Last week in class, we discussed end-of-life care: supporting patients that are about to die and families that have just lost or are about to lose a loved one. I even helped care for two terminal patients on a hospital rotation. Our professor told story of her husband’s last few months of life, as he battled end-stage pancreatic cancer and her five daughters moved home to spend the last few weeks with him. We discussed Death Cafés, where folks meet up to openly discuss their thoughts on death. For the class, I am reading Still Alice, a novel about a Harvard professor who develops early-onset Alzheimer’s and records her progression through the disease course of losing her mind, literally. Nursing school is a particular kind of beast. Incredible amounts of scientific information, infused at a rapid pace. Long days and short nights and LOTS of tests. Pair this with the encouragement to be compassionate, attentive to detail, expert in multi-tasking and time management, and good at asking questions. Oh, and we ought to expect death, be prepared for it, learn how to deal with it.
I don’t know exactly what that means or how I’ll respond, but it did cause me to think about my own death, and what I would like to happen just before and just after I breathe my final breaths.
I am aware that death can come suddenly, without warning, and steal. Steal from you all that you wanted to say and do. Steal from your family and loved ones all they wanted to say to you, experience with you.
That reality in mind, here is my formal, informal advance directive:
If He takes me Home tomorrow, I’m sorry.
I’m sorry that it will be abrupt, and without warning and without a chance to prepare for it. And it will hurt, deep down in a place you don’t know how to define.
I’m sorry it will disrupt everything in the lives of my family members, and cause hours of detail planning, weeks of well-intentioned but slightly off-mark condolences, months of stunned readjustment, perhaps even years of grief.
I’m sorry that I will not have had a chance to say to YOU, personally, how much you meant to me before I left. That I loved you. I only hope and pray that you know by the way I related to you.
But don’t be sorry for me.
You know that I am experiencing the best that is “yet to come” and my “yet” is now. I’m home.
I’m with the so many who have gone before me that I can’t wait to see again.
I have a chance to have all of my “whys” answered now, but it doesn’t even matter anymore. Because I’m there. I’m standing in the throne room, worshipping with the twenty-four elders who fall from their thrones to worship the One who lives forever and ever, crying out with the living beings, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty- the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come.”
And all of the questions I thought I deserved answers to? I have them, but I now understand why He doesn’t answer, and how we couldn’t handle the answers if He gave them to us.
If I have a tragic accident from which I will not recover, please don’t leave me there, hooked up in a sterile room, surrounded by beeping monitors. Please take the moments you need to say goodbye, tell me what you want for me to hear, and then let me go. Don’t let the medical bills rise while my humanity fails.
This is my DNR.
No intubations and invasive, minimally helpful procedures and obscene amounts of opioid medications. Turn off the machines, instead, and save those extra dollars to go and LIVE.
Take the Alaskan cruise through Glacier Bay in August, or go ride a Bateau-Mouche down the Seine in September (at night). Stay in a Swiss auberge in the Alps, or go ride a boda-boda and play with some beautiful Ugandan children in Entebbe for me- but please don’t stay here, in this cold, unfeeling room where I no longer exist.
If I have a family of my own- a husband and perhaps some children- encourage me to fight, for their sake, and I will do my best. But even they will have to let me go if my time has come.
And when I go
Please don’t buy a $2,500 box to bury me in. I want a simple, hand hewn coffin made out of wood, by someone we know. I want to return to earth in something made from earth, and besides, that means so much more than a padded metallic thing sold to us by a (wo)man we’ve never met.
If that’s not legal-try anyway? I liked to think I was edgy, and this is my dying request, after all.
Bury me back on the East Coast, in a field, near the Atlantic, beneath a bunch of old, towering trees. May be even plant some new trees? Please don’t stuff me into a cemetery surrounded by too many other headstones in a cold, dirty city.
Or better yet, cremate me and hike me to the top of the most beautiful peak in the Colorado Rockies, and let me go where the wind will take me. And still plant some new trees. I like Quaking Aspens and Japanese Maples and Balsam Poplars and Southern Magnolias, for a start.
But first—please give away all of me that will help someone else fully live. Give them my heart and my liver and my lungs. Give away my kidneys and even my freckled epidermis, if that will help another out.
