Emma of 500 Days – And other stories of numbers and datesBy Emma Pearson
December 6, 2023
20th August 2018
Today is my brother William’s birthday. He is 53. The age Mike was when he died. I wonder if people like my brother, turning 53, think that they might die at 53? I suspect not. Though perhaps maybe more likely if they are spending part of their birthday in a hospital. As William has done.
I don’t think William will die at 53. I don’t think I will die at 53. But who’s to say?
Just a couple of years ago, when I was 49, soon after my brother Edward died and I decided to start seeing a therapist, I gave as one of my reasons for wanting therapy that of being conscious that I was most likely “past” the mid-point of my life. Time to take stock.
The prospective therapist gently chided me with, “you could die today or tomorrow for all you know”. Hmm. It’s true. I don’t know where I get the confidence that I will hang around, healthily, for a few more decades, but I have it. And I am grateful for it. I need to get the kids through the next decade or so, that’s for sure.
Today is 500 days since Mike died. No, I don’t keep a tally or other kind of log. I just had an inkling, last week, that 500 days was coming up, and I did the maths (well, timeanddate.com did). And just for curiosity’s sake, I wondered what I was doing 500 days before Mike died. (I like balance in number patterns). That was 26th November 2015 – the day we took Edward into the Maison de Tara. 1,000 days ago today. I am not reading anything other than coincidence into these numbers, but both were momentous days.
500 days ago Mike died.
1,000 days ago we took Edward to Maison de Tara, where he died 45 days later.
In 500 days it will be 1,000 days since Mike died. 3rd January 2020. If he stays as healthy as he is now, my uncle Ian will be celebrating his 82nd birthday.
Are any of these markers significant? No, other than being big fat round numbers. Only visible to me. Only relevant to me. Only thought about by me. Just one more day after all.
But my golly – things happen in 500 days. Shit happens in 500 days. Things happen in 1,000 days. Shit happens in 1,000 days. Anne Boleyn was queen for 1,000 days, and a lot of shit happened to her in that time.
For me, shit happens most days, many moments a day. A lot of uphill struggling, a lot of efforting, a lot of heavy sadness many moments of every day. For 500 and many more days this past year and four months and 14 days.
And at the same time not a lot of awfully awful personal stuff has happened these past 500 days. Not additional stuff anyway. Lots of crud, lots of ugh, lots of stressors and challenges, fears and anxieties. But no more significant illness or death. No more chemo. No more watching someone waste away in front of my eyes. No more calls for emergency services early in the morning, and ambulance men tromping through the house. No more horribly scary conversations with the kids.
For which I am also grateful. I don’t want another big death in 500 days, or 1,000 days. I cannot bear another. Not yet. Even though I know it will come.
Just one more number thing. I have always been a bit weird about dates and time and number patterns. I see them. I am far from a mathematician (many friends would giggle – indeed snort – at such an idea). And I really hope that I am a million miles away from the mathematician John Forbes Nash portrayed by Russell Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind”.
But there is one more number pattern that tickles a corner of my brain.
Mike’s birth date was 27.07.1963. Mine is 27.03.1967. Shift a couple of digits around and we have the same numbers in our birth dates.
Mike’s death date was 08.04.2017. What happens if I shift a couple of digits around? Which ones to play with? Well, some don’t make sense. And some dates are gone – all the 2018 options have passed. So what other options are there, if Mike and I are bound by death dates as well as birth dates? When might I die? (“might!”)
08.07.2041 or 07.08.2041 – I’d be 74 in 2041
08.01.2047 or 01.08.2047 – I’d be 79 or 80 depending on when in the year
07.01.2048 or 01.07.2048 – I’d be 80 or 81
For other options I’d be over 100… much less likely.
I would be 103, 104 or 113!
This might seem awfully obsessive, morbid or depressive, but for me it’s somehow lifting. Uplifting. It tickles my brain in a funny way. It enhances my connection to Mike. It’s not that I “believe” I will die on one of those days. I do realise I could die today. But I love the connection in numbers I had with Mike, and am fine with all of the options. At least from this far out!
I read a lot about death, illness, grieving, and facing – even embracing – mortality. Outside my personal life, these topics come up a lot in my coaching and organisational work too – individual and organisational grief (usually with a small g), loss, illness, postponing passions and life ambitions into retirement…
I am particularly bullish (lovingly) with clients who know that Mike (and Ed and Don) died too young, before any hint of retirement was on the horizon. Many clients also know I won’t have a retirement, and that I really strive to do what I want to do NOW, while I am breathing, while I am fit and strong, while I have choices.
I hear from many people that I make them stop and think and reconsider how they live, how they make choices, how they balance work and personal lives. I know of a few couples who are “working actively at their relationship” because Mike died…. Two friends have explicitly told me they started to work at their relationships after Mike died. I don’t always know why but I assume it’s about not living a half-relationship, or being intentional in choices.
I wish this deep inner work would bring Mike back (and Ed and Don). It doesn’t. But heck, if it makes people wake up to their mortality, their relationship, and the value of a loving partnership, then good enough.
I don’t deliberately force any of this on others. But I do make myself face my own mortality. Daily. I do ask myself, “What if this were my last day? Would I be okay with that? With what I have done, who I have touched, what I have given, what I have taken, what I have learned?” Usually the answer is yes. Most days. In this moment, right now, I am okay with dying.
I don’t find it morbid. I don’t have a death wish. I love life. And I am okay with death.
Facing death makes me live better. More cleanly. More sharply. More intentionally. On purpose.