Lessons Learned from Lives All Too Short

Alex McMillan

Alex McMillan

Head Trainer, Mid Age Man

Two friends, Jake Ulick and Dan Groshong, died recently, both unexpectedly. Both were very good men. What can we learn from sudden loss?

I found out today that a good friend of mine, actually a groomsman at my wedding, died at some point over the course of the past few days. Jake Ulick, we will miss you.

It’s a shock, to say the least. My thoughts are with his family and those closest to him.

Another friend of mine, Dan Groshong, died last year. Dan, we miss you. I also think of his family.

Both men, in their early 50s, left this world far too early. I worked with both of them, traveled extensively with them, spent a lot of fun and satisfying times with them. Work was good, play was good, life was good.

We’re always so keen to know the facts of how people’s lives end, as if it somehow sums them up. I won’t get into that. It doesn’t sum them up. But both died unexpectedly, when they really shouldn’t have done.

There are a lot of platitudes that people use at such times, about how life is short, and we have to make the most of it. It’s said so often that we gloss it over.

The lives of Dan and Jake are not about me – they were wonderful men, who led interesting and hard-working lives. They both tried their very best to do good. And I think they gave it their all.

I hesitate to write about them, certainly in a fitness blog. Personal training suddenly seems such a low priority.

But what can we learn from such sudden loss? By writing, I hope to make some progress there. File this blog under the fourth pillar of the Mid Age Man philosophy, the “being” part that’s so difficult to tackle and describe.

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At times, our lives seem random, crossing those of others intermittently.

Well, to start with, I’m going to remember both men extremely fondly. They live on in my brain. I learned from each of them, and will carry their best with me for my forever.

That’s partly why I’m writing this. They have inspired me, and will continue to do so.

They can also help guide my life. I hope they can help guide the lives of all that knew them. Take the best from them, and take that with you as you continue. I don’t think either man would want us to feel sad (too much …!) and they would most certainly want us to get on and live our lives.

By coincidence, I had lunch today with another person who I got to know through work, but who has now become a friend. He had a recent health scare in which he probably had a stroke.

The doctors aren’t quite sure. But he was traveling a lot, not getting enough sleep, drinking (by his own admission) too much, on the road, strange food, handling work crises in the middle of the night, stressed, dehydrated, disrupted … then had a hard gym session and overexerted himself. It all added up, and went wrong.

Our bodies can take a lot of punishment – believe me, I’ve tested this out! I have not always treated mine the best, to say the least. When we punish them, we should avoid putting them under undue physical stress. Workouts don’t work when we’re already worn out.

It’s dangerous. But our bodies can also recover remarkably well. We are resilient beings. So you can mount a comeback. My medical readings at one point were all over the place, and not good. Alarmingly so. A month after beginning a health-and-fitness quest, they had recovered. At least, healthy living gives your body a shot.

It’s said that we can’t truly understand our own mortality.  We each star in a nonstop movie that we expect to never end. We know in the abstract that it will end, but for now, it’s like a dream, where we die, and it keeps starting over.

We do learn from sudden death that life is, in some ways, a random walk. There’s a lot of it that we can’t control.

Mindfulness teaches us not to get too attached to worldly things, possessions … but people, too. It’s a phenomenally hard lesson. Actually, I hope I never learn it. You would have to be incredibly hard-hearted NOT to get attached to the people around you.

So it’s good to mourn. It’s good to remember good people. But I guess you also have to let them go.

They are not you. They live in their own movies, star in their own films. Stand back and look at them all together, and I guess they’re like an interesting art-house flick that features the stories of many interlinked and overlapping friendships, relationships and plotlines. You’d have to do it splitscreen a lot of the time. Complex.

I have come close to death a couple of times. When I went for my spell in detox, the staff were worried I was close to a heart attack. I could feel it – I was. I had an earlier run-in with substance abuse that also almost came to the same conclusion.

It’ll sound crazy, but at one point I thought I could see how we could reincarnate. It probably is crazy. It was like going into a tunnel. Mystical. The spirit closes down, and then renews. And we do it all again. It’s virtually impossible to describe. Buy me a drink (make mine a sodawater for now) and I’ll tell you about it …

I can almost believe it – I did at that crazy point. It’s possible. It’s hard to believe the spirit does just disappear.

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Ultimately, we cannot understand our own mortality, the end of our days.

Most of the time I don’t believe it, though. The screen probably just goes blank. Fade to black, white, whatever color you want to call it.

We will never know. The movie always turns out to be a mystery. Like an art house film, it doesn’t come to a nice, tidy, hard and fast conclusion. It’s not Hollywood, that’s for sure.

Maybe we don’t control when our movies are going to end. And maybe we can’t understand that they will end, either. In the old days, you ran out of film. Nowadays I guess we learn that the digital stream will run out of memory, in the end.

It can’t go on forever, and that is what makes living it right now worthwhile. Sometimes we may hold back in life, thinking we don’t want to risk it. Go ahead. Risk it.

Live a little.

We do only live a little. But what we can control is how we live the life we are leading now. We control this moment. It’s the only one we’ve got. The bad news – it will soon be over. The good news – you get another one right away. For now.

Dan and Jake remind me to live my movie as the very best character that I can. Only of course it is not a movie, it’s very real. They teach me this vital lesson, to live that real life, hard and well and as much as I can, sharing it with those around me while I can.

For good. That’s how I want to remember Jake and Dan. Here for good.

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About the author

Alex McMillan

Alex McMillan

Head trainer at Mid Age Man. Alex believes there are four pillars to being healthy: physical fitness, sensible nutrition, mental strength, and wellbeing for your body and soul.

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