Category Archives: death

Regretting the Things We Didn’t Say

The mysterious disappearance of Malaysia flight MH370 in 2014 with 239 people on board may finally yield some answers. Experts are analyzing a wing piece that washed up on the shores of an island thousands of miles from where the plane is thought to have crashed into the ocean.

To most of us, the people who died are just names. Yet, for each of the victims, a family is grieving. Loved ones are angry; they want an explanation. An ordinary flight to a vacation destination – what went wrong, how could this happen? An explanation of why the plane crashed may satisfy the survivor’s mind. For the heart, there is no comfort.

I remember watching the search for the missing plane last year and thinking of  how suddenly life can change. People we love die, and the things we meant to say to them can no longer be said. We never told them how much we love them, how grateful we are for all they teach and give us, how much we admire them and how lucky we are that they share our life.

We waited, thinking we had all the time in the world. We’d tell them at the right time, when we weren’t so busy, when we could figure out what we want to say. We didn’t give much thought to the reality that all we have is this moment.

Dr. Ira Byock wrote a book called “The Four Things That Matter Most ” about what’s important to people at the end of life. Don’t wait for the end of life. Say them now:

“Forgive me”, “I forgive you”, “Thank you”, “I love you”.

Simple statements, yet they tap into the deep layers of relationship between us and the people we love. They can’t read our mind. We have to let them know how much they mean to us.

If yoiu knew you had 24 hours left to live, what would you want to say to the people you love?

 

Dad gives Family a Gift from the Heart

Roger, the husband of my friend Diana, needed heart surgery that carried serious risks. He and Diana prepared for the worst, making sure their financial and legal documents were up-to-date. Perhaps just as important, they were open and honest about their fears of Roger’s chances of surviving. They celebrated their decades of love and the life they had built together with their four children.

The surgery was scheduled for two weeks in advance. Roger and Diana asked their children to visit earlier, rather than gathering on the day of the surgery. During those preceding days, the family pored over photo albums and home movies, laughing and remembering happy times and sharing feelings about what they mean to each other. Tom, the youngest son, who had been estranged from the family for years, didn’t show up.

Roger spent time alone with each of the children who came, wanting to be sure they had the chance to say to him what was personal for them. He wanted to give each their own blessing and tell them individually that he loved them.

At the time of this writing, Roger is recovering, but he will need additional surgery. He would still like to talk with Tom, but this may not happen. Tom may find himself in a ‘race-to-the-bedside” situation. On the other hand, he may not care.

Consider what Roger has given to his family, because he was willing to open his heart to the people he loved. He gave them a gift of a conversation from the heart.


No Chance to Say Goodbye

“See you later”. Millions of us say it as we go about our daily lives.

“Enjoy your workout” is so ordinary that, when Sheryl Sandberg said it to her husband before his sudden death, she couldn’t have imagined that she wouldn’t see him alive again.

“Have a great time” we say to family members as they leave the cruise ship on one of the regular excursions by plane for a flight over Alaska. Last week, the plane crashed and we never saw them again.

A beach vacation in Tunis? A movie at the cineplex? A visit to your children on the college campus? These are are ordinary events of everyday life.

We expect to return, to resume the ordinary daily activities we take for granted. We rarely think that we may not see these people we love again. That there’s always time to tell people we love them.

Last week was an object lesson in not waiting to say”I love you” as random events took over the lives of millions of people. Some we know; others we don’t know. Terrorists, malfunctioning engines, unforeseen health issues, a deranged teenager with a gun – and the myriad of things that happen even when they’re not supposed to show us how little control we have over our life. As John Lennon wrote, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans”.

“See you later.” Maybe…

Death is Out of the Closet

It used to be a simple choice – burial or cremation. Pine box or steel fortress. Ashes saved for lockets and urns or scattered to the wind or ocean. If you really wanted to get fancy, you could hire a plane and pilot to scatter them over the city of your choice.

The good news is that death is no longer a four letter word. It’s out of the closet and getting a lot of attention. Dying has even become part of the cornucopia of consumer decisions. We now have lots of choices for where we want to spend eternity.

Like to scuba or snorkel and want to be part of the surf and turf forever? A company will create an artifical memorial reef combining your ashes with environmentally safe cement and place the reef in your favorite diving spot.

Concerned about metal contamination of the soil? You can have a biodegradable coffin. Interested in downsizing? Costco sells coffins that do double duty as storage or seating while you’re still here. There’s even a company planning to bring ashes to the moon as soon as space shuttling becomes cost effective.

All this talk and choice about going green as we go out is good. Talking about death has been a taboo subject for too long.A good way to desensitize a subject that we fear and try not to think about is by treating it as part of the ordinary.  Placing it squarely in the marketplace of choices demystifies the subject and helps to allay some of the anxiety.

After all, if we’re going to be somewhere for eternity, we might as well have it exactly the way we want it.