My Impending Demise

We think we have time. The question is, “how much?” That leads to other questions. Will I be satisfied with how I lived my life? What am I compelled to complete before I die? What legacy will I leave?

I recently attended my cousin’s funeral. She was 81. Her son said, “I assumed we’d have another ten years with her; I was wrong.” Odds are good that I’ll live to my mid-80s or 90s. Odds are equally as good that I won’t. Things happen. If my math is correct, I have 57 first cousins (born from 1920 to 1959), 22 of whom have died. I’m the youngest of the brood on my Chatfield side, and eighth youngest on the Clemens. As the deaths of this generation occur with increasing regularity, including two of my sisters, my impending demise moves to the forefront of my imagination.

Family Genealogy

Chatfield, Chamberlin and Hoy Genealogy

Responses to my three questions:
1. Will I be satisfied with how I lived my life? For the most part. I’ve participated in the creation of two children, two grandchildren, and three successful businesses. I’ve helped hundreds of friends and clients buy and sell their homes, and in that process was intimately a part of their lives. I’ve contributed my time and abilities to teachers, organizations, my community, and schools. I’ve written and published two books, compiled a number of genealogies, and provided a vast amount of genealogical information on line. I’ve had the courage and tenacity to play big in some arenas. I’ve cleaned up the majority of my inner litter. Amenable to reveal myself, I’m willing to talk about things others won’t, to be an example of another way to do it. Much of what I’ve imparted to others—both in business, personal transformation, and in my writing—has made a difference, and a part of me remains with those that allowed me to contribute to them. Luckily, I have friends and family who care about me. I would die bereft if I thought no one cared, that there was no intimacy, no love in my life. I know what that feels like; it’s painful. My mother died like that; the choices she made throughout her life determined the way she died, her personal history a vast early warning system.

2. What would I like to do before I die? I don’t have much on my to-do list other than returning old family pictures loaned to me, dealing with the thousands of genealogy correspondence in my inbox (this one may be complete fantasy on my part), and completing and publishing a family memoir that I started 15 years ago. I’d also write a book on the specific childhood event that forms who we are and what we become, our “incident.” It would be stories about “where we are the most wounded, we are the most accomplished.” I’ve heard and worked with hundreds of people and helped ferret out their defining moments, and it’s a fascinating study. I think I have time, but we know how that goes. Who knows what will befall me or when my time will come. While I still have some stamina and most of my marbles, I might want to get crackin’ on these things. I don’t have a lot of loose ends, unrealized hopes, relationships that need cleaning up, or ironing to do before I go. Actually—other than my garage—my past, present, and future are in pretty good shape, all things considered. It’s not my nature to be messy so this doesn’t surprise me. If I have time to complete my wish list, I’ll take care them. If I don’t, I won’t.

Peter & Mary Clemens headstone, Mazeppa MN

G-G-Grandfather, Saints Peter and Paul Cemetery, Mazeppa, MN

3. What legacy will I leave? I’ll leave behind my consciousness, my humor, and my wisdom; I wrote it all down for those who are interested. I’ll leave behind the sagacity, the acute mental discernment and soundness of judgment my teachers imparted to me, as I’ve paid that knowingness forward. Unless I have a giant garage sale, I’ll also be leaving behind a lot of stuff; things I’ve loved and enjoyed over the years, but things I can’t take with me. If I don’t outlive my money, I’ll leave what’s left of that too. I’ve documented a chronicle of our family legacy reaching back to the time our ancestors came to this country; for seven-some years I’ve compiled over 7,000 pages on-line of kin I’m related to by blood or marriage, and a few are on there to whom I’m related to by grace. I hope I’ve transformed part of our genetic coating, loosening the anger and diluting the resentment that afflicts so many in my family, both living and dead.

Am I afraid to die? I’ve no idea. It’s an “in the moment” process, mysterious and profound, and I don’t know that any of us knows how much grace, or dis-grace, will cling to us when we die. I suppose part of it depends upon the circumstances. I have little guilt gripping me, I’m no longer weighted by the shame I‘ve carried, and I’m not holding onto unspoken words. Well, I’ve some, but speaking them wouldn’t be worth the fallout. It’s fine to leave some things unsaid. Besides, it’s my stuff, not theirs.

