2012 was the year of Death. Neil Armstrong, Dick Clark, Whitney Houston, Maurice Sendak, Ray Bradbury, Richard Dawson, Robin Gibb, Nora Ephron, Andy Griffith, Ernest Borgnine, the list goes on and on.
In my own life, I've also seen death this past year. My chief of trials from my days as a prosecutor died of a heart attack unexpectedly during the year. Much of the trial experience I write about in my mystery series can be traced back to him. When my character is having a discussion with her chief, I picture him. Mike left behind a wife, who was also a prosecutor, kids from his first marriage and a very young child from his second. Sad. And completely unexpected.
One of my husband's close friends also died this year, murdered in his room by someone he apparently thought he could trust. I've written about him before, but the shock never really wears off. Death is sad, but everyone will eventually succumb to it by some means. Murder, however, and the particular grisly way he died (stabbed), should never happen. Nobody's parting thoughts should involve staring at the wrong end of a sharpened blade.
And then there's my beautiful cousin Crystal. She was diagnosed in early 2012 with an aggressive form of brain cancer. She was 37, and left behind a husband, a 4-year-old, an 8-year-old, two sisters, and both of her parents a few days before Christmas. It was not unexpected at this point, but was still probably the hardest to take. She is a few years younger than me, and when she was little would spend summers with us. Her father, my Uncle Mike, was diagnosed last year with pancreatic cancer. He is still hanging on, but barely. I think he was holding on so my aunt wouldn't have to bury their daughter alone. The future looks bleak for the family.
Mortality is a scary thing. I almost died in a car wreck with a drunk driver four years ago. In fact, my doctors say I should be dead, but fate just happened to intervene so that one leg, the other ankle, and my left arm, were severely injured, but the rest of me was left pretty much intact. A series of fortunate events occurred so that my steering wheel flew off and the air bag didn't "get" me. The steering wheel flew off because my car had been stolen and wrecked a few years before and the service department at the dealership didn't fix it correctly. One man's lawsuit is another man's savior. I guess when it's your time it's your time, and it just didn't happen to be mine. Yet.
So now I am debating summer vacation, in the midst of the cold and the abundance of death that has surrounded me this year. I'm doing this while I'm budgeting, attempting to make my money stretch to pay all the bills and maybe get ahead, after a year of negotiating with creditors to pay off debt. After the wreck I didn't walk for seven months and didn't drive for over a year. Our finances eventually suffered as a direct result.
I think about my cousin, and my husband's friend, and my chief of trials. And I wonder if, given the chance, they would have chosen to spend extra time with their families at the beach, or at the movies, or even at home just hanging out together.
You would think being close to death myself at one time, I would have realized how short life really is, and that if you don't make the opportunities to spend time with your family and enjoy life while you're here, you may never get it. But I didn't.
It took the deaths of three people I cared about, who didn't even know each other, to make me truly understand that you only get this one life, and if you don't live it now, you may not get the chance.
The bills will get paid. The house will get cleaned. The laundry will get done. Eventually. But right this minute, I am making plans to take my kids and my husband to travel, go somewhere we've never been and maybe return to Vegas, my kids' favorite vacation spot. I'm going to make sure we make it to that movie my youngest has been dying to see, and that I stalk my 13-year-old's Tumblr and Twitter pages when she asks. (She loves to share her posts, believe it or not.)
My father died a few months before Hurricane Katrina. (That is how we gague time in New Orleans, the proximity of an event to Katrina.) He was a business owner, and refused to ever take a vacation. My mom would take me and my sister to the beach in Florida, and he would stay behind and work. Year after year we vacationed without him. I never thought about how odd it was until recently, when evaluating this past year.
I would have traded a new car every four years for having him with us at the beach each summer. I can't help but wonder if he's staring down at me right now, thinking the same thing.
2013 will be different. I won't make any New Year's resolutions-- which are almost always destined for failure-- but make actual plans to do things that matter with my kids and my husband and the rest of my family, so if my time on earth ever does get cut short, we'll all know we made the best of it while I was here.
Causes Holli Castillo Supports
American Diabetes Association, American Breast Cancer Association, Lazarus House New Orleans