Tomorrow is not guaranteed.
We will all face death. We all face the inevitable in our own way.
For my father, it was through denial.
Dad was always larger than life. It’s little wonder that he would try to be larger than death.
It’s not that he denied that he had cancer. He just doggedly maintained that he would overcome it. Three days before he lost the ability to communicate, he was bragging about beating cancer and making plans for the things he would do as his health returned.
And, really, what’s wrong with denial? Would he be better off of he faced his impending death? Would that have created a better outcome?
He was a strong personality in life and the denial was an extension of that never-give-up attitude. Plus his denial gave him comfort. That’s good enough for me.
My mother faced death with grace and acceptance.
Mom was a 10-year cancer survivor. We thought we lost her with her first bout with cancer, but she came back from the brink and really lived her final 10 years. She devoted herself to charitable works and her family. She lived those years on her terms.
When I told her that her cancer had returned, she dropped her head and whispered “oh, no.”
But only for a moment. She looked up, took a deep breath and said, “alright, then.”
She walked to the phone and made two calls. The first was to her pastor, because she needed spiritual support in that moment. The second was to the funeral home to make sure that the arrangements she had previously made in secret were complete.
She wanted us to be free to deal with our grief without having to make preparations on her behalf. In that moment, her thoughts were about the impact on others rather than herself.
That selflessness lasted until her passing.
My wife, Julie, faced death with gratitude.
Our first act after getting her diagnosis of terminal pancreatic cancer was a bucket-list trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in California. I will always be grateful to my brother David for making that possible.
Afterward, Julie swung into action. She had a large collection of moose paraphernalia and dedicated herself to giving it away. With each item, she hand wrote a touching note saying why this particular item reminded her of the recipient and how much that person had meant to her.
We then held a “celebration of life” party. Her message of how grateful she was for each person continued there. Although the word “goodbye” never left her lips, she was saying just that while she still had the strength to do so.
Remarkable. Just remarkable.
Julie passed on her 50th birthday. I hope that when my time comes, I will face it with strength, grace and gratitude. I think I’ll start the gratitude part right now.
Because tomorrow truly isn’t guaranteed.
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