Between Birth and Death are Paperwork and Swearing

Biking, Death, Paperwork and Swearing

By Angela Noel

April 22, 2018

Last summer my husband and I took a bike ride along a trail near our house. I think about a lot of things when I’m riding a bike or running. On this particular occasion I was thinking about death. One thought in particular: Dying is the only obligation of the living.

Obviously, some things we cannot choose, like getting hit by a car or assaulted by a bad guy (or gal). But we can choose our response to the situation. We can decide what we do next.

I can also decide my actions. For example, I don’t have to obey laws or treat others with respect. I might go to jail and have no friends as a result–but still. I pretend I don’t have a choice as to whether or not I do certain things, like scrub the toilet or get an oil change, but I do. These decision could mean I pay a price, but they’re still my decisions.

I Swear

Admittedly, sometimes I complete some of these seemingly obligatory tasks only to avoid the painful or inconvenient impacts of NOT doing the thing.

For example, I recently filled out multiple forms with my name, birthday, social security number, address, previous medical history, shoe size, astrological sign etc. in preparation for my first appointment at a new dentist. The many swear words I used throughout the whole processes attested to how much I enjoyed it.

Paperwork, death
Full disclosure: it wasn’t THIS many forms, but this is how it FELT. Photo by Christa Dodoo on Unsplash

My son wanted me to read with him, but I wanted to get those damn forms done. He’d have to wait while I plowed through. As I glowered my way through the task, the possibility of my sudden death came to mind again.

My Body’s Domestic Terrorist

The first time I became aware of the possibility of inexplicable and abrupt non-accident-related death I was a child. Then, a few years ago a colleague, a woman just a few years older than I, died in her sleep of a brain aneurism. She was a lovely woman. I hate brain aneurisms, always have. If we think of battling cancer as a war then an aneurism is a domestic terrorist attack. The idea that a burst blood vessel ends lives and could end mine haunts me.

So there I was, filling out those godforsaken forms. Hating every minute of it, I wondered if death was lingering somewhere just out of sight, stalking me.

But even with the disturbing idea that I could be living my last night, and even though I did not want to miss out on reading with my son because of dental forms, I kept going.

I said the F word under my breath a few more times and raced through the forms. Deciding to pick an approximate month for my last dental exam rather than actually looking it up, and leaving a few ailments off my family history, I finally added the final signature scrawl. Then I trooped upstairs for an abbreviated nighttime routine with my kid.

An Alternative Universe

Later, I brushed my teeth and stared hard at my image in the mirror. I wondered if I could spot or somehow sense the silent clotty killer heading to my brain. I reminded myself of that day on the path. How I knew, with absolute certainty that everything BUT death is a choice I’m making. How, just an hour before, I’d possibly allowed cursing and paperwork to be one of my last acts on earth.

What would I have done differently, I asked my reflection, if I knew tonight was my last night?

Of course, I wouldn’t have filled out the forms. Of course, I would have snuggled my baby, my husband, and my dog. I would have called my family and friends and told them all how much I loved them. Maybe I would have eaten an extra brownie or ten.

Sending Death a Thank You Card

But we don’t get to know, most of the time, when the hour of our death will arrive. And I didn’t want to walk into the dentist’s office without completed forms. Additionally, once I’d begun the task, though my son was calling me, I didn’t want to leave the unsavory business undone. I wanted to get it over with. The point is, the task was annoying, but I still chose to do it. I chose when I did it, and where, and in what spirit. I could have done a million things differently. But I didn’t. I lived in that moment, like most of us do, as if I had a million years to make a million mistakes in putting things that don’t matter ahead of things that do.

A thank you card for death
Sending Death a Thank You card. Why not? Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

And, lucky me, I woke up the next day.

I woke up and took my son to the dentist. During which time I sat for two hours while they examined my forms and took X-rays of my teeth. I sat patiently while they transferred my information from paper and pen into bits and bytes. Jackson chatted to the hygienist and asked questions about the ghostly images of baby and adult teeth vying for position in his little mouth.

I didn’t spend a lot of time shaming myself for all the cursing. I also didn’t bother feeling too bad that instead of reading a whole chapter we only read a page or two. Mainly, I thanked my death, or rather the idea of it, for reminding me that any day may be my last.

Though it’s impractical to act as if I’ll have no tomorrow—no one should eat that many brownies—I can use the fact that my death is real, inevitable, and unique as the one thing I must do in this life, to my advantage. I can and should respect my death as the first and best reminder of perspective.

