Any Day You Can Die
I was walking to my Spanish class the other day and out of the corner of my eye I saw a sticker on a post that was in English. I guess it grabbed my attention because I don’t see much in English in my daily life. Or maybe it’s because of what it said:
Any Day You Can Die
I stared at it for a minute, and then snapped a photo. Was it encouragement? A nihilistic viewpoint? A threat? A dose of reality for English speakers? Who knows! But I kept thinking about this sticker all day.
A few nights later, we went out to dinner as a family. Out of the blue, the kids started talking about everything they love about living in Colombia. It was the first time that our conversation had been mostly positive, because honestly, in the first few months, the kids were super homesick, and it was hard for them to focus on positive aspects of life here. But slowly, it seems that their attitudes have all started to change. They really miss home. But they also have started to like a lot of their lives here.
That night, they listed some of the things they would miss about Colombia when we come back to DC next summer: the warmth of Colombians, the view from our patio, the fresh fruit and new foods like patacones, their school and their friends. They excitedly talked about all the things they wanted to tell their friends back home, and when the waitress came over, all three of them ordered in perfectly accented Spanish. (Let me be clear: they do not really speak Spanish. But their accents are incredible when they do speak.) Chris smiled at me across the table. After months of feeling insecure that we were making the right choice, I finally knew that moving here hadn’t been a mistake.
That night, as Chris and I sat on our patio, I kept thinking about our conversation at dinner. “I honestly can’t believe we actually moved here,” I said to him.
“I can,” he said.
“Really?” I wondered. “It’s kinda out there. I mean, who actually does this? It’s a little bit crazy. I now think it was a great idea, but really, it wasn’t exactly the most stable choice.”
“I think you and I both are risk takers, and we took this risk,” Chris said. I scrunched up my face. Me, a risk taker? Chris smiled and said, “We are risk takers. Me, by natural inclination. And you, from life experience.”
I admitted that this was true. Sure, before I got married the first time I did a few things that were risky – I went to college away from home and I moved to Japan to teach. I traveled. I moved to DC where I didn’t know a soul.
But once I got married to Shawn, my life because much less risky. I got a stable job, bought a car and a house and had kids. I followed the rules, and “the rules” made me not much of a risk taker. I watched as other people took risks I wasn’t ready to make – moving or getting new jobs or even simple things like taking their kids on fun weekend adventures – and I thought, “well, I’m happy and my life is safe, so who really cares about changing anything?”
I was secure. I liked it that way.
Life thrust me another way, down an insecure path that I didn’t like for a million reasons. On top of terrible grief, I had to go back to work full time and I had to learn to single parent and I had to think about whether I wanted to date again. But one big thing I realized at some point after Shawn died was that much of my life before I became a widow had been based on a big assumption: I believed that I could create security and safety for my family, and if I did that, then nothing would go wrong.
That assumption wasn’t true, of course. There can be some security in life, but there was no way I could have total security. Widowhood didn’t change that fact, it just opened my eyes.
I had to learn to live with risk.
Risk that little things might happen, like my kids could have their feelings hurt because someone wasn’t kind about their deceased father, or risk that big things might happen, like someone I love could fall very ill. Risk, of course, was always around me…and is still around me.
A few days after I saw the sticker, I was talking with one of my widow friends back home. I was facing a tough decision, and I was feeling doubtful that everything would turn out okay for my family. My friend was kind, but firm. “You’re going to have to sit with this discomfort,” she said. “You made the best choice you can and you can’t make the doubts go away. You want the future to be perfectly laid out, and it’s not going to be. You have to live with uncertainty. It’s hard to face that. But I know you can.”
She was right. I can’t protect my family – or myself – from everything.
I’ve had to learn to face that sticker:
Any Day You Can Die
First of al I really want to thank you for having decided to share so many of you personal process of going through widowhood.
I am a man 53 years old and just became a widower 3 months ago. I have three daughters and we are all in the process of digesting all of what we have gone through, since my wife was diagnosed with a terrible highly advanced cancer, in April 2022…
I find it really important to learn how other people, especially at younger ages, still have , potentially speaking, a long time left to live, deal with the way of coping with the widowhood and figuring out new ways to rebuild their lives. But one thing that I learnt, with this tragedy and goes directly to the point of your article, is the consciousness of life’s fragility. No one can suspect what will happen in the future and this makes the present become so immensely valuable. I fear that my life might eventually end before my girls are fully independent and I nowadays I am trying to reinforce in them the need of being independent and to enjoy their freedom and lives. We send many joyful moments together and are conscious of the gift we have, of having one another.
Once again, thank you.
I’m so sorry for the loss of your wife. The early months are really hard, and my heart goes out to you.
And yes, I totally understand your fear of dying before your kids are fully independent. It’s something I feared for a long time, and even still fear today after getting remarried. Because life really is so fragile. And also, as you note, we must live it fully.
Thanks so much for reading.