Yesterday I had to leave work about an hour early to pick up my son Jack from KinderCare: He had a temperature of 103. I knew that because he was still playful, still eating, and not showing any other signs of distress, this would be a “give him fever reducer” solution and not a “take him to the doctor” kind of thing.
But still, there’s something about knowing your child is not well that is undeniably unnerving; the thought that saving your child is not immediately up to you.
Sure, I can protect him from certain things. Admittedly, perhaps I’m overprotective: I won’t let the little guy watch TV or even drink juice. (Yeah, I one of those kind of parents!)
I’ve tried to imagine what I would do if something ever happened to him. How would I psychologically deal with that? Would I be the kind of dad that literally loses his mind if he lost his son? I want to believe that my son will outlive me. It’s both morbid and realistic to think about these dark situations, but occasionally, when I catch myself off guard, I do.
However, the world is full of parents who literally have had to lose their child, including Ruthe and Michael Rosen, whose 14-year old daughter, Karla, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.
But they decided to turn their pain into purpose.
They transformed Karla’s courage and solid optimism into a legacy of community service when they founded The Let It Be Foundation. It’s a nonprofit organization that helps families with children who have been diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses.
The Let It Be Foundation provides services including opportunities for family recreation, housekeeping, grocery shopping and meals, and help in meeting the needs of the child’s siblings. This assistance enables the children and their families to maintain a sense of normalcy at home as they battle the most serious illnesses. So far, The Let It Be Foundation has brought comfort, hope, and joy to families throughout Southern California, and is now in the process of expanding its presence nationwide.
To pass on the meaningful lessons she learned from living with Karla’s cancer, Ruthe also wrote Never Give Up: How to Find Hope and Purpose in Adversity (Cypress House, Sept. 2011), a brave story of faith, hope, and joy in the face of the unimaginable. The book follows Karla’s cancer journey and her unwavering optimism, inspiring readers to turn pain into purpose. Proceeds will benefit families served by The Let It Be Foundation.
I’ve been on so many plane rides in my life that now, anytime a pilot warns “we may experience some turbulence,” I remain unfazed; like in the opening scene of Garden State where Zach Braff’s character blankly stares ahead while everyone else panics.
However, two weeks ago on a flight from Nashville to Detroit to tour the General Motors headquarters, for the first time in my life I actually thought, “What if I die in this plane?” It’s not so much that the pilot faced some serious threat as he maneuvered the aircraft.
More likely, it was the fact that A) the last time I was on a plane was with my wife and son and B) I was overly aware of how if something bad did happen to me, I wouldn’t be able to share my life with them anymore. Therefore, the bumpiness of that hour-long flight had actually spooked me.
Even if it’s a slight cliche to say it (which it is), all my worries had disappeared while up in the air that day. I was able to just focus on what really mattered; not the thought of unpacked boxes in our townhouse, along with a living room ceiling that (at that time) still needed to be repaired.
As I made my way out of the baggage claim area, I looked up at saw a peculiar, yet appropriately serene sign that read: “Religious Reflections Room.” How random. I had to check it out.
The only way to get there was by taking the employee elevator up to the 3rd floor; keeping my GM chauffeur surely waiting at the terminal. I finally made it to the Religious Reflections Room. I slowly opened the door and saw a man bowing and praying over a compass painted on the floor pointing towards Mecca. Chairs lined the room in a horseshoe shape along the walls.
I figured if A) the Detroit airport saw the value in designing a Religious Reflections Room and B) I went through the trouble of finding it, that I should use it for its intended purpose.
So I sat down in the chair closest to the door and reflected religiously (for about 43 seconds) about how I didn’t die on the plane. Maybe it was a tad on the melodramatic side for me to keep thinking about being taken away from my wife and son, but I thanked God for my safe arrival anyway.
It was a pretty weird situation to have flown to a different region of the country without my family; like riding on an empty plane- or at least with dozens of cardboard cutouts instead of real people. Of course, it was just as bizarre to check into my hotel room in downtown Detroit without my wife and son; to try to legitimately fill the space of a king sized bed on my own, sprawling out like a kid making a snow angel.
How odd, to only be accountable to myself. Maybe above all, it simply felt unnatural.
