I’m confident that there is a reason that God placed in each of us the ability to not dwell on the fact that there will be a day that it will be our last. At least our last here. We have this uncanny skill of being able to feel invincible while seeing others all around us who are or have experienced severe tragedy, however we typically don’t really acknowledge that at any moment, we could be in their shoes. It could happen in an instant actually. However, to live, at least we think, means we should push out of our thoughts the reality that our day will come, hopefully later than sooner, when our families will grieve for their loss. But on that day, their loss is our gain, if you believe.
There are some times in life, though, that we do ponder exactly what this day will be like. When we visit an ailing family member or attend the visitation of a loved one who has passed. We allow ourselves a brief moment to consider what that will be like for us, and then we compartmentalize the fact that there was a day that they too once ignored the inevitable.
For some reason here lately I’ve opened that shut away part of my thoughts and allowed myself the opportunity to think more than one fleeting moment about that doomed reality. I’ve done it before… but never in a serious manner. I mean, I’ve acknowledged that if I got to choose my last supper, I’d opt for homemade sweet potato fries dipped in sweet chili sauce with a pairing of sautéed kale accompanied with a dash of olive oil and fresh crispy garlic. All from our garden of course.
I’ve put in a request to God that when He decided that my time has come, to take me in my sleep. I mean, haven’t we all put in that request? If not, you still have time to do so! And after watching last night’s episode of “This is Us”, I reminded Him of our pact that He will take me before my husband, because I know my heart couldn’t withstand the grief if not.
If I knew today would be my last day, after eating my last supper, I’d venture down to Cave Hill Cemetery, one of the most popular in the city as it is the resting place of many notable individuals. KFC’s Colonel Sanders has a space nestled somewhere in the nearly 300 acres of beauty. And the locals all look for Harry Collin’s grave site as he was one of Louisville’s most popular magicians in his time. For my birthday a few years back my husband and I took off and spent the morning doing just what I would wish, but with the goal to find Patty Hill’s headstone as she was the woman who allegedly came up with the “Happy Birthday” song.
We never found her, which was a bummer, but we did bring a stale loaf of bread and do what I do every time I come. And if it were my last day, I’d do it as well. Feed the abundance of ducks, but not the geese though. They freak me out. After I tossed my last piece of bread I would find a clear spot in the grass and lay down, letting the sun beam perfectly on my face and savor the warmth it would bring. Even though I’d never get to look at them again, I’d still bring my camera like I always do, and I’d take pictures of the amazing headstones in hopes to inspire others someday. What’s what I’d do, with my family with me of course.
That’s what makes me most happy. The simplicity of it all. Where I can visibly see God’s beauty all around in a sea of silence. There is a peace I feel when I visit a cemetery. Maybe it’s the fact that God is ever most present. While I allow myself to open the thoughts around my fate, I do put away the fact that six feet under are vessels of many souls before me. That’s a tad creepy, if I do say so myself. But I think it’s healthy to allow yourself, from time to time, the chance to press the pause button on life and realize that if you’re always in the fast lane you will miss everything that this life is supposed to be.
My kids help me pause most days whether I want to or not. Their endless questions and wanting of playmates pulled me away from the dishes and my thoughts to be in the moment with them. That’s of course when I allow myself to pause everything around me, including my ability to multitask and think about what’s coming next. But when I do, I always feel the need to hug them a little tighter and request lots of kisses, because I know that there will be a day that just that simple gesture will be non-existent.
That day might be now as just last night when I asked for kisses before bed, all three shook their heads. My oldest, Eli, affirmed that kisses are yucky, and if I was to give him one, he would just wipe it off. He giggled afterwards, so I know that he was semi-kidding, so I kissed his head and told him to be thankful for my kisses because there may be a day that I won’t be there to give them to him.
Oops… don’t make the mistakes that I do. Why on earth would I say something like that to a 5 year-old. I promise it just came out, without thinking of the ramifications associated with it. To which I had to quickly acknowledge that I’ll always be there so no need to worry about that. But he did look up at me and say, “You won’t be able to kiss me, Momma, because you’ll be in heaven?” “Yes, sweet Eli, that’s where I hope to be. But I promise I’ll always be here to give you kisses.” So I gave him another, and he rubbed it off. Well, I tell myself he was just rubbing it in.
My dad called be yesterday too, and in our conversation, he started to talk about the inevitable. In the middle of the day too. He could have at least waited until after the kids went to bed and I didn’t have to be peppy around then anymore that night. But alas, he didn’t. Good thing we talk about it semi-regularly. As an only child, my parents occasionally drop little hints of what they want during their funerals.
Like I know that even though my mom isn’t Catholic, there are several Catholic Church songs that she wants sung, like “On Eagles Wings”, a song I can’t even sing because I cry every time I try to spit out the words. And my dad, nope, he has threatened his sister that he will haunt her if she doesn’t remember that he is supposed to be buried in blue jeans and be lowered into the earth while blasting the rock and roll beat of Kansas’ “Carry On Wayward Son”. My aunt tried to pass off the responsibility to me when I got older and was more willing to talk about his funeral, but my dad’s a good guy. He refused to pass the buck to me. Sorry Aunt Debbie!
But my dad and I did talk yesterday about caskets. About how he just wants a simple pine box. Nothing fancy. I begged him to write this all down or even to pre-arrange his wants so that when I am left to grieve and try to pick up the pieces I’m not playing an internal battle with myself of wanting to give him what he deserves but rather what he wants. Nah, he said I’m a big girl. I’ll know what to do. And then I started to tear up and that was all of that conversation I could have. That little wiggle room I allowed to talk about such difficult topics was gone, and we went back to talking about the kids and other things that made me smile. The death topic was pushed back into the box hidden deep within until the next day that I realize that the inevitable doesn’t go away.
But it does get easier. The more I randomly blurt out things to my kids makes me realize that the end isn’t really the end. Eli talks a lot about heaven, and how when we both are there how much fun we will have. Yes, my son, we totally will. But until then we have the now, and that’s pretty fun too.
When I visit Cave Hill Cemetery, I love to look at the headstones. Each unique. Each giving a little glimpse of the person it represents. Some ornate. Others simplistic. Some with details and others just names and dates. But you never get the full picture and I’m always left imagining. They tell us years, the birth year and the year they took their last breath. But I’m left curious about who they were in that time in between. How did they use their dash.
Each of us has a story to share. Albeit how that story is shared may look differently. We get to choose that. Some people are driven by greed and others by love. Some choose live to work and others work to live. Many take safe roads; some more risky. There are many choices that are made for us, yes, those things that are out of our control. And the two dates on our headstones are just that. Dates that are out of our control. But the in between, that which is represented by the dash, we get to determine how that is spent.
Life is a journey. We don’t know our end destination, and that’s okay. Because it’s not truly about that, even though it’s inevitable and it’s one of the two constants we all will face. We all were born and one day, we all will be born again, hopefully some place much better than where we are today. But until then, what’s most important in life is how we get there. Some of us may show up in a beautiful package and others may cross that finish line battered and bruised. But the point is that however we arrive, the important thing is that we have truly lived. We have lived every ounce of that dash.
What would you do if you knew today was your last. Who would you hug once more or call to apologize to? What meal would you indulge in and was beauty of this world would you capture? Where would you want to take your last breath and with whom would you want to share it with? Maybe we should spend more time talking about what’s to come so that we realize how precious this moment is. Live it fully, my friends. Tell your story now. You get one shot at this thing called life, and the time we get living our dash is the time we get to leave our legacy. Make today count, because you never know when it will be your last.