Maybe I don’t always put the forms aside, or carpe diem it up all the time. But I do know I have the choice. In the end my life is up to me.

Your Turn: What are your thoughts on death? How do you remind yourself to live in the present?

The You are Awesome Blog has been nominated as the Most Inspirational Blog for the Annual Bloggers Bash Awards! If you can spare a second and feel inspired by this blog, please consider voting for me. It’s an easy one click here.

Featured Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash


Author: Angela Noel

On a quest to become a better human, I write about parenting, leadership, and personal development. I tell my stories so you can find your own.

56 thoughts on “Between Birth and Death are Paperwork and Swearing”

  1. I tried to vote but the click here thingy didn’t click. Sorry. I love your writing and look forward to reading much more. Oh Death👌You do have a way of hanging over our heads. Hmmm too true. Hope you get lots of reading opportunities with your little one. And hug that dog.

    1. Thank you for reading! I’m so glad you enjoy my writing and thank you for trying to vote. I checked the link and it appears to be working for me–but so sorry about that. Here’s the link again just in case you’d like to try and vote a second time. With stiff competition, I’m sure I’ll need every vote I can get. 🙂

  2. Another fabulous and thought provoking post. My mother in law died from a brain aneurism after bathing my two daughters and reading them a bedtime story. She came downstairs and died. There was no warning, just a headache the day before. Trying to explain to my four year old daughter at the time that Gramma had gone to heaven after reading her a bedtime story was the hardest thing ever. Luckily my creative side kicked in and I ended up telling my daughter that God needed Gramma urgently for her sewing skills as the angel dresses were in a bit of sorry state and needed repair. My daughter seemed to understand this as Gramma was excellent at dress making.

    Death is inevitable, like you say, and we have to make the most of the present moment as life can be taken away from us at any moment and without any warning.

    1. Lucy, I read your story while waiting in line at an airport Starbucks. The line was long, which is a good thing because it gave me a chance to wipe the tears from my eyes before I ordered my coffee. Thank you for sharing your experience and the lovely way you handled a very difficult moment. I am so sorry to hear of your loss, but it does help even me to think the angels will be better clothed with her up there to help.

  3. Death scares me a lot, I have to be honest. I do try and be mindful and put things in perspective. The other day I heard someone on the radio say that her mother had had huntington’s disease and she (as her daughter) had a high chance of getting it too. She said that it gave her some perspective and that she stopped chiding herself over eating the slice of chocolate cake, because she didn’t want to have regrets over depriving herself if she did develop the disease later in life. I’m trying to live by this…even when my uni work gets in the way, I need to go and do things with my husband and pooch. The uni work can wait…much better to have spent time with my family one last time than tearing my hair out over an essay.

    1. I think you hit on the exact right things. It’s not that the uni paper isn’t important it’s that the extra obsessing over it is not. We still have to live and work and do our best. But it’s the “extra” we can sometimes do without. I don’t think shaming myself for the lost moments would be able to get them back, that’s just extra lost time. Better to just invite a little more awareness—just as your doing—to help the choices we make feel more like our own and not someone else’s.
      Death is scary—but I do want to be friends with it if I can.

  4. Life is about stats. 1 in 4 or 1 in 1000 can get this or that. I never think I am special so realize I could be the 1 in 1,000,000 as there always 1. So I try (stress the try) to live life and not have too many regrets. Always a great post.

    1. So true! There is always the chance. And boy it would super suck to be that 1 in 1,000,000. Best then to get busy living, yes?
      I love your emphasis on “try.” You and me both!

  5. When setting goals for myself I try to look at the life I want to have acccomplished, the one I won’t regret having spent my life doing. Not always easy but I try to keep the end goals in mind.

    1. For sure! I do something similar. I think of myself (a Maggie Smith look-a-like in my minds eye) in 40 years and try to imagine what that version of me would want to be telling stories about. Then I just try and make those stories come true!

  6. Being of a great age, three-quarters of a century old, death often haunts me. Haunts in the way of when and how. During her recent visit my daughter came in my room to wake me and I asked her to teach in my closet and hand me the nightgown on the hook. That earned me a chat about how I shouldn’t sleep au naturale in case of fire or break-in. I have no concerns about either and have considered she’s more concerned that her mother might be found dead in bed someday… sans nightclothes. So I tried it one night. Gave it up after a half hour and decided if I slip this mortal coil during the night, any night, I’d leave a lasting legacy of having given a thrill to whomever finds me in that state. What a way to go!

