Don't Die

“Don’t Die”

It’s an instruction that Sarah has given to me as I walk out the door to work more times than I can count.  Sometimes, it’s fairly innocuous. Other times, it’s said with a fervent, if not pleading “PLEASE don’t die today”; usually after waking up from a particularly emotional dream.

It’s not a “tic” or meaningless, repetitive saying.  She means it. She is constantly and consciously aware that at any moment, I could be gone.  Any of us could, for any reason. Is saying it going to change fate? No, but it does indeed absolve her from responsibility in the event the worst a pre-emptive “I told you so”.

Interestingly, I don’t say it nearly as much.  I do say the far less instructive “Drive safe” often, but it is rarely “Don’t Die”.  I think there are a few observations I’d like to make.

Sarah lost Drew to something sudden.  His crash was outside of his immediate control (he wasn’t the person at the controls), but also preventable in other ways, by either not taking the co-pilot’s seat that morning, or never becoming a pilot in the first place.  I mean, those weren’t really viable options, but in the technical sense, one can’t really have a helicopter crash if they’re not in a helicopter.

Her loss was also unexpected.  Not that hovering above the earth in a ball of metal with blade tips whirling at 400+ miles per hour is a “safe” profession, but nobody goes into it expecting an accident.  Nor do their loved ones, who encourage and support their endeavor.

The point is, had Sarah instructed Drew to not die, given the circumstances his only certain option was to, well, not fly.  Just like my only certain option to not die in a car crash would be to not drive to work.

“Don’t Die” is simple, straightforward, and direct.  It means she is concerned about my life, and it’s existence.


I lost Megan to a long, drawn out process of  “Chronic Organ Transplant Rejection”. It’s a process that was terminal, with diminishing quality-of-life, ultimately resulting in no life at all.  I couldn’t really tell her “Don’t Die”, because she was going to unless they miraculously found another organ donor. Even then, she would have undergone yet another ridiculously risky surgery to replace her lungs.

So, in my case, I was mostly concerned about Megan’s health and well-being up TO her death, rather than the immediate presence of her on this earth.  The important thing to me is that she felt good, enjoyed her time here, and had as much quality time as possible. “Drive safe” doesn’t stray too far from “Enjoy the ride”.  

When I tell Sarah to “Drive safe”, I mean it.  It does indeed mean “Don’t die”, but also it means “Don’t have a fender bender, don’t break an arm, don’t scratch your car, get a speeding ticket, flatten a tire, or inconvenience yourself by sliding into a telephone pole on the ice”.  It means that I don’t really expect her to have a life-ending, sudden accident, but I am very aware of all of the other things that could happen to diminish her quality-of-life.  I don't want to prevent her from dying...I want to encourage her to live her life rewardingly.

I wonder if this is common among us widows, wherein, if we experienced sudden loss, “Don’t die” is the thought, and if it were long-term illness, something like “drive safe” or “be careful” is more common.  Is it something where our brains say “don’t take the risk at all” versus “take a calculated risk”?

If Megan, or Sarah took up crab fishing, logging, piloting, truck driving, or any of those professions they make reality shows about, I would want them to be safe, but enjoy the work.  If I decided to? Oh boy, Sarah would never forgive me. “Don’t die” would be replaced by “I’m leaving you”.

We all know in our hearts that the leading cause of death is being born...99.99999% of humans that have been afflicted with “being born” have died.  I find it interesting, however, that those that remain possibly take on a different “follow through” in their thoughts and words depending on the circumstances of their loss(es).

I know, I know, I’m just rambling on here.  I guess that I am really, truthfully interested if this is something common among the different “types” of loss, or if it’s just something I’ve observed between Sarah and I.  

I am unashamedly going to ask for comments to this post with your thoughts!

Showing 6 reactions

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  • Beth Ensign
    commented 2019-01-21 07:18:28 -0800
    I am not sure about my reactions AFTER losing my husband to a road accident, but I know that, in the couple of months leading up to his death, I was having neurotic and compulsive fears: I would check to see if he was breathing at night when I came to bed and he was already sleeping. I would be fearful if he was not home when I got there—all fears that I recognized as unwelcome and unreasonable intrusions into our placid, predictable life. And then one day he was killed. I am grateful beyond anything for the impulse that sent me back to hug him goodbye that morning. And I wonder about the nature of time and the universe. I do not really think the sudden onset of fear that fall was random, somehow.

    But since: SINCE the accident I have felt in suspended animation. Just about the worst thing imaginable has happened, so what do I fear now? And what am I, anyway, without my partner, my true love, the better half of my life? I am still trying to figure that out. As a woman of 60+, I have reached the age of invisibility in society as a whole, and indeed I do sometimes feel invisible, as if I myself have evaporated.
  • Sarah Treanor
    commented 2019-01-20 07:31:09 -0800
    Wow, such beautiful comments from everyone here. I’m so touched by the things you’ve all shared. Each story is so different and complex but so full of love and bravery. It is why I love this community so much. I cannot imagine how difficult long-term illness is for those of you who have endured it. Even though I did deal with it with my parents, it’s very different from it being your spouse. I suppose it’s no different than how difficult sudden loss seems to those on the other side of things.

    And to Mike, here’s me saying my usual “Don’t die!” today ;) And I will also add, thank you, for not dying on any of the other nearly 1,460 days thus far since we met! <3
  • Lisa Richardson
    commented 2019-01-18 00:13:34 -0800
    Interesting thoughts Mike. I’m a conundrum. My Tony fought a three-year battle with severe depression. Multiple hospitalizations for suicidal ideations, every therapy and treatment known both inpatient and outpatient. And yet the day he completed suicide came out of the blue. He had been improving and was doing very “normal” things that day when I kissed him good bye and left to run some errands. His death was sudden and totally unexpected. Now when faced with that daily risk of something happening to one of my kids I feel like a deer in the headlights. I freeze, catch myself saying a prayer or two, and try to take a step forward. It’s all I know to do.
  • Marissa Hutton
    commented 2019-01-17 14:44:00 -0800
    I think it’s a common thing for folks who have lost someone suddenly to say things like “don’t die” because even though that’s something we have zero control over, “don’t die” gives the person saying it a bit of comfort and control over an uncontrollable situation, if that makes sense.
  • Cathy
    commented 2019-01-15 12:17:00 -0800
    My husband had less than 2 months from diagnoses to death. I knew something was terribly wrong, but he thought not, and promised me to not die. So much for that promise. Since his death, 8 other family/friends have departed. Everyday I wonder “who’s next?”, and every time I talk to my adult kids I say “be safe”. They know why.
    Sarah saying “don’t die” is her way of telling you to be safe. Maybe you’ll take an extra second at a stop sign, or think twice when out in the woods by yourself…you’re getting that reminder from her, and you get why she puts it bluntly. The widow friends I have thru support group all had years of caretaking of spouses, like you. They all knew what was coming, had time to ponder the imminent death; I think it puts your mind in a different place than in a sudden death situation, like Drew’s. You had time to prepare, even tho that prep in no way really prepared you for what life was going to be like without Megan here.
  • Ron Marro
    commented 2019-01-15 08:30:21 -0800
    I couldn’t tell Sandi don’t die. She was in the last battle of an 18 year war with breast cancer. It had finally metastasized to her brain and the last three years were very hard. It was a long good bye, saying I love you as often as possible knowing soon it would be the last time we had a chance to tell each other that comes to mind. It was different than the I love yous that came before this last battle. It was beautiful but with the sense that the end was near. It made us both cry with a mix of saddness and joy for 24 years we had together and the loss that was coming.