My mother’s day steak was flavorful, and cooked to beauty by my husband, even if it did have a propensity to slide too readily down one’s throat before it was fully chewed.

And once it was lodged in my airway, I had to check myself to keep from laughing–Death again? Mortality, you’re getting old. Let’s see here, after a whole lifetime of happy easy breathing, four times in the past two years I’ve had my air flow cut off for one reason or another (two near drownings, one pregnant flu event, and now a piece of delicious salty meat).

And each time, I’ve been able to feel with relief that dying today wouldn’t really kill me. I mean, technically, dying would really kill me, but I wouldn’t find it unwelcome.

Of course being ok with dying doesn’t make it prudent to die if you have any control in the matter, and I’ve always found my way back to breathing, this time by disciplining myself not to inhale again before hacking the meat out with a weird kind of cough, then interrogating my husband about how long he would have sat there watching me die before he tried a Heimlich maneuver.

He was pretty sure I’d come round again, and if not, there were more wives where I came from, so he was serene about it.

For me, each event in which I’ve faced my mortality, has had the surprising effect of increasing my liberality with my children, even if only temporarily, in order to see them happy. I didn’t feel the sting of unwritten words, or the sturdy list of things I needed to do before I died–only the strong desire to make sure that this day would be a joyful one for the people I could conceivably leave behind.

Tonight the kids wanted to play flashlight tag, and as long as they ran in the yard and were laughing rather than crying, I let them play, long after it was dark. On a normal day when life seems long, daylight belongs to my children, but I tend to claim the time after sunset as my own. And when they are difficult to put to bed or interrupt the work I planned to do in their absence, I get irritated.

What the thought of death brings home, is that time belongs to no one, and my purpose in life, and in my motherhood is to find happiness in their presence rather than in their absence. The gift of our presence to one another, and God’s presence with us in the Eucharist–these are the only satisfaction to be had in this life, really.

It’s so simple, and yet so hard to remember.

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About Elizabeth Duffy