The story of our life starts the moment we are born into this world. Our story is full of what makes us human: joy, failure, triumph, heartbreak, perseverance, love, facing obstacles and learning what it takes to live.
As stories go, each story has a beginning and has an end, and we, at some point during our lives, become aware of our mortality and learn to deal with the concept of death in our own way:
Some of us pretend we are indestructible and live as though we will not die: hoping to pass in our sleep or have our death be instantaneous; wanting to be blissfully unaware that death is on our doorstep when the time comes.
Others grudgingly accept the reality of death: although we know it will someday come for us, we try to keep it away by not thinking about it. In other words, we choose not to deal with it, and, although we know it is there, we tuck the thought of death away in a corner where we can’t see it.
There are still others among us who actually embrace the idea of death in the hope that by doing this, the lives we live will become richer. We hope to die a “good death”, unafraid, desiring to teach others and leave a legacy by how we choose to approach the end of our lives..
Our Relationship with Death
Our feelings about death, or our relationship with death, can change when we experience a serious illness or a traumatic injury such as a brain injury. In very general terms, those of us who have suffered a a brain injury have had a closer brush with death than others who have been in good health, and and our feelings about death can be influenced by this.
While my life has been greatly impacted by brain injury, my TBI has also changed the way I, personally, face the idea of death. For one thing, I probably think about my own death more than the average person does. I don’t dwell on it or wish for it, but I think of my eventual death as a natural byproduct of my life, and, above all, I want to be ready when it comes.
They way I look at death has been influenced by a singular experience: I went from being an active teenager one instant, to waking up in a hospital bed a month later, wondering what happened to me. That makes me feel that I want to know and understand when I am dying. I don’t want it to just happen without me knowing it.
Brain Injury changed my life and my relationship with death. There were years when fear of the future, depression and despondency prompted me to wonder why I was even alive. I never seriously contemplated suicide, but I would occasionally say to myself that it didn’t matter to me if I died that day. At the time there seemed to be nothing to live for; I didn’t think I would be missing anything by dying, except perhaps more confusion and heartache.
However, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with those thoughts; they were such a dead end and didn’t make me feel good. To combat them I looked for things to live for so I would care if I died; things that meant something to me, things I found important.
I saw I needed to take an active role in creating a new, meaningful life so I could live the best life I could, and, hopefully, die a good death.
Instead of telling myself I wouldn’t mind if died today, I began talking to, and treating, myself differently. I started checking in with myself, almost daily, asking myself questions like these:
What if I die today?
Will I be ready?
Will I feel as though I have done all I can with the tools I have?
Living, So I Will Be Ready to Die
I know full well I can die at any time, and I want to make sure I am making the most of my life. Living does not mean I want to make the most money. Nor do I measure “living” by the number of “things” I do or have, or places I go. I don’t have to be “successful” in the classic sense.
I think about what I value. I think about the TBI battle that has taken up much of my life, as well as the progress I have made and what I have accomplished, however small and meaningless to anyone else. I don’t feel a need to defend myself when others don’t understand what I mean by “living”. My life, living with a brain injury, is often very different from other peoples’ lives.
I measure my time on earth by the number of people I have been able to have a positive impact on. By the richness of my life. By what I have learned. By things one can’t measure.
If I die today I will definitely miss some great things, but I and my loved ones will know that I have given my best, despite whatever hardships I have faced. I hope they know that the hardships I have faced have not taken away from my life, but in a strange and inexplicable way have added to the richness I have felt and the joys I have known.
Herb Williams says
Right on, Mr. Dude. I know that death is way closer than it was. I still want to hit one good shot.
Leslie Ann Relle says
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on death with us. I also survived a traumatic brain injury as a young person. I spent 21 days in a coma. It gets very tiring when we are told by everyone around us to “snap out of it” and move on. It is not so easy to “move on” when you have TBI. Unfortunately my family does not understand this about me. I had just finished 7th grade when I got injured.
Thank YOU for this posting!. Not one I waited for. But it seems to be the one I needed today.
Since becoming a caregiver I have realized what stage I am in life. And wanting to enjoy each day, make the best of it!. But the last couple of weeks I have struggled with why my life is “Such a Mess?”, “Why me, I don’t deserve this!”, “Is this how the story ends?”
You showed me that many of us struggle with our situations. But living is what we make of it – the good, the bad, and the ugly. How we live and how others see us living.is the legacy we leave. Living through this life is best done with heads up, moving forward and most of all finding each days’ rainbow.
Stuart Phelps says
We were riding our 7 month old 2008 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic motorcycle and were hit from behind. I flew about 15 feet and landed on my forehead. Had two seizures in the Fire Rescue truck and expired just as we got to the ER at the University of New Mexico Hospital. Was resuscitated and taken to the Neural Trauma ICU. Severe TBI. Spent 3 weeks in a coma or induced coma. Then flown to Denver and admitted to Spalding Rehab hospital. Finagled my way out of there and home the end of July 2008. Big mistake.
Probably a couple of years later, I recognized that had I died that day. I never would have known it. No regrets. No worrying about those in my life.
Nope, all memory ended a few minutes before the accident. No seeing a white light. Just nothing at all.
I would have just been gone.
Ten and a half years later. Do I dwell on that cognizance? No, but i’ll be 65 in a couple of months. And I do spend some time thinking about my mortality. Has what I’ve been through shortened my lifespan? Who knows. So I just keep on keepin’ on!
Mr. Sebell: I’m sorry for your struggles over the years. Thank you a million for sharing your story, your insight and your encouragement. You describe it all so well, especially your joys and struggles with living. It has been four years since my TBI, still trying to find the ‘new normal’ and value or purpose in life. I needed to hear your words, not knowing where God is leading or what is in store for the next day, much less years to come. So, So Grateful! Thanks for the uplifting and encouraging words!! God Bless!
Judith Johns says
Reading this Jeff, you have certainly left a positive impact in my life. Thankyou.
Michael Kowaleski says
Wow, great post!
4 years ago I suffered a TBI on my 45th birthday & spent 6 weeks in a coma. In those 6 weeks God spoke to my heart.
My life hasn’t turned out as I expected, but I am at peace & happier.
Beth Allard says
Would love to talk with you again sometime. I’m always very moved by your posts.
Thank you for all you do and for sharing with others.
SUZANNE BECOTTE says
Hi Jeff, what a wonderful and inspiring article. I am a Mother and caregiver of my adult daughter who suffered a traumatic brain injury in 1999. She was in her early twenties and a new school teacher. She was a passenger in a car and was crashed into by a drunk driver. She was in a coma for nearly four months. Together we have spent all these years healing into a very special and happy life living along the Pacific coast of California. Living each moment is our motto.