"The first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: Decide what you want." - Ben Stein

May 16, 2008

Wendy Anderson could probably be considered the cover girl (poster woman?) for the modern executive working mother. After spending five years as the head of global energy research for Lehman Brothers in London, she mommy-tracked herself and moved from London to Edinburgh, taking a position at investment company Martin Currie, where she negotiated two afternoons off per week as a part of her employment package. At the end of 2005, she left Martin Currie to be a full-time mom, and on May 5th, 2008 she gave birth to her fourth and fifth children, twins, son Alexander and daughter Mackenzie.

Two days later she died, at the age of 38.

We all know at some level that the choices we make in how we live our lives are predicated on our perceptions of our own mortality. Before my son was born, I had no fear of death. I'm not religious, and can't really find it within myself to believe the logistics of an afterlife, but the idea of death held no terrors for me.

Now, of course, its all different. Its the mechanics of death that frighten me -- the fear and pain and uncertainty and desire to live contained in the actual moments of dying. Its the loss and confusion and bereavement and anger of those who must live on. I've been reading Gwendomama a lot recently, which is a blog written by a woman whose son, Elijah, died at the age of 11 months after a lifetime of illness. The trial of Pamela Henderson, a local woman whose infant son drowned in the tub when she fell asleep has been big in the news here. And, of course, China and Myanmar. "If it bleeds, it leads" is what they say. Death, and the struggle against death fill our media, our thoughts, our conscious and unconscious minds.

I know this seems like an odd and morbid topic on a beautiful spring day like today, but bear with me.

Right up until the part where she dies, I think a lot of working moms would be green with envy for Wendy Anderson's life. She had a successful, lucrative career. She was able to find a way to balance her desire for a family with whatever personal satisfaction her work gave her. She was also prosperous enough to be able to give it all up when she chose to, deciding that adding more children to her family and being with them full time was the path that would be most fulfilling for her. She worked in hedge funds, so I have no doubt that she had ample investments and savings, but the loss of an executive income like hers, not to mention the addition of two more babies to her household, must have have caused some lifestyle adjustments for her family.

As we get older, parents or not, our priorities change. What seemed life-or-death at 20 is old news at 30, and what seemed crucial at thirty is, at fifty, an amusing phase. In every other aspect of our lives, we are allowed -- indeed encouraged -- to have our priorities change. Its natural, of course, to also have our priorities change when we become parents (one might even say that its instinct). In part, this happens because becoming a parent makes you so much more keenly aware that you are mortal. Platitudes like "every day is valuable" suddenly have a new meaning. "Live each day to the fullest" becomes more than a cliché.

So, despite the abrupt and untimely end to Wendy Anderson's life, I think I'm still green with envy. She had it all. How cruel -- how specially cruel -- for fate or destiny to take it from her.


Gerard said...

(Sorry - I hope I'm not double-posting; not sure if the first one went through.)

I read a post of yours on AskMe which led me to your profile which sent me to your posts and one mentioned your blog which, of course, I had to visit. I love your writing and the way you think.

I read this post and had to leave a comment and mention a book that changed my views on death forever. It is called 'Staring At The Sun' by Irvin Yalom. It's fairly new - published within the last six months. I must say I have been a fan of Yalom's work for years, but this one lifted me off the floor, held me by the collar and slammed me against the wall. The message was simple: reconcile and make peace with mortality and live free of fear forever. It changed my life. No kidding.

Keep up the wonderful writing!