We grieve because we love. Coming to terms with personal mortality can be a form of grief. Life is precious and we don’t want it to end. I faced my mortality when I had open heart surgery a month ago.

When I was about eight years old I had Scarlet Fever. The disease damaged my heart and I have lived with a heart murmur for decades. A year ago I noticed I was short of breath. Sometimes I gasped for breath–not a good sign.

I had a variety of tests and, after studying the results, my doctor referred me to a heart valve specialist. He recommended surgery to replace my leaking mitral valve with a pig valve. I didn’t express my fear, thanked him, and went home to share the news with my husband.

“You’ll be as good as new,” John said. But this wasn’t true. Two more heart valves were leaking. The prospect of open-heart surgery scared me to the marrow of my bones. Last year I had surgery for cancer and now I was slated for life-threatening surgery.

John didn’t say much about my surgery. Still, I could tell he was worried. He kept telling me he loved me to eternity. I told him I loved him the same way. He is paraplegic and spends his days in a wheelchair. I worried about what would happen if I died and decided to prepare for my demise.

I planned my memorial service and emailed it to loved ones and our minister.

I inventoried the freezer and posted a shelf-by-shelf list on the refrigerator to make things easier for our daughter, who was coming to care for John while I was hospitalized.

I put car keys, along with some cash, in a plastic zipper bag and set it on the kitchen counter.

I paid all of the outstanding bills.

I checked our finances–investments, saving account, and checking account.

I emailed my publisher. In the event of my death, my husband would take charge of all of my books and the royalties.

I emailed the two organizations I had promised to write articles for and informed them of my surgery.

Laws change and we had updated our wills, so I didn’t have to worry about that. Finally, I told friends about my surgery.

As I was wheeled into the operating room I reviewed these actions. I thought about John loving me to eternity. I thought about the encouraging messages I received from family members and friends. I felt surrounded by love and felt a sense of peace. Open-heart surgery reminded me, yet again, of the miracle of life.

If you haven’t confronted your mortality now may be the time to do it. What actions need to be taken? Do you have a will? Is your will current? Are your finances in order? Can thorny relationships be mended? What unsaid words need to be spoken? Facing personal mortality makes every moment of life more precious and that is a gift. Facing death helps you make the most of life.

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Harriet Hodgson

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of 36 books, and thousands of print/Internet articles. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. In 2007 four of her family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and recovery, and she is the author of eight grief resources. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, dozens of blog talk radio programs, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website, and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, hospice, grief, and caregiving conferences. Hodgson’s work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy wife, grandmother, author and family caregiver, please visit www.harriethodgson.com.

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