The Third Third

My brother died of Covid December 29th, 2020. Because of the pandemic, we just held his memorial service back in Missouri last Thursday. Bill was 72, five years older than me. He was not in good health and resided in a nursing home. Yet, this disease that has taken hundreds of thousands took his life rather than another more natural cause.

Funerals cause me to think about my own mortality. It’s an appropriate time to evaluate our relationship with God and others, and to reflect on the life behind us and ahead of us.

Here is the shocking truth. There is more life behind than ahead. To say I am in the last third of life (as author, Anne Lamontt puts it) is being generous with the math. It makes me want to utter an expletive. What the xxxx! How did this happen? Where did the time go? All of the idiot lights on my mental dashboard are flashing! 

I think about the decline that I witnessed in my dad, mother, and brother, all of whom died in the last four years. I am the last one in my family of origin. The same is true for Patty. More red lights flash! As I wandered around the cemetery, I found the graves of loved ones who died at about my age! More xxxing red lights!

There are a lot of glib things people say at funerals which would be better left unuttered because they do not address our grief, nor do they offer any real comfort. The death of a loved one is always accompanied by shock and grief. It’s xxxxing sad! We will miss them. There will be a hole in our lives. We don’t have that much longer. I also get mad at our spiritual enemy and the very reality of sin and death that keeps bringing me to this place.

As I reflect on my own life, my mind usually runs to past regrets, future limitations, and the ones I love.

Suggestion: make a list of your regrets. Don’t leave out a single one. Then burn the list. 

We have just a handful of reasonable options when dealing with the past. Forgive others. Forgive ourselves. Discern the lessons. Thank God for the blessings. Keep rehearsing all of the sweet moments. Stop focusing on everything else that is in the past.

I don’t think we can be totally present in the present until we do this.

We can let the time constraints of our future days propel us to get with it and do what’s in our hearts to do. We can live out what we like to be our eulogy (what we would like people to say about us at our funeral).

In the 2005 Oliver Stone movie, Elizabethtown, Orlando Bloom is on the receiving end of a tirade by his boss, Alec Baldwin because he made a design error that cost the company nearly a billion dollars. He is fired, un-hirable, and suicidal. Suddenly, he gets a call informing him his dad died and he needs to go to Elizabethtown, Kentucky to make the appropriate arrangements. In route, he meets flight attendant, Kirsten Dunst who pursues him with kindness and compassion. 

He finds his relatives in Kentucky a bit quirky, but very loveable. The decision is made to create his father’s body and to return his ashes back home. He runs into Kirsten Dunst again. (These things happen in the movies.) She suggests a road trip back home and lists some fun stops along the way. She also prepares a playlist for him to listen to on the long trip. I am leaving out all the romantic details and the conclusion, so as not to spoil things for you, if you decide to watch the movie.

I bring this up because I had a long road trip to Bill’s memorial service, one I have made countless times before to care for him, for Mom, and for Dad. For decades I have been the road warrior though the endless flat farm ground of Illinois and Iowa into the rolling hills of Northwest Missouri. My son makes fun of me because I always stop at the same places to get gas and stretch my legs, LeClaire, Iowa at the Mississippi River and St. Charles, Iowa at a covered bridge. 

My hometown, St. Joseph, Missouri, though once grand, has seen its share of decline through the decades. It’s got its issues, but it has a great history, with tons of architecture beauty, and a lot of congenial people. I haven’t lived there in over 50 years, but it still is as familiar and comfortable as anyplace I know.

My grandson was with me one the way out, but I was alone on the journey home. I took tons of photos in St. Joe, LeClaire, St. Charles, and the places where I ran free in the little outlying town where I stayed with my grandparents. This trip was a deep dive into nostalgia and reminiscence. I needed it. I have no idea when I will be back. It was my Elizabethtown moment.

At sixty-seven, it’s a time of reckoning and making peace (mostly with myself). Here are my conclusions.

The third third isn’t so bad.

I am truer to myself, who God meant me to be, than ever before.

I don’t keep rehashing the past. I used to, but not so much anymore.

I am more into the moment (and less preoccupied with worries) than ever before.

I am more focused on loving than ever (not worrying about loved ones or trying to get them to do or be something) but just loving them.

I am doing what I enjoy (lighting design, writing, guitar, gardening, travel, the outdoors).

I am just plain more relaxed than ever.

Thankfully, I am in good health, or as I say, “good condition for the condition I am in.”

It looks like we will financially survive retirement and will have some options about where we live.

I count my blessings: a wonderful wife, loving children, fun grandchildren and great grandchildren, a delightful extended family, a nice home, and much more.

I hope to keep defying expectations that folks have of “old people.”

I am focused on leaving some good things behind and finishing well.

I am enjoying this stage of life.

It’s okay.

About Glenn

Glenn Hager is a blogger, former newspaper columnist, and author of two books, An Irreligious Faith and Free Range Faith.
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