I don’t want to die alone.
There was a show on TV called Parenthood. Have you seen it? I adore this show. It’s probably just behind LOST in my list of all-time favorite shows. Mostly because the writing was real – funny, touching, painful, and beautiful. The family was messy and complicated. But there was a frequent tradition featured in which the family would come together in the backyard of the parent’s Berkeley, California backyard (see above & below). All you have to do is Google “Parenthood table” (or something similar) for dozens of photos of this backyard scene. The dinners were chaos and love and hard things. And every single time, I thought to myself – it’s this. This is what matters to me. This is what I want (minus fake TV drama).
I want to grow into old age with my kids (or “step” kids or “adopted” kids or whatever) and their spouses and their kids all around me. When my grandparents passed away – I was there – with all four of them – hugging them, saying my goodbyes, or holding their hands long into the night. What a gift this is, to be with the people who helped form you into the person you are, as they leave this world.
I’ve always dreamed of a big family and all that comes with it – loud, a little unruly, and full of joy and laughter (arguing and craziness and all the other stuff too). My own family is small. My parents are divorced. I’m not very close to my brother, but wish that I was. I am not very close to my dad, either. But I love them both dearly. Today, my dad was rushed to the hospital due to a stroke. If my brother had not gotten to him as quickly as he did, things might have been much worse. I suppose that deepens this unsettled feeling in my soul, as I grapple with what comes next. As I age and consider what family means to me, this dream, this hope – seems more and more at the forefront of my heart.
If you’d asked me twenty years ago what I thought life would look like right now, it certainly wouldn’t be the life I’m living. I’ve made the most of the life I do live. Don’t get me confused with someone that didn’t live fully though life looks different than expected. I’ve done things I have wanted to and tried things I’ve wanted to. I certainly learned how to make the most of the little joys in life. But this life, as it is right now, isn’t the life I want. No matter how long and how much I pray, I come away with the belief that I’m not supposed to let it go. So I’m not going to. Though life right now isn’t what I think I’m meant for – it doesn’t mean I phone it in. I give what I have – to what and whomever is in front of me. It’s not my style to give, or work half-heartedly.
The thing is, there are just some things you can’t take with you into the next life. I can’t take my pension, any books I write, or any accolades from any career I hold. When I leave my job, I’ll be replaced. Life will go on. I won’t be remembered. When my days are done, it doesn’t matter if I’m rich or poor. None of it will be carried with me. I am not famous and won’t be remembered by anyone, but those around me.
And what of this solitude I live in now? It’s not what I want. I want a messy, loud, big family, and a complicated, beautiful life. I don’t want to die alone. Who does? Do any of us set out on a path that would take us in that direction? Except in rare cases, I’d venture to guess that answer is no. But that’s the path I’m on. So how do I get where I want to go?
I have a few ideas. They’re swirling in my head. I’m unsettled in this in-between – questioning if I can survive one day longer working for the federal government, when my heart longs for creativity and artistry and beauty and celebrating and making something lovely with my hands and my words. There are things that fill you up, even when they’re tiring. I’m not being filled now. There is no symbiosis between me and my work now. I give and there’s not much filling me up. There was at one time. But that was lost a few years ago. There’s not much to be changed about that – it simply is.
I mention this because that’s the first thing that has to change. Whether it’s today or 12 months from now, I’m not sure I know. What I do know is that my life – my writing, my someday family, and my deepest dreams, are all worth far more than a pension, or the security that comes from this life I created accidentally. This accidental life doesn’t mean it hasn’t had value. But it shouldn’t come at a cost of everything that matters to me.
I don’t want to die alone. And before I go, I want a rich life that creates space for writing and healthy habits, and the family I’ve spent a lifetime dreaming of, and praying and hoping for. I told my therapist (as cartoon-ish as this image sounds) many months ago that the pace of my life, due to work, has me barreling forward, so very fast, that I feel like a snowball, bumping its way down a mountain, packing on more snow and ice as it goes. I hit the bottom – or some plateau – and come up for air and can’t believe another month, another six, or another year – has passed. And then something knocks me down the mountain and off I go, barreling down the mountainside again. I look up and two years has passed.
It’s time to stop this barreling down a mountain, life – because I’m missing the beauty and sweetness along the way. And more importantly, in the safety of the paycheck and pension, I’ve lost precious time that should have gone toward building the life I’ve dreamed of. I don’t know when, or how, or what my next step is – I only know that someday, when my life is done, I won’t care about my pension or how many bosses complimented my work or getting awards for my years worked in an organization that has literally broken people for so long, it doesn’t know anything different. Recently, the man who steers us all wrote a document that is supposed to guide this organization into a new era of managing its “talent” in a whole new way. I haven’t read it – mostly because I find it terribly sad. For years it has used people and spit them out. They’ll just find another person to replace the ones lost along the way. I won’t be missed. But I will be desperately heartbroken if I give up anymore time and my own life and dreams.
I won’t die alone. I don’t know where, or when, or how this will all come together. Mostly because the industry I want so badly to walk into, ignores literally every resume I send out. I see it as part of me moving on. But someday things will come together. In the meantime, I will look forward, with joy and anticipation, to the day that this dream becomes a reality.