I didn’t post last week because I was sick. I was in bed for days, shivering, achy all over, couldn’t move, couldn’t eat, couldn’t stand up, and I was sure I had the flu and it would pass as the flu does. I fainted at least once. I assumed it was because I hadn’t been eating. Boyfriend, who had been checking in on me each day, decided the situation wasn’t good so he trekked from Brooklyn to Manhattan last Thursday just to help me walk to the Urgent Care clinic, which is literally across the street from my home. Long story short, Urgent Care sent me to Emergency and Emergency admitted me to the hospital with severe sepsis, orthostatic hypotension/syncope (fainting) and pneumonia. I share these details really as a cautionary tale.

Many of us spend so much time taking care of others throughout our lives that we unconsciously downplay things that are happening to us and don’t seek care as quickly as we should. I had wanted to get to Urgent Care and just couldn’t do it so I was prepared to lie in bed and wait it out because I was sure it was “just the flu”. I tell my daughters to haul themselves over to Urgent Care all the time, for far less, to get the medical intervention they need for relief and to help them heal. It never seems quite as urgent for me. Part of the explanation is that, after nearly 30 years of being a mom, I fancy myself a pretty awesome doctor and I know I’ll be ok. But I’m not and I don’t. My daughter who is a doctor in the real world will be thrilled to know I accept that I am not. In the meantime, after 4 days in the hospital, I’m back home, on the other side of this adventure, feeling grateful to be here and grateful to Boyfriend for saving my life. 

That brings us to today’s blog post, which, I kid you not, was always intended to be about death row meals. Let the irony sink in. Some of this post was written before I got sick, making it a little spooky. 

Several months ago, my daughters asked what my death row meal would be. The reference is to the tradition that a condemned prisoner gets to choose their last meal. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh requested mint chocolate chip ice cream and serial killer John Wayne Gacy requested a bucket of fried chicken. No one was suggesting I was a condemned prisoner and, at the time, I was nowhere near as close to the end as I was a few days ago. In my family, food is something of a love language and each of my daughters welcomed the chance to share the amazing meal they’d request if they could have anything at all for the last time. Nutritionists will tell you many yo-yo dieters engage in “last meal” thinking before starting a diet (and then before starting the next and the one after that and so on). Though this post isn’t about dieting, the same considerations apply when you contemplate the death row meal query in that there are no repercussions to your weight or health so choose with abandon.

A sign, no doubt, that food has become way too important and obsessive for me, I couldn’t answer at the time. I needed to think about it. In mulling it over, as a woman in my 50s, my thoughts naturally or unnaturally turned to mortality. I’m at that stage. Friends are receiving more serious health diagnoses than in the past, parents are elderly, things hurt. 

At the same time, I’ve come to deeply appreciate the sense of liberation that comes with crossing the threshold of the 50’s, the comfort I’m feeling in my own skin, the fact that I finally understand what it means to be accountable to and only to myself, and the lack of interest and need I now have in external approval and judgment. I’ve also learned that, though I’d like more time, I’m not afraid of death.

Four days in the hospital gives you a lot of time for reflection. I realized I’ve lived a good life and I’m comfortable with the way I’ve led it so far. I’m proud of the compassion and empathy I’ve extended to others and so grateful for the love I’ve received from and been able to give to the good people with whom I’ve surrounded myself. I’ve raised three exceptional humans who are each working on finding their own way in the world, learning how to rely on their own strength and resilience, as well as on the network of support each has built for herself. If it all ends for me tomorrow, I’m good. Taking the time to recognize that somehow makes what’s ahead even sweeter. There’s nothing I have to do. The chapter ahead has no boxes to check. The boxless chapter is already underway and it’s shaping up nicely.

My death row meal could be one that celebrates the life I’ve lived. Alternatively, it could be a meal that feeds any regrets I may have. Everyone has some regrets and I’m no exception but why give regrets such a place of honor in my life well lived? My death row meal is definitely meant to be a celebration, as well as a launch. The past stays in the past. Every morning I wake up to an opportunity to find the joy and beauty in life as I move forward. I don’t take that for granted. I think I’ll need a hearty meal to fuel me adequately on my journey.

My death row meal starts with a salad with romaine lettuce, red cabbage, carrots, shaved brussels sprouts, peas, cucumber, almonds and honeycrisp apple, with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, a touch of good quality olive oil, and a sprinkle of kosher salt because my body feels good whenever I eat this salad. I’d like to follow the salad with an order of crispy eggplant from Tamam in NYC. For my entree I’ll have broiled lobster with melted butter for dipping (my favorite meal when I was a child) and sweet potato fries. For dessert I would have loved a slice of strawberry cheesecake from the old Pumpernick’s restaurant in Montreal’s Cavendish Mall but it doesn’t exist anymore so I’ll have one scoop each of Emack & Bolio’s Toasted Smoreo, Cookie Monster, and Grasshopper Pie ice creams in a Rice Krispies cone with hot fudge sauce, thank you very much. This mix of past and present yumminess feels like an expression of gratitude for all that has gotten me to this point and the perfect recipe for plunging forward with intention, curiosity, and a smile.

Thinking and Trying

Something to think about: “Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.”- Anthony Bourdain

Something to try: What’s your death row meal? Write it down and consider if it properly celebrates the life you’ve lived so far. If not, would you change the food or an aspect of your life?

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7 Comments

  1. Beyond thankful you are recovering! Have never considered this question before and look forward to doing so.

  2. 1) So happy to read that you’re feeling better. Your boyfriend sounds like a keeper!
    2) “shaved brussels sprouts”!!! EVIL!!!!! EVIL MINIATURE CABBAGES!!!!!!!!!
    3) My “death row meal” would be a nod to my Montreal heritage: A smoked meat sandwich, a Cott’s black cherry soda, some kosher half sours and of course, incredibly greasy french fries (hey, I’m on death row, right? Cholesterol would not be a concern at this point!).

  3. I would want a rack of lamb, potatoes gratin and a kick ass red wine! Ice cream sundae with caramel… wait! Why can’t I have this tonight?!
    We’re all so happy you’re well again robin.

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