Dying Well

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Written by Patricia Bubash

We have a new youth minister who is determined to bring relevant, current topics to our weekly Wednesday Bible. A few weeks ago we enjoyed learning about Story Corp, even recording our own stories with each other during the class. This week she brought in four TED Talks (my husband LOVES TED Talks) with the subject matter of “Dying Well”. All four presentations were excellent, each one giving me food for thought- especially, with regards to my own parents.

Neither my parents nor I ever thought they would live to their present ages; my mother will be 90 in November this year, and my dad turned 92 this past April. My maternal grandmother died at the age of 81, and my maternal grandfather at 90. So I suppose my mother had some good odds for reaching the age she is now. But my dad was a very different story: he was orphaned by the age of 11 and had two brothers die of heart attacks in their 50’s…so he, truly, has beaten some odds.

As I listened to the TED presentations advising on how to end your life well, I, of course, was thinking of my parents. Then, Dr. Salt, speaker at that time, delivered these impacting words: “None of us are getting any younger, we are getting older.”  And for real impact, he added, “And we are all going to die.” Now my focus shifted from my parents to me! What he was saying applied to me, as well. How could I utilize the knowledge from these talks to benefit me?

I have decided to utilize my parents’ declining years as my example of what “to do” and what “not to do” as the years accrue for me. One area that I plan to act upon, daily, constantly, is the creating of memories- good memories. I think I will skip the “not so” good ones! Memories are what God gives us to sustain us in those times when life is not so beautiful – those trying, difficult times.

My mother loves to talk about the past, growing up with her brothers, a simpler life style. As she relays, retells her life story, it creates an even stronger connection for her and me. It brings her pleasure to share her stories, and it provides family history for me: history that only she knows. Every year on my birthday she calls to tell me about the day that I was born- in my grandparents’ house. I realized this year that I need to record this story so that when she is no longer here, I can still hear her words, and feel the “specialness” of my birth day. She is the only one who knew me from my very beginning.

My mother and I have more shared memories of times together than my dad and I do. As an active service man, twenty years in the Navy, Dad was, often, overseas on a ship. As the eldest of two much younger sisters, my mom and I shared the care of them. We talked a lot. In some ways I was her best friend. She was the only female in a household of eight children. A daughter for her filled the role of sister, daughter, girlfriend. With my dad, it was very different; we never established a Daddy’s girl bond. And, I left home before the age of 17. It has been in the past ten years that we seemed to have made progress in becoming closer.

I have found that we share many of the same behaviors, attitudes, interests. I am so grateful for the times that we have gone places, just he and I. I took him to get his first library card this past spring, at the age of 92. We go grocery shopping together, and, a favorite of his, early breakfast at Denny’s. One of my best memories happened only a month ago.

Once he was orphaned, my dad remained in the house with siblings until he was twelve and a family offered him a place in their home. He lived with them until he enlisted in the Navy at the age of 18. Mae and Henry Collins were exceptional people, compassionate, caring, Christians. Their religious beliefs made an impression on my dad, but not so much until he was older, married with three children. We would visit them in Sturkie, Arkansas every two or three years. They ran a country store which was closed on Sundays. We would always attend church with them, a little one room rock church. It was one Sunday in that little church when I was twelve that my parents and I professed our belief in God, and were baptized.

Last month while visiting my parents, my dad asked me to take him over to the church at Sturkie. I had not been there for decades. He came out of the bedroom looking like an ad for casual summer clothing: white khakis, blue checked shirt. He was very excited as we drove the twisted road to our destination, a town where if you blink your eye you have passed it by! We entered that same little rock church that I remembered from long, long ago. The years slipped away, once again I was sitting next to my most beloved Grandma Collins. I know it was a same feeling of “returning to the past” for him.

Only twelve people were in attendance and we were the celebrities of the morning! After the service, we all shared lunch in an adjoining room, my dad sharing stories with those who knew my grandparents, knew my dad’s history as their foster son. My dad just beamed.

His best times are those when he can share his stories, experiences, past history. And, for me, sharing a time with him, just me, is special. It does not matter that I am a senior citizen; I am once again his child, going to church with my dad.father daughter

I plan to replay these TED talks presentations again. There is some very good information on how to plan this last hoorah of our lives, making it easier for you and your family. Those points are the “hands on”, writing out what you want done, who is to do it. Important tasks, that we all tend to put off, but I plan to put right next to those points, what I deem equally important: creating memories for those ending days. As a friend of mine, a hospice chaplain, once told me, “I have never had anyone tell me that they wished they had made more money, worked harder. They always say, ” I wish I had hugged more, spent more time with my family”. Then, one can, truly, “Die well”.

Check out TED talks here.

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