07/25/2013 03:51 pm ET Updated Sep 24, 2013

Seven Years to Live?

Someone told me last week that given my age (67), and the number of years I've lived as a quadriplegic (33), my life expectancy was about seven years! I immediately called my financial advisor and said "Remember how you told me last year that the way things looked now I might run out of money by the time I was 80? Well, I have great news. I just found out that I will probably be dead by the time I'm 73, so I don't have to worry about that anymore!"

It's a funny thing about numbers and life expectancy. Someone told me after my accident that the life expectancy of a quadriplegic in 1979 was between 11 and 15 years. Meanwhile, my insurance company keeps paying bills and is probably mumbling, "All right already, isn't it time for this guy to catch up with the statistics?"

Like many of us, I have come close to death several times. And like many of us, it can be ever-present background noise in our lives, and the lives of those who love us. So what to do with all of this death stuff?

Many lives their lives in fear of death. They spend a great deal of money and energy trying to stay a step ahead of that angel with the sickle. A patient of mine asked how she could stop her demons from nipping at her heels. She said no matter what she did, they were always right behind her. I told her the only way to do that was to sit down and stop running. And guess what happened?

Singer-songwriter Paul Simon once sang, "The way we look to a distant constellation/ That's dying in the corner of the sky... "

Once we experience the fragility of our lives, we realize how precious that life is. Knowing I might not see another summer, I can't tell you how much I am enjoying watching the colors on the trees and the squirrels and chipmunks playing on the ground. And I would guess that if I am lucky enough to see next summer, I will probably enjoy that even more because I will feel more gratitude that I still here.

Many years ago, I became friendly with Andrea Collins Smith. She was the wife, mother of six and had Stage IV inflammatory breast cancer. She was dying. At the same time, she had the most radiant smile you can imagine. One day in the early spring, I called her just to say hello and she told me that she was on the beach in Ocean City with her children. She explained that someone had taken all of them down there, helped her to get onto the beach and that when I called she was just watching her children run around and play. And then she said, "You know Dan, I think this is the best day of my life." She died several days later.

May this day be the best of your life.

For more by Dan Gottlieb, Ph.D., click here.

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