Please don’t hold a viewing. I know what it is to stare down in the face of someone you love and see them lying there, stiff and powdered and folded in an unnatural way. I know what it is to look at a loved one and see their form without function, their substance without soul.
Instead, throw up a slide show of some of my happiest moments, back-tracked by some of my favorite songs. I want people to see me smiling and surrounded by the best of my memories. (Buddy the Elf and I agree- “Smiling’s my favorite”). Show pictures of me dancing with my momma, snuggling with my sister, laughing with my brother, being held by my father. Show pictures of me hiking, holding children, enjoying good community, traveling to faraway places, because THESE are the things that surrounded who I was.
Also-would you dance? Wear bright colors, have a feast (with real plates and cups), drink wine to gladden your hearts, and dance for me. I’m too much of a feeler to watch everyone wear black and cry. Especially because of me.
Don’t feel the need to recount all of my “accomplishments”- it isn’t a very long list anyway. I’d rather the gathering be a reflection of who I was and how I made people feel (I’m feeling hopeful they were good “feels”).
I want you to invite all sorts of people to my “Celebration of Life”. Don’t just invite my good “church” friends and colleagues—I love them to dearly, but my circles were far wider than that. Invite the refugees, the homeless friends, the “outcasts,” and those of all orientations and faiths. And maybe, hopefully, I will have offered a small bit of love to them that reflected the love that our Sovereign God has for all of his children. I pray that they will be encouraged, and that they will feel the whisper of the calling that each one of them is invited to accept: a place in His kingdom. LIFE after life.
Don’t do a cheesy, forced alter call, but please encourage the conversation. And for those of you who love Jesus, be brave and be willing to engage in that conversation. Life is short, don’t waste your chances.
Don’t waste them in whatever form they may take—those chances. Skip work and drive far into the mountains or up the coast on the days your “whys” become the most demanding and overwhelming.
STOP. Breathe deeply. Pull out a pen and pour out your soul, and let the Spirit make sense of it for you.
This is my advance directive, so I get to tell you to do these things.
Things. Money. I never really liked either of them, or at least I tried not to. They are a necessary evil, like politics.
But because dealing with the material vestiges of my life matters, too, I’ll make it simple:
If I have my own family, give the proceeds of my life insurance to my husband and/or my children. If I don’t have one, split them equally between my siblings and their families.
Any investments I have—give them away. To whoever needs them most. Give them to beautiful, smiling children full of potential and lacking in opportunity, and to the parents who so desperately want to give their children these opportunities.
If I have any debts, sell my things to pay them off. Keep my photographs and writings and music, if you’d like, maybe even some sketches and a few items that most remind you of me, and then give the rest of my possessions away, too. I didn’t take anything with me when I left, and neither will it help you when your time comes-but I understand that it may take some time for you to be willing to part with some of my things. I, too, struggled to part with some of the things that most represented loved ones now gone.
Later on, when all of the formalities of saying goodbye are done, when the chaos of all that has happened has quieted down, open the most private folders on my computer and dare to read their contents.
Some of the information is very personal, some of it factual, some of them prayers, all of it encompasses different, small pieces of me. I loved words and thoughts and the expression therein. Sometimes, I really felt like I had something to say, and wanted other people to hear it. If there are reflections in there that can be encouraging, enlightening, life-changing to another, please share them!
If I don’t make it around to writing a book in my lifetime, I wouldn’t be upset if you published a post-mortem collection for me, granted there are enough thoughts worthy of being shared. Because I’m still alive as I write this, I’m still vain enough to hope I learned some things worthy of teaching.
I hope that you will find that I loved Jesus, loved my family, loved my friends, loved ideas and hoped for change (yes, you will probably find that I had a bit of an idealistic hope that both encouraged and discouraged my approach to life, we INFPs tend to be that way), that I tried to love all well, and was constantly fighting the worthy battle of trying figure out what that looked like.
Life is a worthy battle. Full of beauty and brokenness—and the shards are what make us shine.
I charge you to remember how short life is and how unexpected it’s changes- and to decide- henceforth, to embrace your life to its fullness. Embrace the very specific things about yourself that will only be said at YOUR funeral, and in so doing, encourage others to do the same.
What does your advance directive look like, and how will it direct your advances from here?