Ten lessons from the dead

Life is broken into stages and different experiences fit each stage. Sure, you can push the boundaries and run that Ironman when your kids are young or take up sky-diving during your bar exams. But if you’re not a maximizer, why not allow yourself to bask in the things that come with your stage of life and accept the limitations that come with it. The right time will come soon enough.

The old adage ‘live like there is no tomorrow’ doesn’t acknowledge that today you still need to stock your fridge with milk, deal with a colicky baby, get your tires changed or pop into the office to finish up some paperwork.

If we knew we had tomorrow would we find greater contentment in the mediocrity of today?

Excerpts from last Saturday’s newspaper obituaries are proof there is no rush to cross things off your bucket list. Even if the end is drawing near.

Learn a new language… later

Johanna had no formal education but “loved the public library and knew all the librarians well.” While raising her children she held jobs in a chocolate factory and later a drugstore, and would come home and call out the answers to questions on Jeopardy “advance of any contestant hitting the button.”

“She went through a Latin phase where she made friends with a local priest who tutored her in Latin. She memorized Latin declensions and struggled through Tacitus and Pliny. Books on Romans filled the house.” — Johanna Helfinger

Couch potatoes, our day will come.

I can’t count the number of physical pursuits I’ve started voraciously, only to lose steam a few months (or weeks) later. Annette was firmly rooted in her role of mom, nurse and all-things cooking and crafting. So one of her later pursuits really stands out in her obituary.

“… she even tried her hand at Dragon boating, but not until reaching the tender age of 71.” — Annette Elizabeth Wanless

Career shifting isn’t just for the Millennials.

I toil with the idea of going back to school to get a teaching degree at 49 years-old. Annette proves that I still have time.

“Following more than 20 years of being the Best Mom in the World, Annette returned to school in the early 80s… and resumed her career in nursing until retirement at age 65.” -Annette Elizabeth Wanless

Drummer. Dancer. Artist. Take your pick.

Patricia was widowed in her early 60s. She continued to be the strong matriarch of her growing family and an active volunteer, but she also spent the next 25 years doing everything that piqued her interest.

“Her sights were firmly set on the future. She was always excited to learn new things, and pursue new hobbies; birdwatching, ballroom dancing, pottery, weaving, drumming — her enthusiasm never waned.” — Patricia Marilyn Mackay

Couple-time returns after the snotty-nose kid years.

I had to do some serious math to figure this one out. Peter and Elfriede’s started to seek out adventure when their two kids were 26 and 28. They didn’t wait until they retired, but at 57 they weren’t young and bendy-as-pipe cleaners either.

“On a years’ leave from work in 1998, he and Elfriede went on a 7-month journey around the world by sea and by train.” — Peter Friedrich Rohloff

Your greatest love story may be yet to come.

Colin met his wife, Jane, through his involvement with the Vancouver Opera when he was 51. Jane is described in his obituary as his “loving wife, best friend and lover of 33 years.” After retirement they volunteered in the Arts, travelled the world and tended to their beautiful garden. Together.

You can party like it’s 1999. (Even if it has to wait until you are 99.)

Is it just me or does every magazine flog articles about the importance of social connections? At this stage of my life I am a social hermit. According to recent studies I’m not as happy or interesting as I could be. I’m also going to die sooner. Thank you, Dagmar, for whooping it up during your last 25 years. There is hope for me, even if I don’t hang on for 102 years.

“She was an avid traveller, and for many years celebrated New Years in the Canary Islands with friends from Sweden. Dagmar enjoyed the opera and theatre, and was a regular at the Shaw and Stratford festivals.” — Dagmar Vosu

It’s never too late to embody the Buddha.

So you gave your Grade 3 classmate the stink eye when they took First Place at the Science Fair, leaving you with an Honourable Mention. We still have time to redeem ourselves for the pearly gates or our re-incarnation as another creature.

Gord held the distinction of holding the highest Canadian ranking for fly-fishing. “When this standing was eclipsed, he couldn’t have been more proud and excited for the former team-mate who took over this distinction.” — WM. Gordon Bacon

Even if climate change ends air transportation, exploration will be possible.

We waited for our kids to be old enough to travel with us. Now they are in high school and marks matter too much for extended absences. Aging parents need us. Sometimes I wonder if we will ever see the bigger world. Johanna proves it will never be too late.

“One of her most memorable enthusiasms was for Ireland — its history, people, and music. During this phase she sought out Irish people, making friends and charming (as well as frightening) them with her zeal.” — Johanna Helfinger

Be Romeo to your Juliet. Or vice versa.

Rudolf cared for his wife Johanna and “loved her with every inch of his soul” when Alzheimers began to “blot out her personality”.

“The stress of looking after Johanna eventually killed him. Throughout his final days in hospital, he thought only about her.” — Rudolf Helfinger

None of us want to watch idly as the years whizz by. But if we can find joy in the small moments that link to form a day, be they mundane and mandatory, we can afford to wait for the right moment to tackle the things we believe will be extraordinary. And if we never make it there, we may not be losing as much as we think.