, but it didn’t last. I wish her well, we’re parting amicably, and I’m very happy with a woman I’ve been dating seriously for five months now. (In fact, my soon-to-be ex-wife said to me recently, “I’m glad you’re dating. I want you to be happy.”) Life goes on (until it doesn’t). You just have to remember to do your best to treat people as well as you can. It’s true what they say:  You get back what you put out. So if you put out positive things, you’re generally more likely to get positive things.

I don’t know that I always knew this, but I know it now.

Via Twitter, I know a writer dealing with perhaps the worst affliction to get:  amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, aka ALS, aka “Lou Gehrig’s disease.” It’s hard to imagine anything worse than gradually losing complete control of your own body and getting locked into it — unless you’re lucky enough either to die first or to take action on your directive and get a friendly attendant to end your life for you. Every choice associated with ALS seems horrible. And yet:  This writer has said that now she values every moment, has a new book coming out, is traveling, and is starting another book. Good for her.

And, no. There’s nothing wrong with me, yet. I plan to be here as long as I can — even though I have little literal control over that. The most you can do is increase your odds:  eat right, exercise, and don’t be an idiot on the freeway or the slopes. And so that’s what I’m focused on:  increasing my odds, and putting every day to best use.

Because while death may be around the corner, in the meantime there’s life.

6 Responses to “About death”

  1. Joe Stafford Says:

    Dear Lee: I’m saving your blog post. I printed it immediately, I need/want it nearby in case the power goes out. Much like the words of Lincoln, I’ve got poor power to add or detract. As someone with a lifetime of exposure to death and dying, your soul bearing experiences written here are just dynamite. I even still have a copy of ‘Final Rest’ with you reading. A different take, maybe, but I liked that too. However, fast forwarding, this one hits it out of the park, and reminds everyone how worth living life is. It’s never a mistake to revisit one’s own mortality, I did that last week for almost goofy trivial minor surgery as the catalyst. I even appointed a very powerful medical attorney (my sister in law, a retired NICU nurse) to make sure I wouldn’t be kept alive like Sunny von Bülow. My puny self got full up with the mistaken idea of thinking I’m in control, when really it’s all we can do to just go to bed, and then wake up in the morning and remind ourselves that we’ll be dead soon. Headed to bed now, but when I wake up I’ll be re-reading this blog post. Please, by all means, continue to do whatever it is that you do. Now this, yours very truly, Joe Stafford

  2. Dan Says:

    That resonated.

  3. Kelly Carruolo Says:

    WOW. I am in recovery…and I am experiencing life anew. And I never thought I’d say I’m a grateful recovering alcoholic but so it is. I lost my Mother just before you lost your Dad and I don’t blame those early losses and traumas, on my alcoholism. I was born restless, irritable and discontent. But death. Death was the subject. People are dying. Young people, Old People Middle aged people…because they just can’t find something that makes them content. For me it was finding a spiritual change that got me out of myself. I am not so self absorbed and I have found a way to give something of myself to others without it being about me anymore. I am not afraid to die anymore and I am no longer slowly killing myself. I am finally free. I am living and its pretty amazing. I thing the principles we learn in AA are Universal…they make life less scary. I loved reading your Blog today…and I love you. That WOW was for you!

  4. Richard Roesberg Says:

    I’ve had viewings for three family members at the Wimberg Funeral Home on Rt. 9. I drive past it on my way to the supermarket and several other businesses, so I’m reminded of those loses every week. As I tell others when they lose someone, ‘Cherish your memories’.

  5. Bruce Says:

    We’ve had unending death for past 10
    Years. Hard not to think about it. Good post.

  6. Joe Stafford Says:

    So today I’m driving around and ‘Final Rest’ comes on my iTunes playlist. I just love that.

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