Posted by: wrmcnutt | October 25, 2011


If you’re a regular reader, you already know that I’ve just recently come through heart surgery.  I had a surgical ablation that went all squirrely and involved a full-on cardiac arrest.  After that I had a series of atrial fibrillation with pauses of increasing duration.  And by pause I mean that my heart stopped and five second later I lost consciousness.  I came through it okay.  I’ve got some scarring, a persistent cough, and stamina issues, but I improve every day.

In fact, I improve so much that my experience is beginning to feel like it was just a nightmare.  I catch myself doing something normal – washing dishes, putting away laundry, reading e-mail, and then think, “How can this be so normal?  Six weeks ago, I was in pieces.  A week after that I could barely move, and I had all manner of medical devices implanted in my person.  Now, I just get out of breath going up stairs and have a little cough.”

I keep coming back to that – how things be so normal?

But there’s one other thing I’ve not yet gotten rid of. I’m fine during the day.  But at night, in between the time that I stop reading and turn off the light and the time I fall asleep, I listen to my heart beat.  I listen to my heart beat, and I wait for it to stop.  Again.

I lie there in the dark, listening to my heart, and realizing that I’m getting older.  I’m slower.  I’m weaker.  My organs are beginning to fail me.  Oh, sure.  I’ve got a goodly amount of time left in the sun.  Even when I run my own calendar down, I’ll be able to hide behind technology for a few years.  But there’s no way around it.  In the dark, alone with my thoughts, in the silence of the night, I try to face it:

I. Am. Going. To. Die.

Oh, not tonight, or this week, or this month.  But someday, and probably not by misadventure. Sorry.  I know it’s self centered of me, but I consider this to be an enormous realization.

You’re probably thinking that, at 48, this should not be news to me.  I mean, after all, we learn about mortality as a small child when our first guppy dies, and it’s rubbed in when we have to bury the family dog at twelve.   We go to our grandparents funerals in our teens, and our parents in our forties or fifties.  But it’s one thing to understand something intellectually.  It’s another entirely to internalize it; to accept it emotionally and make it apart of your identity.  And that’s what I’m trying to do, this time.

My very first experience with mortality as an adult, guppies and kitties not withstanding, was the passing of William Blackfox, a noted caricature artist in the SCA.  I used to pass his booth at Pennsic every year, thinking I’d like to get a portrait.  They weren’t expensive, and didn’t take that long.  But I was always trying to get to the battlefield, or it was dinner time, or a host of other excuses.  But I really did want a portrait.  And then he died.  I thought there would be time.  Then there was the passing of my friend Amy.  Amy was just a few years older than me, and overweight.  But, I thought, in generally good health.  Looking back it was clear that she had been keeping her health issues private.  In any case, she had some surgery, and was convalescing at home.  She posted to a mutual discussion list that she was feeling better and stronger, and would be online more now that she could get downstairs to where the computer was.  The next day a close friend of hers posted that she was dead.  I was gob-smacked.  Amy and I shared interested in Elizabethan England, modern sailing, and the golden age of sail.  There were many movies I had wanted to share with her and many conversations I planned to have.  I though there would be time.  Then it got even more intimate.   Back when I had my motorcycle accident, I ran into this, but I think I managed to cram it into a mental drawer and pretend it wasn’t there.  It got closer when I buried my Dad.  My Mom’s passing, while significant, didn’t hit me as hard as Dad’s.  Probably because I was Dad’s caretaker, and was deeply involved in his daily life.  Mom lived out of state, under my sister’s care.

I. Am. Going. To .Die.

I’d like to say “been there, done that,” and I probably will from time to time, but it’s bravado.  You see, I don’t remember seeing the other side.  I was only gone for eight seconds, but you’d think that would be enough time to at least see the white light and hear at least one deal relative beckon.  But I didn’t get to see the light, nor Jesus and the garden.  What I remember is being told, “we’re staring the anesthetic” and then being asked “how are you feeling?”  And nothing in between.

I’m afraid that my faith has taken a little bit of a hit.  The question of “what comes next” is something I’m not gonna try to answer here.  A whole lot smarter guys than me have tried to answer it.  But I’ve peeked behind the veil, and I saw . . . nothing.



  1. I am not much of an adherent to any religon. When folks ask me what I believe is going to happen when i die, i generally say, “Well here is what I HOPE will happen when I die (insert my incredibly esoteric personal belief here). BUT, I am reconciled to ‘nothing’ happening when I die. Just done – gone – poof.”

    The one thing I am 99% sure of is that there is no HELL. Everything I read about it so clearly indicates that the concept was made up by man. The worst possible thing that can happen to me after i dies is…nothing. And I am OK with that. (Not HAPPY, mind you, but I can cope.)

    So ‘nothing’ doesn’t scare me – makes me a bit sad (and a little panicked about how much there is to be done before I die), but not scared.

  2. I have to say that our experiences were a bit different…then again I only had the Grim Reaper tap me on the shoulder to say “Hi”, while you had him sitting in your lap for a bit, while you had a small chat with him.

    Though it didn’t shake my belief, it only got me to look a bit more into it and into myself….and that last part can be a scary thing to do.

    All I can really say is try to take an experience like this to realize that our time is limited, to do the things you really want to do with those you want around you, and to take the time to reflect on your own beliefs….

  3. When my dad had massive heart failure in California (in the 70’s), he didn’t see anything from the great beyond. He said, if he could just lay his head in my mother’s lap, he knew it would be okay. And, at that time, it was.

    I think the fact that you experienced ‘nothing’ meant it’s not your time yet. I do believe there is an afterlife for the spirit, that those who have gone before us watch over us and will welcome us when we cross over. That doesn’t make the thought of dying any more comfortable.

    Having just been under anesthetic myself recently, I can empathize with the whole ‘where did all that time go, why is it now 1:30?’ point of view.

    I’ve been looking at my own mortality… and decided to try to get some of my bucket list done. I’ve got a lot I want to do before I go.

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