Thursday, November 8, 2012

What if WE came with expiration dates?

I was at the nurses station in one of the hospitals I frequent for my job when I overheard one of the nurses say "(the patient) in room x just expired".  When families are called, they are often told "Your (family member) just passed, I'm so sorry".

This is not uncommon in a hospital.  People die in hospitals.  Sometimes it is expected, as it was in this person's case, and sometimes it's not expected.  Still, you never hear anyone say they died.  You always hear people say they 'passed away' or 'expired'.  I've always found this odd.  Food expires.  Passwords expire.  People do not expire, they die.  Last time I checked, I, nor anyone in my family had an expiration date anywhere on their person.  You are not issued an expiration date when you are born. Hell, you don't even know your birth date until it actually happens!

Birth and death are not that precisely predictable, certainly not with any significant lead time.  Even doctors can't accurately predict birth or death!  At best, they can give a range or best guess once the time is nearer.   For all the science we have, it's not perfect.

So why do we use this terminology around death?  Is it our general societal discomfort with anything that has to do with death and dying that we need to make up words that are less emotional or scary to us?  Seems belittling.  Sort of like how some people refer to a little boy's penis as his 'wee wee'.  What is it with the inability to use proper anatomical terms?!

This got me thinking, because, you  know, I have all this time on my hands.  What if we DID come with expiration dates?  How would it change the way we lived our lives?  Would it change how we behave?  Would it change what we do, what we say, who we interact with?  Would we make different decisions if we knew we had a finite period of time in which to live our lives?  Would we do things differently with our friends and families if we knew they had expiration dates?

Or is it something we'd rather not know?  I often wonder, if I knew Meggie was only going to be with us for 3 short years, what would I have done differently?  Would it have made it any easier to lose her?  I doubt it. What about our parents, spouses, siblings or grandparents?  What about friends or co-workers?  Would knowing their 'expiration dates' influence our choices about time spent or words spoken?

I don't know the answer.  I think it provides food for thought, however.  It nudges one toward living their lives mindfully and in the present.  Not dwelling on the past and not fretting over the future.  Nothing can be done about either.  If all we have is today, today may in fact be all we have.  Perhaps, if we actually had expiration dates, we would live our lives in a different way.  I'd like to think we would.  Think about it.  There would be time for all the I love yous and good byes that so many never get to have.  They could be an absolution of guilt and regret because you'd know exactly how much time you had.  Apologies could be made.  Plans could be made.  Life choices may be planned accordingly.  Of course not everyone would choose to live any differently, but maybe many would.

I think it begs the question, why does it matter?  Shouldn't we all be living our lives as if we knew our expiration dates?  Mindfully.  In the present.  With love?

Would you find expiration dates helpful for people?  Why or why not?

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