Within the last week, my parents' close friend and co-worker was diagnosed with an inoperable form of pancreatic cancer that may have already metastasized. He was feeling fine last month, with the exclusion of some back pain that he described as nothing worse than usual. Then he began having leg pains, which turned out to be blood clots - one symptom of pancreatic cancer. After the prerequisite tests, scans, and a biopsy, his diagnosis was confirmed.
The doctor, with a grim look on his face, turned to my parents' friend and told him that they will go ahead with chemotherapy, but he should get his affairs in order.
His son was due to be married in November, but odds are he won't survive until then, and thus plans are probably in the works to move the date up to ensure that he will be strong enough to attend (or be alive to attend at all).
This man is only a year older than my mother, and this is the first person among their circle of friends to who will succumb to an age-related illness (this excludes another friend who died of a sudden heart attack 10 years ago). Both my mother and father are quite dismayed with the depressing news. Measures need to be taken to train another employee to replace this fellow, but nothing concrete has been organized, but that's the least of their concerns at the present time.
Scary, isn't it?
Thank G-d, both my parents are relatively healthy. But this current crisis makes me wonder what it will be like (after 120 years G-d willing) when they are no longer around. It also sends my mind off worrying about what might happen to anyone I know - myself included.
Pirkei Avos 2:15 quotes Rabbi Eliezer as saying that everyone should do teshuva (repent) one day before they die. Avos d'Rebbe Nosson expands on this, and Rabbi Eliezer is asked how can one know what day he'll die, to which he replies that we should do teshuva every day, since it may, indeed be our last.
Morbid stuff, right?
But how much do any of us really think about this? Particularly us younger folk, with our misperceptions regarding our own mortality; nothing can stop us, whenever we get sick we'll get better, I'll stay young and never grow old and worn out, etc. etc.
Certainly it does not do any of us good to constantly have this on our minds, which would probably lead many to thoughts of depression. However, reflecting on these facts of how life works and how fragile, precious, beautiful, and how ill-appreciated each of our days are, can keep a person properly humble and thankful for every waking moment. We can use these thoughts to make what we do in life matter, to better help others - and ourselves - and leave a lasting, positive impact on the world around us.
As Tehillim 103:15-16 says, man is like a blade of grass - one moment we're here and flourishing, flowering - and the next a strong wind can come and pluck us up and away, as though we were never there.
It would behoove us all to take some time to think about these things, to better reorient ourselves in whatever way(s) necessary, to improve our conduct, both between us and HaShem and between us and our fellow man.
Please daven for the refuah shelayma of Shmuel ben Rochel.