Third Eye Chakra, Mandala Healing Art by Sarah Niebank

Third Eye Chakra, Mandala Healing Art by Sarah Niebank

I don’t believe that death is “it.” I’m curious if those who’ve passed before me will be there to greet me. I wonder if my consciousness will be able to connect to the earthly plane. I’ve felt others who have passed connect with me, so why won’t my energy be able to do that? Will I have work to do on the other side? Is there another side? Maybe I’ll go to Arcturus and search for my cousin Aura. That’s where she came from, and where she returned when she died. Will I re-incarnate? Does karma play into any of it? Will I get another chance, a do-over? Will I return with more work to do around my mother? Will we come back in together? I  mean really, enough is enough already. Give me someone else to dance with next time.

As I age, I see how fleeting my life has been. The older I get, the faster it goes. In ten years I’ll be nearly 78. It will likely be harder to roll out of bed in the morning, more challenging to keep up with my grandchildren who will nearly be adults themselves by then, and impossible for me to get to Carnegie Hall, no matter how much I practice. I’m not as caught up in everything as I used to be; it takes too much energy to maintain that stride. I like this pace of slowing down. Time is an illusion, but it gives a sense to living. So in this moment, I have time.

Share this:


  1. You’re right about 78, so make the most of your next 10 years, old buddy!
    Let me add that life is very rich and full, just a bit slower. Not a bad thing.
    We’ll have some great stories to share on the other side…..oh, but you already did it!

  2. Ned Hoke OMD says:

    I have to wonder of the unspoken thoughts and the music they yet lay claim to. Presumably the future when it arrives will carry more mystery than is reflected here.

  3. Jeff Elliot says:

    So, it has come to this, inevitably. I think most of us avoid thinking of our own deaths—as if to think or speak of it will make it more real, or bring it closer. Personally, I tend to stay in the present, although that became much more complicated when all my “future” hopes and plans for retirement came crashing down with the onset of severe arthritis. My hoped for relaxed days of working with my hands—woodworking, cooking, gardening, etc.—have been replaced with the maddening question, “What do I do now?” I’m a “doer” whose body can no longer do. Your writing is so provocative. It helps to kick start my brain. Thank you.

  4. Loved this Catherine! Very reflective and gives me an opportunity to ponder the same questions. ❤️ Bonnie

  5. You know what all of us old boomers are thinking and voiced it so well. I don’t know about you Catherine, but genealogy has made unafraid of dying. One of my friends said, “Everyone is afraid to die!” I replied, “I don’t want to die but I’m not afraid to. I don’t think the boogey man is waiting for me.” Unlike you, I don’t believe there is a second time around. I think death is it so I had better make the best of life while I have it. I have no regrets, no apologies to make, maybe a few things on my list I’d like to finish, but I have been happy and satisfied with the majority of my life. Thanks for bringing up the subject and letting me roll it around in my brain for awhile.

    • I think genealogy has helped me also come to terms with death; I just don’t want it to hurt. We’ve both spent hundreds, probably thousands, of hours working on our ancestors so our own death is just a taking of our own place in the line-up. We have so much in common, and I’m pleased to continually cross paths with you. Thanks for being in my life as you contribute greatly to it. There’s a bunch of us who will need to figure out who does our page in Find A Grave. Too bad we can’t do our own and keep it in draft form…

      • That is the ironic part about genealogy, we won’t be able to fill in our death date ourselves so it may go undone. Just did this for a relative who was a genealogist that I became close to through the years. It felt so right to do that for her on ancestry. We should be able to do our own Find A Grave and have it pending so when the day comes it automatically posts. There is no doubt my life has been enriched by knowing you Catherine. You are a kindred spirit.

  6. Elaine berg says:

    I love reading your musings, your revelations, and your family history. Keep it up. I’m really looking forward to reconnecting with you in October

Speak Your Mind