First off, I know: Funerals aren’t funny! But something funny did happen to me on the way to a funeral this week. An epiphany, if you will. A dear family friend and neighbor, Cathy, passed away after many years of battling multiple sclerosis and leukemia. Cathy was kind, humble, sincere, strong, and faithful. She did not ask much of this world, yet she endured much pain. However, she also was surrounded by a lot of love from her beautiful family and friends. They say you reap what you sow–Cathy sowed many seeds of love and friendship, and in the end she was not afraid to die. She had fought long and hard, and she was ready to go to heaven. For Cathy, there is no doubt that there is a heaven, and I have no doubt that if there is one, she is there, and her warm smile is beaming through the clouds, shining down on us.
On the way to the funeral, I was thinking about another friend who had posted on Facebook that she had just gone skydiving. I desperately want to go skydiving, but I am so scared of the rush–I’m afraid the thrill could kill me. My heart races just thinking about it. Interestingly, this friend found the experience to be so incredible, so exhilarating,—almost life-changing. She said if I have any desire to do it, that I should. She can’t wait to go again! But what struck me about her various responses to friends’ comments and congratulations was an observation that she had made about her nervousness: “[The]Scariest part was the free fall before the parachute opens, but I watched a dozen people jump ahead of me and it made me feel very at ease.” I kept thinking about these words as I was driving to the church for Cathy’s funeral in the town where I grew up. Death is like skydiving. We are so afraid of the fall, yet as we watch dozens (and dozens) of people go before us, hopefully we begin to feel at ease.
I was a very fearful child; I thrived on being nervous all the time. Yet, as I get older I see what a thief fear can be. It robs us of joy. Thus, I make a conscious effort not to be fearful. I know that bad things will happen, and I know that I have little or no control over such situations. I choose to be at peace with this, rather than fret over it. Perhaps it is because I have watched many people be laid to rest for over four decades that I have become more at ease. Young and old, sick and healthy, terminal and sudden, death comes often. And with each death, I have learned to look at the life that was lived–the accomplishments, the lives created, the bonds formed, and even the regrets of the deceased–all serve as reminders of how we should live our lives. I know it’s unrealistic to live as if we could die tomorrow, but I at least chose not to live in fear. Make no mistake, I am not looking forward to dying. Moreover, I try not to think about losing loved ones, but I know that these things will come…some day.
Trying to teach the concepts of death and heaven to two young boys is a difficult, sometimes comical task. Thankfully, we have been able to start with small deaths: my in-laws’ dog, an elderly neighbor, my long-deceased father. Yet, we try to emphasize that heaven is a wonderful destination–that these people are happy there. Not surprisingly, the boys get excited when we tell them someone has gone to heaven. What they fail to realize, understandably, is that heaven isn’t a place you visit occasionally–you become a permanent resident.
At a recent dinner, the boys began to discuss the order in which we would all die. The oldest, Owen, claimed it would be Daddy, then Mommy, then Rufus (dog), Catarina and Paws (cats), then him, then his younger brother, Hayden. Hayden was bothered by this lineup. “No, Owen, mommy will die first cause she’s older than dad.””But daddy’s bigger than mommy,” Owen countered. My wife and I looked across the table at each other with pained expressions–wincing at the thought of our young boys’ fates. “Alright, boys, lets not fight over it,” I said. “Besides,” said my wife, “it’s not something we really want to think about. It makes us sad because we won’t all be together.” “Until we’re all in heaven,” said Owen. “Right,” I said. “Sure,” insisted my wife–both of us trying to sound confident. Then we did what any good parents do when confronted with such heavy topics from their kids: We told them to go watch TV while we finished eating our dinners. As we sat there, we laughed at how strangely matter-of-fact kids can be, and then we talked about how sad it is that someday we won’t all be together.
I really do hope that I get up the nerve to skydive someday. Maybe even wait until my boys are old enough to go with me. But I’m not so sure my wife will allow us to all take such a free fall together. Oh well, I have over a decade to convince her:) In the meantime, I’ll continue to stare down my fears and try to live my life to the fullest. Just need to take it one leap at a time.