I stayed up late over this past week working on a photo slideshow for my aunt’s funeral service. Everyone was fast asleep. It was just me and these photos of times and places I did not know or could not remember anymore. And there was my aunt’s face in these photos, vibrant and smiling. So dramatically different from what I remember of these last couple months as cancer aggressively wore her down.
There’s one photo that particularly moved me. My aunt was probably in her 20’s. She sat gracefully on a stone wall looking off to the side. Long flowing hair stylishly framing her face. Eyes glimmering with hope, dreams, and expectations. A confident smile. Youthful invincibility.
As a physician, I see and acknowledge death and dying. It is a reality that does not surprise me. But when I think about the memories of who a person once was, I am shaken. In the midst of illness, human frailty becomes the new norm. You have no choice but to accept it. But when there is health, that sense of invincibility and control sets in all too quickly.
I talk of the future as if I can determine it. I assume I have all the time in the world. I assume I am entitled to this or that. And I assume good health is my doing rather than a tremendous blessing.
So I ask myself again, as I have done many times in the past… What truly matters? Amidst the juggling act of everyday routine, how will I cherish and embrace today?