I am looking for a shelf big enough in my kitchen to accommodate the Costco size bottle of Sriracha.

Sriracha is a spicy chile sauce and Costco is the discount company that sells you 27 avocados at such a great price you don’t mind throwing out the 17 that rotted. While I’m moving every other condiment all over the place, trying to find the perfect spot for this huge supersized container, I’m jokingly wondering who will outlive whom. I’m almost 75 and I’m pretty sure I will never use enough of this stuff and live to tell about it.

Which of course brings me to what this is really about, what I have studiously and carefully been pushing to the back of my mental shelf: my mortality.

My mother, in her eighties, would make jokes about buying green bananas. What’s the point, she would say. Three of them will still be ripening while they’re carrying me out feet first. And I would quip back, so I’ll inherit three bananas. I could do worse. We were still laughing together when she died at 92, hundreds of bananas later.

This bottle of Sriracha is haunting me.

When my son Dan was dying I kept lecturing myself that what a caterpillar calls death, we call a butterfly, that it was just his body that would be gone, that his spirit would live on, that he was going from form to formless. At least that’s what I had read in all my spiritual books piled on my coffee table. Admittedly, some of them are under old New Yorkers or bowls of half eaten raisin bran, or last week’s Gazette, but those books have been my teachers and my guides. Form to formless sure sounded good until his form was actually missing. Then I had to go from the lecture hall to the actual lab work.

That’s a work still in progress. Intellectually I’m right there; emotionally I’m getting there.

This morning I got an email from a close friend. He found a lump. Two days later it’s cancer, and now he has four months to live. I have read the email five times. It’s so surreal I can’t wrap my head, much less my heart, around it.

My mantra for years has been “I will never die.” I can say my last bike ride on Lobersterville, I can say my last falafel wrap at Josh’s truck, I can say my last swim at Ice House. But all those lasts are seasonal and will return next year.

I’ve never said “my last breath.”

How is my friend doing it? His email is filled with love and gratitude for all of his friends and family. Love. No complaints. No anger. No regrets. Just love and gratitude.

Does knowing you are as impermanent as those overripe avocados make you less or more accepting of your own demise? If you don’t believe in your demise, no amount of avocados and their ripening process is of any interest to you. I have always just escaped to the corner of my mind where, from his poem Forgetfulness, Billy Collins’ fishing village (which has no phone) is located.

But now I have been given a gift by a dear wise soul in a shocking email.

The Sriracha stands behind all those other perfectly fine herbs and spices: ginger, coriander, cumin, nutmeg, where it wants to become the star of my own tragic opera entitled: “Your days are numbered.”

Well, of course, my days are numbered. They’ve been numbered since I was born, for God’s sake. But that doesn’t mean I’ve had to count them. Now with this rude awakening I suddenly realize if I keep chanting that tune with denial as the chorus, I’m at the very same time not in full gratitude for my life either.

I make a deal with myself. I will reread my friend’s words again and again. I will place the Sriracha front row center. I will use it as the wake up call that it is; the reminder that every breath is precious, every day is precious, every moment is precious.

And that this one could be my last.

Nancy Slonim Aronie is the author of Writing from the Heart (Hyperion) and the founder of the Chilmark Writing Workshop on Martha’s Vineyard.