Mortality Math and Neon Numbers


“Your mom lived a long time,” said my six-year-old over Cheerios at breakfast, “and then she died.”

“Yes, she lived a long time and then she died,” I said. “She lived until she was…”

Uh, oh. I didn’t want to go there. “Until she was old,” I said.

“How old was she?” he said.

Little kids are so smart. I was caught and had to answer him.

“She died when she was 45.”

“She was young when she died,” he said. Smart, and can do the math.

“Yes,” I said. “She was young. But your great-grandmother lived to be 83.”

This launched a series of fish stories, my husband and I recounting all our relatives who died in their 80s, 90s, virtually any age older than 45.

My son knows I’m 40. He announced it to anyone who would listen the night of my birthday at The Cheesecake Factory. And he knows 40 is only five less than 45. Like I said he can do the math.

I can do the math too. Given those numbers, I have less than five years to go.

My math is more advanced than my son’s. What he doesn’t know is my maternal grandfather died at 50. Looking at this pattern of 50 then 45, what comes next?


I used to figure 40, but so far I’m still alive. My new guess is 42 1/2. Time is running out.

My husband thinks I’m mad when I start this. He was there when my mother was diagnosed with cancer, when she died 10 months later, when we buried her. He gets my grief. The death wish however throws him for a loop.

“I do not want to die in Missouri,” I said upon returning from spring break. Missouri is pronounced misery when I’m particularly homesick.

“I want to die in North Carolina. We can stay here for now, but as soon as I am diagnosed with a terminal illness, I am moving with or without you.”

Or how about this one? “If something were to happen to me, I want you to print out my blog posts and save them for when our son is older.”

My husband stares at me perplexed, troubled, gently shaking his head. We’ve been down this road before.

“You’re not your mother,” he says. “You’re not going to die when you’re 45.”

“How do you  know?” I might be 42 1/2. “You don’t understand.”

Hope Edelman understands. She was only 17 when her mom died.

In her book “Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss,” Edelman calls it Mortality Math 101. It’s the calculation “in which a mother’s age at death is a fixed value, and the only distance worth measuring is the one between here and there (1994, p. 222).”

I don’t want to die at 45 or anytime between now and then or for many years after. But I don’t know. None of us do.


My mom’s death strips me of the illusion that it can’t happen. Leaves me exposed as I slowly inch toward the “neon number,” a phrase from Edelman’s 2007 book “Motherless Mothers: How Mother Loss Shapes the Parents We Become.”

45-45-45. It blinks and stutters, glaring up ahead in the dark.

I can ignore it. Pretend I don’t see it. Lie and tell my son 45 is really quite old.

Or I can set my face like flint toward it, look it in the eye, and pray to live.

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

“Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death, is your sting?” 1 Corinthians 15:54-55 NIV

Diamond Rio, One More Day.

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14 Responses to Mortality Math and Neon Numbers

  1. Carrie Leverman

    Amy, Amy, Amy! The first thing that comes to mind is the song ‘More Beautiful You’… “You were created to fill a purpose that only you can do.” The number is irrelevant, we just have to keep our eyes on fulfilling His purpose. I can understand how easy it is to slip into the ‘what if’ mode because both of my grandmothers only lived to be 56. We are still blessed to have both of my parents alive and well but the worry still lurks in my mind especialy when asked about family’s medical history by a doctor. I’m unable to answer the question because neither of my grandmothers lived long enough to know what diseases might have taken over their bodies. I just try to remind myself that God’s plan is perfect and whether our number is high or low, striving to fulfill His purpose is the more important message we want to instill in our children. You are a beautiful you! Stop stressing and LIVE the life you’ve been given. But I totally agree with you about ‘misery’ hence the move to Florida. ;-) Love ya!

    • Thanks, Carrie! Keeping it real, keeping my face forward as much as possible, and my eyes on what I have to do. You are a gem. So glad to know I’m not the only one who pronounces MO that way. It has something to do with being raised in the south, I just know it does. Love ya too! Kisses to you, J, T & M.

  2. Rhonda Burns

    Aimee, enjoyed reading this. Well, maybe enjoyed isn’t the right word. :)
    Anyway, my mom was diagnosed with cancer at 44 but thankfully she was healed at 45 and remains physically healed. Still praying God will spare her till she is spiritually healed! …I struggle with thinking I’ll die young: aunt at 40 and grandpa died of heart attacks, my dad and I have heart conditions. There is some weird balance between longing to be with our heavenly Father/away from the yuck of this world and finding true fulfillment here/loving and being thankful for what we’ve been given.
    Many blessings to you and your family!

    • Rhonda, thank you. I pray your mom is ultimately healed too. I did not know of her/your struggle. You’re not alone. Miss you guys. Give Joe and little one our best.

  3. Oh Aimee…I’m bawling. For me, that number is slightly higher, but only by 10 years. And in my head, the scenario plays out the same, except that, like my mom, I picture being sick for a long time.

    Here’s to being healthy, and living to be old and gray and wrinkled, with our husbands by our sides shaking their heads at our crazy. :)

  4. Wendy Turner

    Hi Aimee,
    I’m right there with you only it was my dad at 45 and a motorcycle accident. Of course when I got sick in March in the midst of my 44th birthday I was sure I was dying of cancer. Praise God it was only mono. But those thoughts do creep in and try to steal our joy and our victory. I must abide in the vine so that his victory shines through me and has very little to do with me. In my weakness, He is strong. Amen

    • Well said, Wendy. I had forgotten your dad was so young when you lost him. Sorry I never had the chance to meet him.
      Love you and so thankful with you that it was mono. Looking forward to many more years of friendship!

  5. Aimee,

    What a wonderful, heartfelt posting this was. You have a real talent for putting real life into words and putting a smile on your readers faces. First of all, I am so sorry to hear of your mother passing. I did not know, and I feel your pain. I have lost both my mother and father over the last seven years at very young ages, so I understand exactly what you write of. Mom died at 54 and Dad died at 62–not nearly as young as your mom but young all the same. Particularly mom… That said, it warms my heart to see the class and strength with which you are handling it. I am not at all surprised, however, because you always were pretty darn classy… I wrote of my mother and it’s impact on me as well if you would like to check it out. It is here –

    Also, I linked back to your blog here in the posting and hope more people are lucky enough to enjoy your postings.

    God bless you Aimee and your family,


    • Rodney, I didn’t know you lost both your parents. They were very young; 54 and 62 are very young. I’m sorry for your losses.
      Thank you for reading, for your compliments and for the link back. You are very kind. God bless you, too, friend!

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