    1. Okay, Pamela. . . Lucy (a fellow reader) had me crying with her story and you had me chuckling out loud!! If I have to leave this world, I truly want to leave it as you left me with this comment—-laughing.

  7. I do think about my own death especially since I turned 70, I think about having my drawers organized, throwing out all the junk I don’t need, these are the two areas that I think about the most. Haven’t done too much about it though. Great post thanks

    1. Hi Masha! I love that you’re thinking about orderly drawers. Is this because you like the idea of order in general?
      Your comment reminded me of the time when my house got robbed and one of my first thoughts was, “we left the dishes in the sink, they probably thought we’re slobs.” Now, why in the world would I worry about what a robber thought of my house as they tossed all my earthly belongings about?
      I have no idea. But maybe it’s like your desire for order and to purge yourself of the junk. Even if I’m not there, my house is a reflection of me. And even if it doesn’t really matter—it still kinda does.

  8. Strangely, I’ve been thinking of death a lot recently. I wonder if it’s our age? We no longer consider ourselves invincible. We know of more and more people who die too early, our parents/our friends’ parents are dying- I think this makes us reflect on our own morality a lot more. I think it has made me “grab life by the horns”. Last year, when I found out about my dear friend who took his own life, ever since it has made me so thankful to be alive. I suffer from chronic pain, which makes life hard, but I often think: at least I’m still alive, at least I’m watching sunsets, hearing birds sing, watching my child grow. And I’m so very grateful for it.

    1. Oh yes, yes, and yes. We aren’t invincible anymore. That’s for sure. I do wonder if we trade that invincibility for something better, something more precious. Maybe it’s wisdom. Maybe it’s perspective. Maybe both?
      A painter or an architect brings three dimensions into a two dimensional world through the use of perscpective. He or she tricks our eyes into seeing more than what is really there. Maybe that’s what age does too. We can see more than just the obvious because we are artists bringing more depth to the page of life.
      Or maybe it’s the wine.
      I love your thoughtful comment, my lovely friend.

  9. Angela, you remind me of my brother – he, like you, always has some amazing thought going through his head at all times. I thought of him when I read your post today. You’re both very smart!

    Anyway, yes, death was a huge concern of mine when I was so sick with Celiac. I was losing weight, losing hair, none of my clothes fit – I was layering like crazy to not look too skinny (my face gave my skinniness away anyway), I felt nauseous all the time, and sleep was pretty much non-existent. I was sure I had cancer or something of the sort – I started to wonder if it was my time.

    It was at this time that my view of life changed. You are right – nobody knows when our time will come or how it will come. I just knew that I had to start living in the moment. My health became my priority – because if we are not healthy or happy, how can we enjoy our time here, be the best wife and/ mother as we can be, or really LIVE? I have to admit, the decision to homeschool solidified at this time. I wanted my family to be together as much as possible – grow, learn, and experience life together. I wanted my children to grow up as happy as possible, and I wanted to see them grow, learn, and experience life.

    Anyway, I think it’s okay to think about death sometimes (not to dwell on it), as I think it can be a guide to live in the present and to make the best choices we can make. Loved this post!

    1. I am so glad you figured out what was going on in your body, because that time in your life sounds so very very tough. I often mention you and your decision to teach your kids at home to friends and family. I so admire the spirit you infuse into your life and theres. In a way it seems simple to say you’re homeschooling your kids—and that maybe the right label. But I think you’re doing something different. I don’t know that I have a word for it. But whatever the intersection of mentoring/challenging/inspiring/motivating/entertaining/loving and chickens is…that’s what I see as your special brand of magic.

  10. As a stage 4 incurable cancer patient I find I think of death quite often. It’s not a given that I will die from cancer, I may still be hit by the number 93 bus! I have learnt how fragile life is. My cousin died suddenly from a brain aneurism. I now try to live my life the best I can but trying not to eat too much chocolate! I take time to look around me and do things now that I want to do. I try not to put things off until later – because there may be no later. For now, I am at peace with death – it’s nothing to be feared. After all, the one thing in life of which we may be certain is that at some time, we will die.

