Facing death

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Gregory Moffatt

As soon as the sheet of metal roofing hit the back of my leg I knew I was in trouble. Working on my timber farm, I was repairing a roof when the piece of metal slipped and slashed across my calf. I looked down knowing what I would see.

My left leg was severed nearly in half and blood was gushing from the wound. I sat down, stripped off my sweatshirt, and wrapped the fragments of my leg as tightly as I could. Even though this only took a matter of a few seconds, the ground beneath me was already a pool of red.

I dug my cell phone from my pocket, called 911, and explained the situation and my location far from any main road. The operator said someone was on the way and hung up. After that, the wind through the trees and my breathing were the only sounds I could hear.

I knew it would be a while before anyone could find me so far from anywhere. I watched the flow of red soaking through the make-shift tourniquet wondering if I was bleeding to death and tightened it even harder.

For those first few minutes, I wondered if I would survive. Maybe this is it, I thought. But it wasn’t like you might think. I was surprised at how calm and at peace I was.

At first I thought I have so much I still want to do, but immediately, I realized there would never be a day when I didn’t think that way. Almost with a shrug, I was thinking that everyone has to die sometime. And even though I hadn’t planned on it being that day, I supposed it was as good as any. Huh. The end. Strangely peaceful.

Many times over the years I’ve written in this column about my hopes and dreams. I’ve chronicled my own parenting challenges and shared with you my longings to be a good father and a good person.

In more recent years I’ve written about things I’d do differently if given the chance and to my readership I’ve exposed my failings in one arena or another.

But sitting there for almost an hour on the cold, muddy ground, gray skies above me and misty rain beginning to fall, I was at peace. I called my wife to say goodbye, but there was no answer. So, cold as it may seem, a voice message had to do.

My life didn’t flash before my eyes and there was no remorse other than knowing my family would be devastated. Despite the intense pain, I was totally lucid — no shock or dizziness. I monitored my breathing, sensed my blood pressure, checked my toes for movement and sensation, and listened to the wind.

I love the outdoors and if that had been my last day, it would have been OK. I would have died in a place that I love and I knew I had done all I could to save myself. The rest was up to fate.

But the point of this story isn’t to milk your emotions or to create cheap melodrama. The point is that I’m not only grateful I have another chance at life, but I’m so grateful I didn’t find myself facing death with sadness and regrets. I’ve lived a good life, and I know my existence has made a difference in people’s lives.

Thousands of students, thousands of readers, and hundreds of audiences and clients have been influenced by my work. I think overall I have left the world a better place than when I arrived in it, and maybe that is what it is all about.

I’m OK with who I have become and how I have spent my days. Throughout this painful event, that fact has brought me solace, and maybe that is as good as it gets.

Obviously, I didn’t bleed to death. Beyond that, I didn’t lose my leg. Long months of recovery are still ahead of me, but gratefully, walking again is in my future.

Knowing our defects and failing, many of us struggle to live with ourselves. I suppose what I’m hoping for is that you too can find a place where you are OK with the end, no matter how many years away that might be.

I was tested by facing death and it has shown me that I can live with myself. No “what if’s” or “if only’s.” Of all my accomplishments in life, that kind of peace may be the most significant.

[Gregory K. Moffatt, Ph.D., is a college professor, published author, licensed counselor, certified professional counselor supervisor, newspaper columnist and public speaker. He holds an M.A. in Counseling and a Ph.D. in Psychology from Georgia State University and has taught at the college level for over 30 years. His website is gregmoffatt.com.]