Regrets Have Expiration Dates

(Originally posted 5/15/2012)

In January 1994, my mother died of heart disease. Eight months later, my father died of cancer. Because they hadn’t belonged to a church, a minister was provided by the funeral parlor.

Before my mother’s wake, the minister gathered all twenty kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids. He asked us to tell him something about this woman he’d be eulogizing the next day. He wanted to relate some happy memories of my mother at her funeral. In complete silence, we looked at each other, incredulous, thinking, “Come on, somebody. Come up with something!” Digging into the recesses of our memories, we slogged through the anger and sorrow. Trying desperately to recall a long-forgotten quip or enlightening conversation, maybe a silly habit, a favorite joke, one particular Christmas tradition, or what about that time when…?

Nothing.

At the end of my mother’s life, her family had absolutely nothing to say about her. Well, nothing you would say at a funeral. You think it, but you don’t say it. Seeing that there’d be no wealth of joyful material from which to draw his comments, the minister politely excused himself to hunt up some old familiar one-size-fits-all sermon. That experience left me numb.

My father’s death was like suffering through a bad movie for the second time: The same cast of characters, the same setting, and faulty plot line. Again, the twenty of us couldn’t come up with a thing. The silence was deafening – and, yes, I was angry. I wanted to shout, “How could the two of you do this? How could you inhabit this earth for over seventy years, at the epicenter of a family you were supposed to love, and not leave behind even the faintest happy memory?”

I hadn’t expected this level of grief. I didn’t understand it. How could I grieve for the parents who had left me nothing to miss? Eventually, though, I came to see that I was grieving the absence of love. I longed for my parents’ love all my life, but I had just been fooling myself. And now…that longing would remain unfulfilled.

Those two funerals, and my indignant response to them, proved pivotal to the changes in my life that would follow. I was inspired to set two goals: To seek the love that would draw me closer to God and to share that love with others, especially my family. I hoped I’d have a different funeral someday, a different legacy than my parents. I wanted to be remembered as someone who had loved, someone who had honestly and openly confessed to others when I’d failed or fallen short, someone who had needed and known God’s mercy. And I wanted everyone who attended my funeral to have a smile on their face! – a smile that reflected the joy we’d shared, the compassion we’d known, the forgiveness we’d received, and the love we never doubted.

As scripture tells us, “…if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

After determining my two goals and reviewing my life accordingly, I could see that a mountain would indeed have to be moved. And, in all honesty, I also felt that it might be impossible! Did I even have the strength of character to become the person I envisioned?

That was fifteen years ago, and I can tell you with absolute conviction that it is not only NOT impossible, but it is God’s promise to us and will be fulfilled by him! He simply needs our mustard seed of faith, shaky knees, sweaty palms, and trepid “okay, I’ll give it a go” response. The result is not ours to know. However, it is God’s already set-in-place plan if we’re willing to cooperate with him – and trust.

Perhaps, unlike everyone else in all creation, you are privy to the date and time of your demise. But, even then, you may or may not have LOTS of time to fix all the messes you have made in your life and the lives of everyone around you. Otherwise, procrastinating on this one is probably not a good idea.

CDC Concedes: No Known Cure for #1 Cause of Death

(Originally posted 10/17/13)

After extensive research by the Centers for Disease Control, it is confirmed that everyone who starts breathing will eventually stop. But if you’re holding out for a miracle, I have some bad news for you. Are you sitting down? Stop breathing, and you’re gonna die. So, stop breathing at your own peril…

DUH!

Do we really need the Centers for Disease Control to tell us that we will all die? Perhaps. Apparently, in our western culture anyway, many of us believe that if we ignore that 900-pound gorilla in the room, death will never darken our door.

Not so, folks. Sorry to be the one to dampen your dreams of living forever, at least here on this earth, in this body. It just ain’t gonna happen. Why does it matter? Because there’s a reason we refuse to accept that death is another part of our journey. But, if we can’t bring ourselves to face our own mortality, then those following us may be doomed to that same fear and uncertainty.

There could be any number of reasons we avoid the inevitable. Pick one or choose your own:

  • I am afraid of the unknown, and death is the ultimate unknown. If someone would just come back and tell me what it’s like…sigh…

Remember the rich man begging from hell that his five brothers be told of his torment so they wouldn’t end up there. Luke 16:27-31: The rich man said, “Then let me ask you, Father: Send him to the house of my father where I have five brothers, so he can tell them the score and warn them so they won’t end up here in this place of torment.” Abraham answered, “They have Moses and the Prophets to tell them the score. Let them listen to them.” “I know, Father Abraham,” he said, “but they’re not listening (my emphasis).

