Perhaps it was several months after I began my second half century of living that I started to face the reality of dying. The decade of the ’90’s was the decade of death for me. Within a short time span my wife’s parents both died, she suddenly with heart failure, and he from a combination of heart ache and lung cancer. It was a tough period of our lives. My wife was not good at grieving and although it was seldom if ever mentioned, her parents deaths were always standing in the shadows of our minds. Three years later my father died and my grief was painful and lasting. And then in December of 1997, only 10 days before her 44th birthday, my Jeanine suffered a fatal heart attack. Now death was really personal, and ugly, and unavoidable forever more.
Meanwhile, in the small community where I lived in North Texas, friend after friend lost battles to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and old age. And, back home in the mountains of North Carolina aging aunts and uncles and alcoholic cousins were dying. I started to notice the ages of people whose obituaries were in the Dallas Morning News, and that maybe half of them were younger than me.
After being remarried to a wonderful woman in 1999 and our shared ministry to people in grief for about eight years, my personal mortality is never far from my consciousness. This month, Lord willing, I will have my 66th birthday. Sixty six years of high mileage, mostly on bad roads with little maintenance, has left me with my share of aches, pains, and scars to remind me of the “good old days”.
I don’t mind dying. I don’t dread it one bit so far as I can tell. If God and His Word are reliable (and they are!) I am not only ready, but some days eager for that transition. My problem is the distance between today and that day, whenever it is. You see, my body is aging at a faster rate than my mind. Often I’ll catch myself dreaming the dreams of a much younger man, not one who is riding at a quick gait into the sunset. I have quite a “bucket list” but most of those things are no more realistic than the visions of a little boy who hopes to take on the super-powers of his super heroes on TV.
It isn’t easy to stand flat footed and look reality full in the face. There are things I would like to do that will not happen, not only because of the brevity of life, but other reasons as well. Don’t mistake this seeming pessimism as me giving up on living, nothing could be farther from the truth. I still have a jest for living and count myself among the most fortunate to have the life I have.
I am disappointed that minds and bodies don’t usually age at the same speed. Some people’s bodies function well long after their minds have stopped being useful. Others have great minds, wonderful dreams, and fresh ideas trapped in bodies too worn out and disfunctional to give real meaning to what they imagine.
Give up? Never! Often when I go to my tool box it’s the old tools that are the best ones. Maybe it’s true as well for what some folks would consider old fools. So, I’ll keep hope alive, keep dreaming big dreams, and trusting my God and who knows? It is such hope, a fresh optimism at the start of each new day, that gives texture and vitality to living and causes an old man to walk with his face into the wind and his eyes on the horizon eager for the next challenge.
To my young friends: No, life isn’t fair. But, God is faithful! Even if you put your whole trust in Christ and follow Him the days of your life it might not end well…on earth. Good men and women, holy people, die in auto accidents, fall victim to cancer, and even are tortured and killed because of their faith. The good news is eternal life trumps all of our troubles and trials. One day the eternal day will break out and darkness and every evil will forever be no more. Live, and love, and learn, all day every day. Every life is a gift, use yours wisely.
Life is a unique gift not to be taken lightly.
Your post struck a cord here. Thanks for putting into words the feelings some us of have as we get to this time of our lives. Thank God for giving us a way out,,
Royce – Your post struck a chord with me, too. I am your age (just turned 66), so definitely feel being older. The main thing probably is that I’ve been diabetic for more than 41 years, so have many, MANY troubling effects from that. In March 2004, I had five heart by-passes and it was only because of Tom’s quick thinking and action that I went in the hospital (with horrible “heart burn”), where they discovered all of the severely clogged arteries. I also have dysfunction in my heart since (a form of congestive heart failure), neuropathy many places, in my bladder, eyes, all over, really.
Like you, I feel completely ready to die, but also want to stay here to be here for my family and all those around me to whom I try to help. My main focus with all is prayer and writing.
You talk about synchronized dying in speaking about your mind/heart and body, but for me that would also include between me and Tom. I know you have already suffered that loss of a spouse at an early age, so know more about this than I do. (Tom nearly had a fatal heart attack in Oct. 1999 – the main front artery to his heart was totally blocked – the one they call the “widow maker,” such as Tim Russert had.) I feel blessed with every day since then that we have had together.
My mom is still alive and in good health (other than growing memory loss) at nearly 90, but because of all of my health problems, I do not expect to live anywhere near that long. She has been without my dad now for 15 years and has done really well the entire time, by the grace of God. I don’t think I could do nearly as well, but don’t really expect to have to do so. So, it is Tom I worry about in being alone. He is very self sufficient in most ways, but we really work together as one unit in all we do.
It’s funny, but as we got in bed last night I told him I felt happy, comfortable and loved, and he said “you are all of those.” Then I told him I was glad that I have lived this long because I am happier now than ever before, I think, deep down inside. He said he was happy I’ve lived this long, too, because he would be “pitiful” without me!! He said in half in jest, but I think it is really how he feels, you know? He depends on me for many things, as I depend on him.
As far as what I want to do in life – or dreams I have left – I think in terms of very simple things nowadays. I feel like if I should die now, I would have accomplished all that God would have me do up until this time. The “worldly” things I have not yet done continue to fade away without me taking much notice of them any more. Oh – it would be nice to have lots of money to be able to travel distant places and see and do many things, but it is even better to be at home!! We were out in Texas visiting family last week for 8 days and had a wonderful, joyous time with everyone, but last Saturday we pushed it from Abilene at my mom’s, 750 miles home – 13 hours worth in the end – to arrive here at 8:30 p.m. and it was such a relief to be HOME together!
Sometimes I hope & pray that I will be able to do all of the things I couldn’t do here in eternity. Wouldn’t that be wonderful!! A new heaven and a new earth. I guess – know -we’ll all see one day.
Sorry to so long. You got me to thinking!!
So glad to have you as an online friend and to know you as a sister in my forever family of God. I’m thankful that you are still living and loving, what more could one ask?
Thanks for your encouraging words, Royce. We are struggling to deal with our daughter’s ill health. Life isn’t fair, is it?