My Impending Demise

A Time to Dance, a Time to Mourn ~ 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?

When I attended an 81 year-old cousin’s funeral, 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 I won’t. Things happen. If my math is correct, I have 57 first cousins (born from 1920 to 1959), 24 whom have died. I’m the youngest of the brood on my Chatfield side, and eighth youngest on my 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 published two books, completed and posted online a family memoir that I started 17 years ago, compiled a number of family genealogies, and provided a vast amount of genealogical information online. 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 speak about things that some may find too intimidating to reveal about themselves. 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 and dealing with the thousands of genealogy correspondence in my inbox (this one may be complete fantasy on my part). I’d also write more stories on life and its rude awakenings, on confusion and clarity (my personal stick), and on the specific childhood event that forms who we are and what we become, our “incident.” I’ve heard and worked with hundreds of people and helped ferret out their defining moments, and it’s a fascinating conversation. 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 and my home office—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

Peter & Mary Clemens, 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 interested. I’ll leave behind the sagacity, the 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 ten years I’ve compiled over 7,000 pages on-line of kin I’m related to by blood or marriage, and a few to whom I’m related to by grace; It will be useful for those down the road delving int ur family lines. 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; the rest is up to the children.

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 leave. 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 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’ve 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? What if this is the other 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? OMG, what if we come back in together; I  mean really, enough is enough already. Give me someone else to dance with next time around.

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 80. It will likely be harder to roll out of bed in the morning, more challenging to keep up with my grandchildren who will be adults themselves by then, and impossible 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, of living my ordinary life, of reconciling with myself and others. Time is an illusion, but it gives a sense to living. So in this moment, I have time.

© 2019. Catherine Sevenau.
All rights reserved.

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  1. I love your writing. The imagery you evoke is great and it’s wonderful you take this topic and embrace it full-on. You have definitely touched lives and will continue to do so; via your writing; in your work; through your family and friends; on the dance floor; and, occasionally, at the campground.

    • I’m fortunate I’ve so many friends who are in similar conversations so it doesn’t feel like I’m writing in a vacuum when I touch on subjects like this. I’m laughing about campground as you know what a camper I am… but I have reconnected with lots of in-laws there.

  2. In your list of accomplishments I think you forgot to mention “damn fine cook”! As for what’s on the other side, I highly recommend Linda Backman’s “Souls on Earth” based on her thousands of sessions as a hypnotherapist. I found it (and similar books) very reassuring and no longer fear death… except for the hurting part which I hope to be spared!

    • That’s funny, I have turned out to be a good cook. Who knew? Call me if it hurts. I’ll hold your hand, tell you some jokes, and up your morphine. If I go before you, you can do the same for me.

  3. I’m so glad you wrote this. I wanted to add a little. I recently went to my stepmother’s funeral. Since reading your book, via this website, you have helped me grow. I took for granted the other moms in my life. I never gave a thought to what they given me. I never thanked my stepmom for teaching me it’s ok to touch each other. I miss her. I thought about the women who stepped up & helped me be a better person & I thanked them. So, you have been a teacher & improved my life. Thank you!

    • You’re welcome, Kay. I’d no idea that someday I’d write. I didn’t start until my early 50s, though I’d been unknowingly preparing for it working with teachers who were guiding me in my personal growth. I’m happy that I’ve been able to pass it forward, and that I’ve made a difference for you. You can thank your stepmom now. I don’t think it’s ever too late, even when they’re gone. Write her a letter or send her a prayer, even if you do it only for you.

  4. When I first retired, it seemed like the years started flying by…now it’s decades doing the flying. =:O
    I think most people are mainly concerned about how they will die. Don’t want to burn…don’t want to be trapped in a car going under water, don’t want to be tortured like someone in a Koontz novel (why do I read them?). I usually tell myself that however it happens…it couldn’t be much worse than giving birth. Or having a blocked colon And would the pain last any longer than those? Surely not in most cases….except the Koontz thing.

  5. I know one thing for sure, as Bette Davis said, this getting old ain’t for sissies.

    • Well, it beats the alternative. I think maybe we take it on as a practice, though it is a shock to the system. Many of us are lucky enough to do it gradually so we can kind of get used to it. It’d be a drag to go to bed at age 50 and wake up at 70. It’s enough of a WTF as it is.

  6. Jim Chatfield says

    Oh Cathy, you write so well, and you express yourself like we are talking together. Your ideas are just like we think to ourselves. You have accomplished so much in your life it puts the rest of us to shame. You are beauty and brains all put together in one exceptional person. I admire you and love your writings. Take care and make this world a better place to live in. God Bless you.

    • What to say, other than thank you. For a time I wore myself out with all my accomplishing, but I’m satisfied I was able to do what I have when I had the energy. We all contribute differently, and we seldom know when or how we make a difference in the life of another, simply by being here. Some of us are more driven to prove ourselves than others: our asset, and our liability. I do a lot less now, which makes me happy.

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

    • Hi Jeff, I had a client who said, “If I die…” and I asked her of she knew something I didn’t. If what you are going through happened to me, I’d get on the internet for researching foods and substances that trigger arthritis, and and then research what might help help relieve the pain (I’m not talking drugs here). Here’s a start, and if they’re not a fit for you, throw them down. At least it will give you something to “do.” My niece has had great response from turmeric.

      • Chell Atchley says

        ….and to you my lovely lady…thank you deeply for your wise, funny, and honest writing. This particular piece certainly causes me to reflect on my own answers to your questions…and I think what I’d like to do is just copy what you wrote. Ahhh, if it were only so easy. Your responses give me an idea of what to work towards. 😉

    • Chell Atchley says

      Hi Jeff – We don’t know each other, but as the phrase goes, “If you’re a friend of Catherine, then you’re a friend of mine.” Thought I would stick my nose in here where it may possibly not belong or welcome… I really encourage you to take Catherine’s advice, and to support her premise that there may be much more that you can do about it through diet, I humbly offer to you another resource that supports the use of turmeric to help with arthritis. I hope you find some relief. Warmly, Chell

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

  11. 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.

  12. 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