  • I kinda like it here with all my stuff.
  • I don’t want my husband to remarry some snarky woman who will raise my children. (That used to be my favorite. Never mind that I was that snarky woman!)
  • I wanna be here for: graduations, weddings, and grandkids. Oh yeah, and the anniversary when you get all those cool red vases and candy dishes you never use.
  • I have lots of plans: I have to finish school, finish a marathon, finish the dishes.
  • And, what is probably the biggest reason: fear that my sins will come back to haunt me on that great judgment day. They are surely logged somewhere: I never forgave _________, I never asked forgiveness from ________, I never admitted to stealing ________, or lying about _________, or coveting ___________. And – sin of sins – I missed Mass on October 23rd, 1974.

It’s all there. All my ugliness. I really intended to clean that up “one of these days”. I just never got around to it because there was lots of time. I never considered that I would die at an inopportune time.

  • All of the above.
  • None of the above.

Death is Cousin Eddie: obnoxious, showing up unannounced, making impossible demands, and flushing your sewage in the middle of the street for everyone’s viewing pleasure.

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Beauty, for sure, but ugliness also manifests itself during the dying process: Ours, that of the person dying, or both, as the world watches in horror and disbelief. “Whoa, didn’t see that coming!” A good example was the funeral of my grandmother. With a room full of friends and relatives, my mother and aunt began to fight over who would get my grandmother’s…ready?…wheelchair. Not millions of dollars or prized possessions, but her wheelchair. There you go. What’s your worst memory? I’m sure you have one. We all have at least one.

As I sit here and write today, tears well up in my eyes from an experience I had just last night. When called by my supervisor, I will sit vigil with dying patients. I consider it a blessing and a privilege to be in such a holy place at such a time in the dying person’s life and to be with loved ones if they’re there.

Some are not there by choice, as was the case last night. For obvious reasons, I cannot share details of the person I visited. But I can tell you this, she was a believer, but her husband was not. They had no children and no other family. When her husband was told she would likely not make it through the night, he refused to go see her. Now, I am only speculating here because I have no way of knowing. She had dementia and was not coherent enough for me to understand her needs or the source of her torment. I can only speculate after reading volumes of examples from the experiences of hospice RNs.

Trying to fully understand what is happening during the dying process is impossible because it is one of God’s great mysteries. However, we do have hints of what may be taking place. For example, some people will not die until a son from out-of-town arrives or until a beloved spouse says they will be okay and gives them “permission” to pass.

I am slowly witnessing glimpses of the mystery and beauty of our creation by a mighty and loving God. We just welcomed our thirteenth grandbaby two days ago. YEA! What a blessed event!!! Even at number thirteen, I am still awestruck by the magnificence of the beginning of life. Aren’t we all? Isn’t it just breathtaking? But the end of life? Not so much.

I will try my best, as inadequate as this may be, to summarize what I have grown to understand about death and dying. Bear with me.

At that moment of birth, we are most connected to the very core of our Being – God. Remember, God “knew” us before we were born: Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born, I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.” But, then, so many things go awry, don’t they? We lose our way, push away, “cut the cord” I suppose you could say, and go our own way.

Then the end comes. (I told you that was going to happen, right? Okay, just wanted to be sure I didn’t leave that little detail out.) So, guess what happens then? God shows up, if you will, to bring us back to our core, back to him, back home. It’s mysterious and glorious. But, if we’re not ready, we will fight it with all we have left.

We often struggle to get to that place of peace and trust in the process because of all of our “stuff”. And that’s what I believe was happening to the woman I sat with last night. I do know this: she’s a believer, but her husband is not (a huge problem for her). They both were very ill and, at some point, promised not to put the other in a nursing home. That’s all I know for sure. The rest is speculation.

Her breathing would slow, then race, then stop – over and over again. She would seem to be peaceful one moment and then cry out inaudibly the next. What was she trying so desperately to say? Was it physical pain or emotional torment she was expressing? I don’t know. I prayed with her and for her and her husband, and at times that would make her cry out. At one point, she said clearly, “pray”. So I did. Is she still with us today? I don’t know as yet. But here’s what is so important about what I have shared with you:

Life should be lived each day as if it’s the last because it may very well be. Suppose you and I would just accept that fact and live accordingly. Wouldn’t we make our little world a better place while we’re here, and wouldn’t we make our own dying something beautiful and memorable for our loved ones? When it’s my turn to take that final journey, I want my kids, my thirteen grandkids, and seven great-grandkids to witness the glory of God at his best and not fear their own journey. I want to die with grace. The End.