    1. Gill, no one could add more life to this post than you. I’m so grateful you stopped by. I’m happy to hear you are at peace with your death (whether it’s the cancer or the bus). I can’t imagine how you feel exactly, but it means a lot to me to know that you are using the moments of today to eat just enough chocolate and do the things that bring you joy.

  11. Yesterday, on a long drive to get together with my father for his 87th birthday, my wife and I talked about death. I’ve recently turned 55 and that feels… old. I’m suddenly starting to think about mortality. We agree the most important thing for us to be doing in this not young but not yet that old period is to work to gain some comfort with the idea of dying. Or really the idea of being dead. It’s going to happen and it’s senseless to waste our lives worrying about it. People always say live each day as if your last, but as you point out, if you do that, you’ll be unhealthy, unproductive, impoverished and probably an asshole.

    1. Jeff, this comment should be printed on a t-shirt and given out at every mid-life birthday party in the world. I love it, and I couldn’t agree more.

  12. Unfortunately, I’ve had so much happen to me that I think death may be lurking around the next corner almost every day.
    Fortunately, I’ve had so much happen to me that I don’t think I care anymore that death may be lurking around the next corner.
    I just keep walking down that street.

    1. Perfectly put. That’s maybe the hardest lesson of life. Perhaps losing our fear of walking down the street is the POINT of death in the first place. We know we’re going to die, but we have to live anyway. No guarantees. No insurance, do-overs or take-backs, just full-frontal experience.
      Of course, I’d much prefer that you have less travails. But that goes without saying.

  13. When I was a kid, I hated going to sleep because I didn’t want to miss anything. I feel the same about death. Life is fundamentally fun and important and an adventure and I don’t want to miss anything.

    1. I can absolutely relate to that. I feel the same way. It’s not the death part, it’s the fear of missing out part that gets my goat. And I totally can imagine little Lorna fighting sleep to stay up and experience life!

  14. Death is such a scary thing because there are so many things I want to do before I die and sometimes I feel like I’m running out of time. I also hope to live to 100 so I’m taking steps to do that by trying to eat right and exercise. Some days are better than others. Sigh.

    1. By any chance have you read the book Blue Zones? It talks about living to 100 and I’m totally in. Like Lorna, I just don’t want to miss out on all the awesome stuff. It is a scary thing–but it can’t be that bad if so many others have done it…right?

  15. Another wonderful and thought provoking post. My sister died from a brain aneurism. She had a headache in the morning and was dead a few hours later. It was just that quick. But that fact that death could strike so quickly and it could all be over in a flash didn’t really hit me until my surgery. I went to sleep being able to walk on my own and couldn’t do it again for months. It was really eye opening. We really only have this moment. Yet, we still often times life like time is infinite. And I am as guilty as the next guy.

    1. I am so sorry to hear about your sister. Aneurisms are really, honestly, the worst.
      I can’t imagine how difficult is was to go through the process of not walking to walking again. Gaining perspective is good, of course. It sucks that my big revelations in life have come after a significant loss. As you say, it’s eye opening. But man, I sure wish my eyes could be opened with a gentle nudge than a fork in the eyeball.

  16. My mom died at 63. Then her sister also died a few years later, at 63. My life changed completely. The number 63 is stuck in my head. I don’t want to miss a thing, and if 63 is also my number, I want as few regrets as possible. I am currently living each day, every moment.

    1. I AM SO GLAD! (About you, and sad about your loss of mom and aunt. That totally sucks, and I’m so sorry). But I am inspired when I hear that folks I like have taken life by the horns and decided to just live the hell out of it.

  17. Great post. TIme passes so quickly. We all have a birthday right, sometimes I wonder what my Death Day will be – like what date! Probably best I don’t know.

  18. Brilliant piece! With a the most fabulous title, you have just summed up my life! Or how it feels sometimes

  19. Voted! 😘 I would love to keel over in my flowerbed when I’m 80, but if it’s earlier, I just hope I have the chance to tell my partner and children I love them. If I don’t I’ll be saying it in my head. I have been lucky with them. ❤️❤️❤️

    1. Eighty is pretty young nowadays–I’d prefer you give yourself another 20 years at least. I hope you have all those chances and more. But just to be safe, at least for my own self, I think we should just tell them all the time. Because, you never know! You are lucky with them. But, surely no luckier than you deserve.

