The past week I’ve been thinking a lot about Death — about missing those who’ve left us, about feeling the pain of their departures, about grieving and how to overcome grief, about why we die, about what we should do about the things we never had a chance to say or do.In short, I’ve been a “Death Panda”, repeatedly thinking about these five tenets: 1. Missing is a part of living. 2. Pain is proportional to the love you give. 3. To get over grief, be there for someone else’s grief. 4. Be here now, for those in your life who are here now. 5. Lose your regrets and carry on.
Concurrent with my thinking about death, this past weekend Joyce trekked out to Death Valley to see the wildflowers. She drove five hours each way to spend one hour with the flowers. She has literally walked through the Valley of the shadow of Death.
Death used to be an abstract concept to me. The last two years of my life have made it ever-more concrete.1. April 11, 2008. My 29-year-old brother Damon died. He was too young. (He’s actually my brother-in-law, but he’ll always be a brother to me.) 2. July 2008. My 94-year-old grandmother Tia Rifkin died in her home. 3. May 2009. Billy Hinton, one of Joyce’s best friends, died after a long period of ill health. He was too young. 4. June 2009. My friend and advisor Rajeev Motwani died. He was 47. 5. August 2009. My friend and business partner Joyce Park had a brain aneurysm. 60% of aneurysms are fatal; 35% result in brain damage. She rolled a 20 on that 20-sided die. She lives despite coming very, very close to death. 6. October 2009. My friend and advisor Craig Johnson also suffered a stroke. He was 62. 7. April 4, 2010. My friend for almost 16 years Bob died on Easter Sunday, April 4. The week between Bob’s death and now culminated in yesterday’s two-year anniversary of Damon’s passing. The last week has been long and sad. Thinking about death made me think about what I want in life. Mid-week I composed a bucket list. One of the things that is missing from that list is that I’d like to not feel sad about death. So I talked with Michelle about our sadness and I came to realize that sadness has two components: the loneliness that comes from losing someone close, and the regrets that come from not having spent as much time with that person as I now wish I did. To assuage loneliness, give love. But how can a person lose regrets? I thought about Death Bear, whose purpose in life is to remove the pain associated with memories attached to physical objects. Then I wondered if there could be a variation on this theme — a Death Panda! — whose purpose in life is to remove the pain associated with memories attached to regrets. If we could lose our regrets, we could get busy living the rest of our lives, and truly be here now for those who are still in our lives. Not just regrets attached to commission and failure, but regrets attached to things we think we should have or could have done, but didn’t — regrets of omission. I think regrets weigh very heavily on the brain, and I wonder if that kind of emotional baggage is correlated with brain diseases. Joyce lived to answer questions about brain aneurysms, yet in the past month I’ve personally been reminded of aneurysms on three occasions — by an athlete/coach, by a screenwriter/producer, and by a businessman — all at different ages, all of whom died of stroke-related complications. 1. 37-year old Japanese baseball coach Takuya Kimura (not the actor) – who could play every position except pitcher – died of a brain hemorrhage. 2. David Mills, 48, screenwriter on Homicide, The Wire, and Treme died of brain aneurysm. 3. Jerry York, 71-year-old Apple Board member, died after being stricken with a brain aneurysm. I wonder what else these three people had in common. I wonder what else they can teach us. If nothing else, every aneurysm is a reminder of the five tenets of Death Panda. 1. Missing is a part of living. 2. Pain is proportional to the love you give. 3. To get over grief, be there for someone else’s grief. 4. Be here now, especially for those in your life who are here now. 5. Lose your regrets and carry on. Rock on, Death Panda. Rock on. I’ve had enough of death for now. I want to get in a car, and drive and drive and drive. Two words: Road trip!!!