Happy sixteenth birthday to me, happy sixteenth birthday to me...
It was sixteen years ago exactly as I type this that I died. Ten years ago, I wrote about it all in more detail, and you can read it here. I'm not going to bore you with the story if you already know it. Here's the short version: late evening on April 7th, 2000, I had a heart attack (my second in about two weeks, but this was a major one). At 12:31 pm on April 8th, I died for just over seven minutes.
5844 days that I have been gifted... now beginning day 5845. That's more than a third of the 17,026 days I lived up until the heart attack.
I don't think I appreciated each of those 17,026 days the way I've tried to appreciate the 5844 extra days I was given (thanks to some dedicated paramedics, a superb hospital staff, and a great cardiologist). I try to end each night--even the worst ones, such as the night that Mom died, or the night after Dad succumbed to the effects of his stroke--by appreciating at least one good thing that I experienced that day... one good thing I wouldn't have experienced had I not been given that extra day. I keep count of the days, and add a personal note to a private calendar each day, as a way of saying "thanks for the second life."
I'm glad I didn't die in the early morning of April 8th, 2000. However, when I was faced with the reality that I had a good chance of dying again in the next few days--without a third chance at life--I wasn't afraid, and I had only a few regrets... most of them related to any burdens my death might place on those I love.
(I haven't been frightened of dying ever since then. I don't want to die, mind you--I have many more calendar pages that I'd like to mark up with the most memorable good thing from that day--but the concept of dying isn't disturbing any longer. The experience changed me in that regard; before that day, the thought of my own death disturbed me.)
Every year, I commemorate this anniversary quietly, with appreciation. I also realize that the chance exists that I won't celebrate it the next year. Should that happen, know this: I have had a most wonderful life, with more good things than I ever imagined that my life could encompass. If I'm not here and my absence is worth noting, then note it in this way: tell those you love, "That lucky guy got sixteen extra years. May all the rest of us, when we come to the end of our lives, get sixteen bonus years tacked on--and may we all find as many good experiences, good friends, and good memories to fill those bonus years as Cliff did."
Now excuse me while I go for a quiet post-midnight walk and ruminate on the best thing about this day that's coming to an end...