Life, death and entering midlife crisis territory

February 1st, 2016

I’m turning 36 in a few days. I’m passing from that line of young adult to dude-who-is-about-to-have-a-midlife-crisis territory.

And it’s scary.

It’s not scary because I think I’m likely to go buy a red corvette without my wife’s permission. I’m not about to go take a younger lover. I’m not about to change my profession. Rather, it’s scary because I realize increasingly, with each passing day how the next day is not a guarantee.

I’m about to be 36 years old and both of my parents are deceased. They weren’t old when they had me: Mom was 19 and Dad 21. And they weren’t old when they died — both were in their early 50s. Which means that as I turn 36, I realize that, if measured by my parents' lifespans, I’m not only past middle-aged, but I’m well on my way toward the end.

I don’t mean to say this in a morbid way. I really just mean to reflect on the fact that their early passing has taught me that the next day, the next moment, the next memory is not a guarantee. Whether it’s a car accident or cancer, whether it’s old age or a botched operation, death will come to every one of us.

I know people of older ages — in their sixties — who still have one or both of their parents around. I’m jealous of these people. I’m jealous of the full life they get to live with their mom and dad. I’m jealous that I will never get to experience that. Losing my parents has, however, taught me something that it may take others a longer time to learn. Most people will not have to face their own mortality until later in their life because their parents’ lives are still a buffer between them and that reality. Not so for me. Every day when I wake up and get dressed, I do so with a mom and dad shaped absence that stalks me. It’s always there. It may not control me. It does not destroy me. But it is there.

My dad was mortal. My mom was mortal. I am mortal. I will one day die.

This is the hard truth we all know but we don’t usually have to face until later in life. Of course, other people may learn that truth through losing spouses or children, so I don’t want to minimize those realities and how they force us to face our mortality. But for most people, our parents are the first buffer between us and death, and therefore the loss of our parents — generally later in life — becomes the first real catalyst toward our mortality. The world seems right, safe and secure as long as the ones who brought us into the world continue to be that buffer. But once that buffer disappears, then we stand alone staring at death. Then we stand alone asking questions before God.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Facing the truth of our mortality can be good and enlivening. Truth be told, however, it’s also scary — and the earlier in life we have to do it, the scarier it can be. The Christian tradition has always taught that death is a foreign invader to God’s good world, so there’s a sense in which death is anything but natural. That said, even in the Christian tradition, we can still speak of natural death, good death and the beauty of aging. But dying in your early 50s can hardly be described as natural, good, and the beauty of aging is never realized.

And that’s what scares me most.

Death can be so unnatural. Aging can be cut short. Mortality dominates our lives, and sometimes cuts them off before the time is right. This is a possibility for me as it is for you. It’s a possibility for my wife and my kids and your spouse and your kids. It’s the scary reality we all face but choose to look away from.

Some of us just can’t look away.

I generally like blog posts that come to nice, tidy ends. I like them to wrap up cleanly with well-defined answers and solutions. But even the promise of resurrection and eternal life does not take away the pain and fear of my mortality. Resurrection is coming, to be sure, but death is on the near side of eternal life. It cannot be avoided. There is no nice, tidy end that doesn’t go through that monster, whether sooner or later. Even Jesus didn’t escape that.

Tom Fuerst blogs at You can subscribe to his blog via email here.

comments powered by Disqus