Saturday, January 29, 2011

Last Words

Most people don’t really like to think about, much less talk about, the fact that the day is going to come when we all leave our earthly bodies.  When I worked at the church it became a joke among the staff that the most likely person to come to discuss prearrangements for funerals would be in his eighties and wanted to put something in writing "in case I die".

I’ve found, however, that for legal reasons one may not pretend that one will live forever in a medical setting. For even the most minor procedures you are required to sign off that you understand the most remote and dire consequences that could result… up to and including death. Most of us sign the papers, because we have no real choice if we want to receive medical care, but most of the time we don’t think too much about the possibility of that 5% of bad outcomes being ourselves.

A few years ago I had a benign, but fairly serious adrenal tumor. It was affecting my overall health, and it really needed to come out. My surgeon lacked basic common sense, and repeatedly badgered me...including as I was being wheeled into surgery...with whether I understood that the procedure could kill me. I did. He operated and I didn’t die.

That experience did lead me to think about any small legacy I’d like to leave. I got my funeral plans in order and filed them with the church. I got all the legal papers signed giving various people the right to decide when my life is over and what comfort care I preferred. It gave me something to do while I awaited the date with the doctor.

As I played with the idea of being remembered when I’m gone I also decided that I’d really like to change my relationships with people so that whenever that inevitable day might come the final words I exchanged with all those I love would be more loving.

It took a while to get the hang of it, but I do think my sharp tongue has softened a bit. I’m afraid I still occasionally snipe at my husband when he forgets something he’s been asked to do repeatedly, but I think the snipes are more gentle than before and often tempered with humor. He is thanked profusely for all the many kindnesses he does for me every day and in the process of voicing these thanks, I’ve found a new appreciation for the things he does do and do well.

I learned in some of my Social Work classes that one person’s small change can change a whole family group, so perhaps that’s what happened in our case. I didn’t tell my children or husband of my thoughts, and I’m not sure whether that decision changed our family dynamics or what, but it’s been a good long time since I made it, and the number of ugly squabbles in our family (and there have been some doozies!) have diminished to almost zero. Maybe we’ve all just grown older and wiser and more tolerant.

I hope that everyone I care about will remember their last encounter with me as being a positive one. It’s not even all that hard if I stay focused.

We’ll all gather for a family dinner Sunday evening, something that’s increasingly hard to schedule with so many kids schedules to consider. Here’s hoping that our damage free record stands after it’s the dishes are cleared away, and that any tears are the result of laughing too hard at my sons in law making fun of me.


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