10,000 Days


John Wright


Lately Iíve pondered the loss of my loving wife, who died two months ago, and one of the realizations has caused me to think about just how little time we had together. Sure, the title to this article sort of gives away the answer Ö but numbers alone can be deceiving. I decided to dig into the detail. Actually, I did this kind of thing as a young adult when I was curious about just how many days we have to live.

What is 10,000 days? For starters, if we eliminate the effect of leap years, we can convert 10,000 days into years simply by dividing by 365. The answer is approximately 27 years and 5 months. That isnít very long Ö it means most of us die by or before living 30,000 days, as that is a tad more than 82 years.

Our sense of numbers will typically allow us to "feel" how long something happens to be, though our sense of the amount of time something takes is variable by age and activity. When we are young an hour can seem like forever, particularly if we are doing something we dislike. As we age we are surprised how quickly time appears to have accelerated. Each year seems to go by quickly Ö and more quickly than the preceding year. A day is thus a variable in terms of how long it feels.

But even so, 10,000 days seems like a very long time. What I wrote in earlier articles indicated that Marie and I were together just short of 30 years, so why am I fixated instead on 10,000 days? The answer is that things like business travel subtract real togetherness days from the dating leading to marriage and the until death scenario. There is the rub.

Marie and I had different business travel events while we worked at the DuPont company. All told we probably lost no more than six months together due to that travel from our initial dating until retirement. Not bad. That only takes about 182 days from a near 30 year total of about 10,922, leaving an apparent net of 10,840 days together.

Post retirement from DuPont Marie became an SAP consultant for a startup company, International Consulting Solutions, or, ICS. Now the business travel really increased and we lost another month together in the first nine months of her employment. So the total was reduced to 10,810 togetherness days. Moreover, nine months after starting with ICS she accepted a full time project assignment in California, which meant she would live in California while I maintained our home back in Delaware and visited her periodically. In some instances she traveled home to Delaware, for example, a weekend each month, holidays and other special occasions.

Cutting to the chase, we lost an additional 730 days until she left ICS and actually became an employee of her former customer, Autodesk, Inc. That happened in the fall of 1995, but the net effect is that we were now down to 10,080 days together. You are starting to get the picture, arenít you? Her employment at Autodesk involved a great amount of project related global travel with living assignments in Japan and Switzerland. The net effect was to cut our together days by about 500, leaving only 9580 days.

The global assignments were followed by her transfer to the state of New Hampshire in which she traveled half the time to California for about five years. So now we can lop off another 900 days, taking our total together days down to 8680. Ugh!

As you can see, what looked like something close to 30 years actually turned out to be about 23 years and 9 months. It is no wonder that I feel so cheated with her dying a mere two and one half years after going into semi-retirement, with 80% of that time spent fighting her illness. It is no wonder that she felt utterly cheated when she realized her prognosis as she had become very health conscious for the previous six years and had become very physically fit. You can easily understand that the last two years were spent in emotional distress for both of us in trying to fight off her brain tumor. Were we together physically? Yes. Did we have quality time during those two years? Perhaps 30 days of the total of 730 days. There was much physical and emotional support between us during all of those days but one can hardly call them quality togetherness time. They were days of pure fear despite our complete emotional and physical support of each other. It was so obvious by our inability to celebrate days like Christmas, which used to be a huge holiday time for Marie and me.

The net effect is that I have to subtract yet another 700 days from the remaining 8680 because we really werenít able to live anything resembling a normal life, which would include relaxation, fun and looking ahead to a fun future in retirement. So now we were down to a net total time of normal living together of only 7980 days, or, less than 22 years. I am appalled with that realization.

There can be no fault finding with the reality that Marie chose a career path that resulted in great advancements and rewards. Some careers simply canít be pursued without some loss of time together. She deserved her time in the sun. Of course, how many of us think about that time lost until some tragedy comes along to end all quality time together? There can be no fault finding with the reality that her brain tumor was not a result of anything she did wrong. But the net effect is still an unmitigated disaster for her, and a horrible loss for me of her love and companionship and all the beauty she created for us, other family members and friends. And I want to recognize here the pain felt by those close to Marie besides myself. There is much mourning and sense of loss.

What possible value can be gained by you from reading this article? Merely the obvious, at first, and that is we must remind ourselves regularly to cherish our time together with our loved ones when we can be together, and especially to let those people know how we feel often. Underneath the obvious is a whole collection of what-ifs that perhaps are best not explored here. Life lived to the full carries with it the risk of great losses as well as the opportunity for great gains, in no particular pattern. Life lived with intentionally limited relationships carries far less risk of loss in some ways but far greater guarantee of loss by failing to develop the full set of life relationship experiences. Make your choices carefully, for it is possible to lose the beauty that life can bring either by having a marginal marital relationship or by having a great marital relationship in which you give away too much precious time that might be spent together.

10,922 days turns out not to be much time at all. To figure out that the real days together numbered less than 8000 was surprising and depressing. The days and the years simply passed, together or not, with us frequently missing each other, and I woke up recently realizing that at age 64, instead of 34, that my time is pretty much used up. There is no going back to start over.

There is very low likelihood of me finding much joy in the future, for the times and events that forged Marieís and my relationship simply wonít occur again. And I am the type of person who thrived in the world of a great marriage, to the exclusion of other more selfish or singular choices. That means I am most unlikely to change the basic person that I am, and I am very unlikely to ever spend quality relationship time with someone as great as Marie was. Yet I must live out my natural life so that others who love me, or care about me as a friend, or need my help have me present to fulfill at least those roles.

My guess is that you understand why that future looks so dismal at this time. So whether I have only 4000 more days to live or more or less, it doesnít appear to me that I will have quality time. Indeed, as I age I will feel less well, be able to do less, and not have the compensating comfort and joy of companionship with the one I truly loved. For that there is no substitute, and there is nothing that loving family or friends can do to mitigate that reality.

10,000 days? Well spent they are far too few in number. Poorly spent they are a cruel sentence. So grab whatever joys you can while you can. Remember to count the days too as a reminder. They can stop in a heartbeat.