Friday, November 18, 2011

Comfort foods

This has been a strange week and I have been feeling out-of-sorts since Monday.  Our chief underwriter at work passed away early this week after a battle with lymphoma and the chemotherapy that went with it.  He was only 60 and had just announced a month ago that he would be retiring next spring.  He said that something like cancer makes you look at your life and think about how you want to spend your time.  He had decided that he wanted to spend his time fishing, and that spring would be a good time to get on with that.  I know that people tend to elevate the recently departed to a higher level, choosing to remember them in a fonder light than we perhaps consider them in life, but he actually was a really nice, decent, approachable guy who did a lot of good both in his career and in his life.  The department was given the day off today to attend the memorial service or to remember and honor Chris in another way.  We packed that darn chapel full of underwriters and did our best to support his family.  And we talked to each other - a kind of rare gathering of 100+ of my closest co-workers.

Underwriting is an unusual profession.  Death, or rather "mortality", is in our daily language.  We have enough medical knowledge to know when someone says they have lymphoma, that we ask, "what kind and what stage?" and then we mentally begin assessing the risk.  We do this automatically, even off the clock.  We comfort ourselves with knowledge that our loved ones are getting the appropriate treatment to extend their life expectancy, but we still know the inherent risks with both the disease and the treatments.  We know that, statistically, a percentage of people with the disease are not going to survive 5 years.  Doctors and other medical professionals also know these risks, but they are in the business of giving hope.  People heal better with hope.  Underwriters are in the business of managing the risk.  Waiting until you are ill with a terminal disease to get life insurance is like applying for car insurance as you are heading the car toward a tree, or homeowner's insurance when the fire department is on the way.  When someone tells an underwriter that his doctor tells him he is perfectly healthy, what the underwriter finishes that sentence with is, "for someone who has had ___ disease."  Anyway, what I am saying is that I think about death every day and tend to have something of a gallows humor about it, but this week made me think.  I don't know when my time will be up.  Chris didn't know last November that he was eating his last Thanksgiving dinner or that the teleconference last month was the last time he would discuss our plans for year-end.

What do I want to spend my time doing?  I do love my job but struggle with balancing my work and "real-life" time. Would I still do this job if I didn't "need" to work?  Yes, I think so, but maybe only a couple days a week or on a reduced work-load basis - there are parts of the job that are very rewarding for me.  What else would I do with my time?  I would cook, read, knit, garden, scrapbook, spend more time with family and friends.  The same things I take comfort in now, just perhaps in greater quantity.  For now, until I am miraculously independently wealthy (can't win the lottery since I have almost never played the lottery), I can only strive to take more time for the people and activities that bring me comfort and joy, to live with more purpose and intention.

I am going now to knit some comfort items, plan some comfort food dinners, read a comforting familiar book, and then curl up in my comfortable bed.  I take comfort in knowing I have you, my friends and family, reading this and loving me despite the fact that I am assessing your mortality rate in my head.

Hoping this is not my last post,


Mom Teri said...

I knew you were assessing my mortality rate! Better put your name on things when you're here next week.
I reevaluated when Dave died this summer. I was tired of working so hard and getting nothing but a paycheck for my troubles. I am doing comforting things too and figurig out a way to do what I love and make some money doing it. Maybe Grandpa will win the lottery and we can all take comfort.
PS they won $200 2 weeks ago! getting closer!

Ann said...

What a lovely and thought provoking essay, Hallie.

Melanie said...

I read and love your blog but rarely comment. I knew you were assessing my mortality rate as well! With Tim's parents being in their late 70's & early 80's and now working in a Memory Care senior living community I think about things like making life count and being happy with what I do too, you never know when your time is up! It's amazing when I quit my job this summer how much that helped add to my happiness. Love you and your blog!

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