Why I "went there" in talking about my death

 anxious man in sneakers standing in middle of road

Sometimes I say things — and people give me a funny look.

Other times, I say things — and people give me a funny look and a funny response.

I’m in my final semester of graduate school, finishing up a Master’s of Social Work degree.

I’m that guy in class.

I figure, if I’m paying for an expensive education — even if it is for something that I am absolutely passionate about — I want to get as much out of it as I can.

I sit in the front row. I ask a lot of questions.

I can tell by some of my classmates’ expressions that they get annoyed with me from time to time.

I can’t remember how it started, but in one class several weeks ago, a conversation took an interesting turn.

A classmate made a comment about death and a few others responded.

She said, “But I don’t want to talk like that. I know it’s not good to think about this as life or death. No one thinks about dying soon, anyway.”

Of course, I had to chime in.

I think about death. Heads snapped towards me. I continued,

I actually think it’s OK to think about it. I actually think it can be helpful to imagine that you really could die today. Because you never really know. I think that if you admit that you really could die and that it might be outside of your control — I think that’s empowering. It helps me remember to get the most out of every day.

“Wow, Jordan. Isn’t that kind of morbid?” a classmate immediately asked.

“No, I don’t think it’s morbid,” I responded.

Another classmate spoke up and agreed with the first one. “That’s pretty morbid.”

The professor looked back and forth between me and the rest of the class. If there is one word to describe the mood at the time, it would be “awkward.”

I smiled.

A few of my classmates looked at me like I had just thrown a newborn baby across the room.

But other classmates who know me better let out a few light laughs.

The reality is this: it’s not morbid for me because I really believe this.

But I haven’t always believed this about death.

I started believing this when I got the news at 24 that I would need to have open-heart surgery in the next few months.

I was a perfectly healthy person — completely healthy, except for one thing — I had a fatal flaw in the aortic valve of my heart that almost escaped detection.

And it would have gone unnoticed if not for the persistence of my then-girlfriend, now-wife in telling me to continue to go back to the ER to seek help.

The surgery changed me and how I view my position in the world.

Life gained immediacy.

I started believing that the best moment for me is the present moment when my mental health started failing me after the surgery.

I’ve learned that I’m not the only person who has ever had mental health challenges after a major surgery. Apparently, it’s pretty common.

But I never received any post-surgery information like that from the Mayo Clinic, where I underwent the operation.

Mental health then, much like it does today, existed on the periphery.

Through no fault of my own, I have had to deal with challenges.

Through no fault of my own, I have had to adjust to difficult situations.

It happened to me, and it could happen to anyone.

So, when conversations about death come up, which they do quite frequently in social work courses, I’m one of the only students who is not scared of it.

And I think I’m not scared because I had to face it, through no fault of my own.

I know what it’s like to wake up in the ICU and have as your immediate, all-consuming thought: I’M ALIVE.

I had never had that kind of visceral thought until that day in June 2012.

Now, I actively seek out those kinds of life-fulfilling moments.

I strive to learn more about myself, my body, and my mind so that I can bring the present moment into my life as much as possible.

On the precipice of death is a feeling of aliveness.

Still, I frequently think, I don’t want people to have to go through what I did, but I sure am glad my life worked out this way.

But the worst things that have happened to me have turned out to be the best things.

I wouldn’t be the same person if I didn’t have a few scars.

I’m sure you have a few stories like that.

All human beings, all of us, are a collection of tiny moments of living and dying.

So yes, it could be considered morbid.

Or it could be beautiful.

When you hear the story behind the words, the words become something else entirely.