  20. Angela, thank you for this thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I am very influenced by Asian philosophies, so my attitude toward death is one of relative indifference. I think about it as often as anyone else, I suppose, but have no fear of it and am often surprised when people around do. The story is told of a westerner who got into a cab in Tokyo. The Japanese driver drove recklessly through the busy streets and the passenger–scared to death–was thrown around in the back seat. He shouted to let him out, just stop the cab. When the cab stopped, the driver turned to the passenger, who was from a different culture, and said calmly, “Why do you cling so much to life?” I try never to cling.

    Best wishes

    1. I love that story and haven’t heard it before. It’s excellent that you have managed to find the way to avoid clinging. With that lack of clinging, I believe we can be truly free. Thank you for reading and adding your valuable thought!

  21. Sometimes the tedium of life (like paperwork and toilets) just plain gets in the way of living! I’m not afraid of death, it’s how I get there that concerns me. I’d rather have an aneurism than waste away from a debilitating stroke. The only other thing I fear (as to dying) is to die without having fully lived. Maybe I’ll just have to make up for lost opportunities and make some super fun plans. (Like a European River cruise.) However, at 70 I don’t think I’ll become a ballerina or concert violinist. I have regrets, for sure, but as long as my family and friends know that I love them, and that I’ve made peace for having hurt anyone, I’m good to go.

    1. That would be a heavy regret–wondering if you hadn’t really lived. But I look at all the pictures from all the wonderful times we’ve had and there is so much adventure there. Looking forward to the next ones!

  22. Well that was really thouggt provoking. I agree that you never know when it will come but you can’t let death rule your life either.
    Living each day as if it was your last – nice idea but not practical!
    I think maybe we should choose something that we would usually put off til tomorrow, big or small, and just do it… on the off chance.
    But you can’t go walking out of your job and responsibilities living the dream… your death may be a long time away and you still need a salary to live until then!!!

    1. Absolutely–not practical. But good to keep an eye on the fact that this life isn’t infinite. I love your point, don’t put off until tomorrow those important things. It’s all a balance or a dance. Or maybe a belly dance.

  23. For as many times as I’ve faced death and even was there when a loved one died of a silent clot, I don’t fear it or worry that it will happen. I fear not getting everything done in time. So I just keep on motoring!

    1. That seems like a common theme for you, me, and a lot of us–its not the dying it’s the fear of missing out or getting things done. I was thinking of you and your brother when I wrote this as well. I am glad you don’t have fear. Rather than ghosts (which I know you’re familiar with) it’s these thoughts that wake me up at night. Not fear, just a haunting really. And then I want to do things like get up and dance to prove I still can.

  24. My husband reckons he has a fear if post- like an actual phobia. Therefore my paperwork element of life has doubled as a result 😐

    1. Of post, like mail? Oh my, that sounds like a challenge! Paperwork–super yuck. And multiplied paperwork is perhaps second only to living in a house full of snakes. 🙂

  25. I knew we were kindred souls, Angela, I swear with paperwork and I think about death coming as an aneurism all the time. Every little twinge in my neck or head. A woman at church went that way a few years ago and I can’t forget it. Although there is part of me that thinks that is the way to go, the thought of leaving so abruptly for my loved ones is horrifying. And as for the swearing, just ask me about the first time I helped my son do his taxes!

    1. I can imagine the swearing at taxes. And to help a loved one navigate the whole mess–I can’t even… I feel like I’d for sure have to wash my own mouth out with soap!
      I am waiting for technology to produce the self-diagnostic tricorder they used in Star Trek–like a handheld MRI. I don’t want to know all the stuff going on in my body, just the stuff that will kill me without warning!

  26. First of all, “No one can eat that many brownies” is my new stock response whenever someone tells me to carpe diem or gives me that “live each day like it’s your last” line. Because you’re right—that’s some wildly impractical advice that was probably thought up by bankruptcy attorneys as a way to increase the need for their services.

    But also, I love the visual of sending Death a thank you card for giving you a pass. He probably doesn’t get much mail, so I’m sure he’d be grateful and maybe a note every now and then would keep him away even longer!

    Hold up… I’m on to something here. Queen Elizabeth is known for her impeccable manners in matters of correspondence, and she’s clearly immortal… OMG, she’s 100% been writing thank you notes to Death. That’s it, I’m adding Death to my Christmas card list.

    1. I think you’re right about the Queen and Death. They clearly have some sort of thing going on. I wonder if Death lives at the North Pole with Santa?

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