30 things you need to know when you turn 30... I can start a whole list of silly, quirky and applicable information. Like, not to apply for a credit card at a concert. I filled out an application for a Discover card once in my early 20’s; I think it got me a free t-shirt, and I still get Discover promotional mail almost 10 years later. And never charge a trip to your credit card and think its fine to pay it off later. Why? Because the truth is, if you wait to pay for it after the trip, it never feels worth it and you have serious vacation-guilt. Or not to take shots after midnight. You can do this all through your 20’s, but, by the time you turn 30, you know that a shot after midnight guarantees spinning in your bed and a hangover that won’t quit.
I have a ton of these tips and I wanted to write them all down and make a “thirty and flirty” fun list. But two days before I turned 30, I got a phone call that my friend Chris had a brain aneurysm and he died.
The hospital was keeping him on life support though, because he was an organ donor. “He’ll help a lot of people” they said. Like that was somehow supposed to make his loved ones feel better.
He was in his 30’s. Not old by any standards. In great health, just started a new job, happily married, and even more happily a new dad to his 18 month old baby boy.
The news shook me. I couldn’t drive when I got the call. I had to pull over. I kept thinking about his wife. They were married for 5 years and only in the first few chapters of their story together. I thought about his son and his family. I thought about what a hard worker he was and what a good person he was. I thought about how every time I saw him, he always had a smile on his face and a joke to tell. I thought about how life got busy and we always hugged goodbye and promised we’d catch up soon… but we hadn’t made it happen yet. I thought about how life seemed so unfair.
I have dealt with death. I have no grandparents left and lost two uncles. I’m 30 for God’s sake. None of us have made it this far unscathed by death. But when it is the death of a peer, I have come to accept, and sometimes expect, the culprit to be a car accident or a drug overdose. Those things that are God awful in their own right; but not unusual for my generation. But a freak health incident? A brain aneurysm? That’s’ not supposed to happen to us. We’re still young. If we work out and eat healthy, those things don’t apply to us. We’re still in control. We’re still invincible.
Or so we thought.
I went to his house the day I found out. I wanted to do something for his wife—my friend too. She hugged me when I came in the house and she congratulated me on my engagement.
Can you imagine? A woman who in her own personal hell, minding her manners and giving proper salutations. Or maybe she was just trying to feel normal for a second? Either way, I respected it and admired her. There is no “right way” to deal with death.
She hugged me and told me how happy she was for me. It made me feel awful, and yet I knew she really meant it. Then she looked at me and her eyes welled up, “Even though I know…” then her voice trailed off, “It’s like, I’m just waiting for him to come home from work.”
I hugged her knowing that nothing I could do or say could ease her pain. Life was unfair. This is how the cookie crumbled. This was the hand she was dealt. It is what it is.
We use lots clichés and old adages, but it doesn’t help. It doesn’t ease our pain or make us accepting of his death. There was nothing she could do. And yet rather than fall apart, she pulled it together, just in time for her perfect little son to toddle into the kitchen.
Then I saw strength. The kind that only exists in the strongest of women and the toughest of mothers… she held her tears in and smiled at her son. “Do you want a drink buddy?” It was as if she wasn’t crying. She switched into “Mommy-Mode” and she was utterly selfless.
I watched her graciously navigate through the kitchen, past all the food trays people had brought over and around the flowers and fruit. Simple offerings that we as people give when we don’t know what to do or say, but want to help.
Selfishly I was happy the baby had come in. I didn’t feel like I was even strong enough to think about what had happened to Chris, and he was only my friend. This was her husband.
I thought about how Chris had made this woman a wife and a widow and a warrior.
As the baby made his way out of the kitchen she looked back to me. “If I have one piece of advice for you in marriage, it’s not to sweat the small stuff. Because life is short and you never know…” she shrugged and began to well up again.
I’ve heard that cliché a ton of times. I sang my heart out to the Dave Matthew’s line and posted it to my facebook profile and AIM away message all through my youth, “Life is short but sweet for certain.” I had written it hundreds of times on notebooks, reading it over and over again; but this was the first time it struck me. In the context of my friend’s kitchen, who was now a widow in her 30’s, I truly understood.
Her words hung in the air and they stuck to my heart.
I didn’t respond. I just hugged her again, except this time it felt like she was comforting me. Death does that though, it makes everything feel backwards.
So screw the list of silly adages. At least for today (maybe I’ll write that another time.) For now, I think the most important thing we have to know by the time we turn 30 is, “not to sweat the small stuff, because life is short.”
Perspective on that one sentence can change how you respond to a cranky child, a barking pet, a traffic jam, and a problem at work. It’s the difference between a quick hug, a bear hug and a good squeeze. The difference between hanging up the phone and taking a moment to say “I love you.” It’s what reminds us that life is truly a gift, death doesn’t discriminate or care about age, and we have to seize our happy moments.
So, I will start this decade, not only with a heavy heart for the loss of a friend (because my heart is heavy), but I will also start it with gratitude in my soul and perspective on my side… thanks to Chris.
*And Chris is surely laughing that he finally made it into one of my blogs :)
SHORT AND SWEET…AKA…MORAL OF THE BLOG
“Life is short but sweet for certain.” Read it again. “Life is short but sweet for certain.” Take it in. Breathe it in and out. Hold onto it and live it.