Saturday, August 4, 2007

Lessons in living

It's been a harsh week. Late Monday night my aunt Honey died. If you read my earlier post you know that she was not doing well; her body was tired and failing. Fortunately, there was time before her death to visit and let her know how much she was loved. My mom spent the past weekend with her, up till the time that she slipped into a coma on Monday.

Wednesday--well Wednesday delivered quite a jolt to everyone here in the metro area and certainly beyond, as the 35W bridge came tumbling down. In an instant lives were gone, without time for a goodbye from loved ones. It is still mindboggling.

Thursday, Joel's father, Jerry, was taken by ambulance to the hospital (HCMC--the same hospital many of the victims of the bridge collapse were taken). He was admitted and still is in the ICU. The health professionals are still sorting out what is going on with him--multiple infections, a possible bowel obstruction, and pnuemonia. In reality, his body is also growing tired. He is 85 years old.

So Friday morning, Joel and I headed to Clear Lake, MN for my aunt's funeral. When we returned to the cities, we headed to the hospital to visit his father.

I barely know my "in-laws", but in some respects, this difficult situation is allowing me to get to know Joel's parents a bit better. Friday night we returned to the hospital with Dee, Joel's mom. While we took a break for some dinner, Dee told me wonderful stories about the many family trips that they took when Joel was young. Every summer they took a 2-week vacation--visiting new states each year. Dee told me stories about Joel that only a mother can tell. I loved that. Following dinner, we went back upstairs to say goodnight to his dad.

Jerry and Dee have been married for some 55-plus years. I don't know if my words can capture the tenderness between Dee & Jerry as they said good-night. Dee is a small, seemingly frail woman (she is indeed quite feisty, as is his father, which will help them both right now). Dee is so tiny that she was unable to reach over and give her husband a kiss. They improvised...and blew kisses to one another. Before Dee left, she told Jerry in a most loving voice to "listen to the nurses and fight to get better."

I am hoping that Jerry does grow stronger and that I will have the opportunity to hear stories about Joel that only his father can tell.

So, given the events of the past week, Joel & I, newlyweds that we are, have had more than ample opportunity to talk about death & dying, our own funerals... Really, these have not been morbid conversations. Quite the opposite, it has been comforting to have someone that I love (and who loves me) to share thoughts with. First, we both vow to come back and kill the other if either of our funerals involve a sermon about how to save sinners. In fact, I don't want a sermon at all. I know that no funeral is exactly a party, but I want mine to be filled with music I love (we're both composing a list), memories shared of good, silly, and even dumb things I have done in my lifetime. Go ahead and shed a tear or two, but please share a laugh as well. (And for god's sake, if I have an open casket, don't lie and say I look good. I'm dead. I don't expect to look good. If there was ever an excuse for a bad hair day...)

Second, I just hope that when it's my time to go, I'm in a place where my hand can be held by the ones I love--Joel and my kids. Don't get me wrong, I don't want it to happen any time soon. I want many, many years to grow old alongside my husband. Someday I want to bounce grandchildren on my knee. I want to travel places I have not seen (Christ, I haven't even been to Canada yet).

But the tragedy and randomness of this week's bridge collapse is a reminder that we don't always have time to say goodbye. Sometimes death comes in the blink of an eye. I hate that. Years ago, I watched my dad die before me, swiftly and unexpectedly. There wasn't the time to say good-bye the right way.

I learned from his death, as I was reminded this past week, to live, as much as possible, in a way that makes leaving this earth a bit easier. Tell your loved ones "I love you" every chance you get. Don't get caught up in material possessions--they're not going with you in the end. Enjoy life events--birthdays, holidays, and just "ordinary days". Treat people with kindness as much as possible. Turn the other cheek when you can. HAVE A GOOD TIME.

It's not always easy to do. But I'm going to try a little harder this next week to do just those things.

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