It is impossible to journey through life without grief. The loss of a loved one is inevitable; not a soul on earth can escape it. Yet, sometimes we are unable to grieve. It seems there is no training for grief. While there are hundreds of books on the subject and as many counselors who specialize in the field, minimizing the pain or avoiding it is frivolous, even dangerous.
Late last year, the phone rang and the caller ID was from my sister, who rarely calls out of the blue. It was one of those calls.
“Doug, Mom is being moved into hospice care today.”
“Oh… how much time does she have?”
“There’s no way to know for sure, but it could be a month or more.”
My mother, like most mothers, was my rock. She inspired and encouraged me more than any other human in my life. As the “baby” of the family, I suspect I got away with more than my two older siblings.
Ask anyone to describe my mother, and they would inevitably use the term stoic in their description. My life lessons and gems of wisdom were found in the writings of the stoics. They were the great philosophers and thinkers of their time, and their words resonate equally today. When facing death, the stoics were masters at framing it boldly and with the balance of courage and appreciation.
“It is not death that a man should fear, but rather he should fear never beginning to live.”
~~ Marcus Aurelius
“Fire tests gold, suffering tests brave men.”
While I love reading Stoicism (Marcus Aurelius and Seneca are truly my favorites), I found it curious that the fictional character Thanos from the Avengers movie franchise resonated the most with me.
“Today, I lost more than you could know, but now is no time to mourn. Now is no time at all. ”
About three years before Mom going into hospice, I took a year to travel around the world with my son, Jack. Curiously, it was my 22 yr—old progeny who got me into Stoicism. Our trip took us to Thailand, India, Greece, Italy, France, and Egypt. We saw four of the seven wonders of the world and created memories and a bond that would have made Marcus Aurelius proud.
We lived fully, openly, and boldly.
The last leg of that journey was actually more impressive. After flying back from France, my son went to Chicago to start his career. My business was virtual, and I could work from anywhere. After circumnavigating the globe, I considered seeing the other three wonders of the world. I chose Cleveland, Ohio.
While Cleveland did not have an international landmark (well, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame does qualify), something more precious, fleeting, and powerful there. I was going to stop over for just a few weeks, see the parents and move on.
I stayed nine months.
My parents lived independently in a home with their two dogs, neighbors with shopping, and a movie theatre, all within three blocks. They had selected this location, moving from their seven-acre mini-farm as it was easier to take care of. When you are 86 years old, driving a tractor around and tending to a one-acre garden tends to wear on you.
Within the first week of my visit, I could see that my parents, part of the Greatest Generation, could use a little bit of help. They were simply too proud to ask.
The nine months in Cleveland, living with your parents in their late 80’s is what you might expect. Here I was, a 56-year-old bachelor living with his parents. My daily routine of changing the TV channel or reminding Dad 5x per day to take his pills was a bit challenging for an untrained caregiver.
Although my business took a nosedive, I knew from day one that there were different types of currency. Sure, there’s the currency of the US dollar. Our lives and society run on that fuel. Any lifestyle requires at least a bit of money. Other currencies, however, are more critical and much more challenging to acquire and quantify.
The Currency of Love
Of all the currencies, this one is possibly the most obvious. Love is never hoarded, withheld, or squandered. It is endless in supply and can multiply 100-fold with the warmth of a hug or the twinkle of an eye. Impossible to measure, impossible to truly live without.
The Currency of Service
My parents, especially my mother, are the ultimate banker of service. No meal was ever the same, and no task was out of her league. No one ever asked her to do a thing, and she did everything. I’m not sure what the ROI for her was. It is reflected not only in the gratitude by the thousands she touched but also by its impact.
The Currency of Time
This one is the worst because we cannot store time, nor can we trade it or grow it. Einstein aside, time is linear, and each second that ticks by moves us all closer to death. It was my currency to invest by living with my parents in Cleveland. It also unlocked an unusual wrinkle that the character Thanos revealed to me.
I was out of town on business when the next call came. I was about to get on a group call with eight clients when my sister gave me the news.
“Mom transitioned last night.”
“Oh… OK” was all I could say.
We had anticipated her death. A week or so before, her body began to shut down, and she stopped eating and drinking. We had nearly six months to prepare for this inevitable event. After I hung up, I had about 30 minutes to get ready for a client meeting.
One of my clients happened to be with me in person. When I told her of the news, she was shocked and asked if I was OK.
“I’m fine. I’ll grieve later,” I flatly stated.
To her, I appeared cold or worse, in denial. She stared at me blankly and was more shocked at my attitude and energy. To her, it seemed as if the call was about the news of a package being delayed. I was emotionless.
“How can you be this way?” she asked.
I found myself subconsciously quoting a fictional character in a Marvel movie. “Now is not the time to grieve. Now is no time at all.” I had no time to grieve. There was a “battle” to be won. OK, it wasn’t an actual battle, mind you. I could have canceled the group call, but I didn’t. Upon reflection, I now realized the wisdom of Thanos’ statement.
Now is not the time to grieve.
This does not mean I won’t be grieving, of course. Plenty of tears were shed at other times. It simply meant other tasks took priority over my own. Now was the time for me to be stoic.
Now is no time at all.
In the Avengers: End Game movie, and even in many channels of physics, no time at all reveals a concept that time is not linear. We use time as a measurement of events. To me, “no time at all” meant something deeply personal. You see, I had invested more time than was expected in being with my mother years before her passing. The nine months I spent in Cleveland was an investment into not one but in three of the currencies.
I gave and received an infinite amount of Love, service, and time by sacrificing the currency of money. When those three were combined and given without measuring, time became something other than linear.
Mom is gone, but thanks to Thanos, she lives on clearly, joyfully, and fully in my heart and in that of the thousands whose lives she touched.
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