Life and Death

Here is my column in the Kenosha News published October 16th.

I am writing from my hometown, St. Joseph, Missouri. Yesterday, I was honored to have a small role in the memorial service for my favorite uncle. The day before, my mom and I began hospice care for my ninety-year-old dad. The day before that I found out that a friend from a few years back had a heart attack and died. He was sixty-two. I am sixty-two. A couple of weeks earlier another friend who retired to Florida underwent heart by-pass surgery. He is sixty. My neighbor apparently had several heart attacks which resulted in surgery and a long hospitalization and rehab period. She nearly died on more that one occasion. She is in her mid sixties. I have already had to say goodbye to three of my best friends over the last few years. I feel like I am being stalked by death, or at very least, the unpleasant inevitabilities of old age.

But yesterday I was a witness to a life well lived. Uncle Romey (real name), really filled up his ninety-three years of life. As a teenager, he quit school to help his dad on the farm. In World World II, he ran the landing craft that brought the troops and equipment to shore. After the war, he operated several good sized farms while working as a TV technician on the side. About 1959, he built and operated a motel for several years. Then, in the late sixties he began an electrical business that served hospitals, schools, and various residential and commercial projects. He also purchased several buildings in the small northwest Missouri community of King City (real town), transforming them into apartments and businesses. In his retirement years, he was passionate about restoring antique cars and tractors. I doubt that he ever used the word, but he was an entrepreneur. He worked hard and succeeded in what he did.

But those are just facts. If I could say just one thing about Uncle Romey, it would be he had a twinkle in his eye. I think that twinkle reflected a love of life, a wonder and curiosity about things, a genuine interest in others, and an enjoyment of his work and hobbies.

He was an inspirational person because he experienced profound personal tragedy, the death of his first wife, and his second wife, and the death of his youngest son who was in his forties. Yet, he kept, or re-ignited, that twinkle and stayed active and involved right up until the end. He aged more gracefully than anyone I have ever known.

Uncle Romey was an early adapter to technology even in his advanced years and was very cell phone and computer savvy. He could tell a story with amazing retention of detail and he made people laugh and feel loved. He was a stalwart man of faith whose legacy includes a beautiful family and many, many people who were helped by him, loved by him, and encouraged by him.

He did a good job with his ninety-three years. I see the value of a life well lived.

John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” It can be crazy, full of activity and demands that sometimes pull us away from what matters most. On top of that, life always includes some unexpected twists and turns that catch us unprepared. Then the last thing that sneaks up on us is death.

I have no choice but to admit that life is brief, death is certain, and whatever I am going to do, I had better get with it.

But most importantly, I realize that how we live touches other people and makes a difference. That reminds me to focus on the important and not just the expedient.

So now the question is, “What’s really important?” Popular responses would include faith, family, friends, and character. I agree.

You know how consultants say begin with the end in mind? This might sound a little crazy, but I would suggest you write your own eulogy, what you want people to remember about you and to say about you, then; try to live up to it.

 

Since I wrote this, my Dad died. I am sure I will be thinking about these matters long and hard in a few days when all of the urgent activity that surrounds a death has subsided.

About Glenn

Glenn Hager is the author of An Irreligious Faith and Free Range Faith. He encourages independent minded people of faith through his writing, speaking, consulting, and one-on-one relationships.
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