I am no longer an island; I have a helper and a peripheral. Sure, it was nice to have a break from reality for 36 hours; but at least in my head, I sort of felt it was a lot like playing a dull lead character of a story where there is no plot. Sort of like The Hills.
My Mexican grandmother, Lola Mendez Metallo, has always been one funny grandma, though not necessarily intentionally. Like the way she has always prefaced her jokes with “I’m gonna tell you a joke…”.
Or the fact that she literally managed to see the movie Dirty Dancing a total of 37 times when it originally came to theaters back in 1987, though she never learned to drive a car.
Not to mention the way she always found a way to delightfully sprinkle our holiday dinner conversations with mentions of the most recently escaped prison convicts she had heard about on the radio. Classic.
Plus, I’ve never known anyone more intrigued by angels. I remember how when the TV show Touched by an Angel was still on the air, she would never miss an episode and had a talent for relating every life situation back to the most recent one she had seen,especially if the episode had anything to do with an abused animal. (Her favorite show in the ’80′s was Highway to Heaven, which was also about angels interacting with humans.)
Here recently, I have been thinking about her a lot. I know her health has faded more drastically since my Italian grandfather passed away over three years ago. It’s one of those things where I know that she could just one day never wake up; or she could ultimately be here for several more years. In either case, I am consciously aware of the fact that her time on Earth is especially limited.
It’s an interesting (and sad) perspective; to know my grandma may be in her final months, yet everyday I watch my young son grow up a little bit more. I see one life coming to a close and another just getting things started. It’s a constant paradox in my head.
Knowing her time could be soon, I’m literally dealing with her passing, now; before it even happens. People deal with death differently- I guess I deal with it prematurely, reminiscing her life while she’s still here to answer questions I still have and tell her I love her several times in every potentially last conversation I have with her.
I know she’s going to love finally joining the angels she has talked so much about, but I really would mind hearing a couple more of her jokes; especially if she tells me up front that I’m about to hear a joke.
It can be easy to write off human interactions with angels as tall tales, but according to the Bible, we entertain angels unaware. Today, someone will win a free book called Angels, which helps explain the interactions of angels in humans’ lives, backed up with Biblical stories and references.
If you would like a free copy of Angels mailed to your house, just be the first person to leave a comment on this post, then within 60 minutes, send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) including your name and mailing address.
I’ve only got about 50 years left to live, if that.
Most nights as I fall asleep, I can’t help but think how sleeping through the night is sort of like checking out of reality, reminding me of the lyrics to Tom Petty’s classic song, “Freefalling”: “I want to leave this world for a while.”
Though I’m overly aware that at any given second I could die of any random cause, like instantly turning into a pillar of salt, I’m never more aware of the inevitability of death than when I am fading and falling into the dream world.
Sleeping is the closest thing I know to having an understanding of what it’s like to be dead. It’s the closest concept I have of understanding what it’s not like to live in this world, confined to rules of practicality and common sense.
Sure, it’s an understatement to admit that I don’t want to die right now. But I’ve never been more caught up in life than I am at this very moment, so it’s really on my mind.
After all, I have made a covenant before God to love my wife for as long as we both shall live. Then the two of us brought another life into this world. That’s pretty dang epic. That’s deep.
So now that I have involved myself this drastically in the course of history (and therefore, the future), I’m just dying to stick around. It’s not simply that I want to see what happens next; not simply that I want to see how the story unfolds with my wife and son. But I want to literally be here, as part of their story.
Without a doubt, it’s sad to think that the story could go on without me. It’s sad to think that has been reality for so many people who “died before their time.”
I’m not afraid of death. I couldn’t be any more confident of what happens to me the second after I die. But while I’m not afraid of death, I am pretty fascinated by it.
It amazes me that millions of people alive today in this world could take life (and therefore, death) so nonchalantly: That despite all the miracles in their lives, they never see a need to think past this life, and to consider how the people they interact with each day can be affected eternally by their words and actions.
How can a person not think about eternity, or convince themselves it doesn’t exist? The irony: that life itself distracts a person from thinking about death.
I can’t imagine not taking enough time to pause and wonder about what happens when the lights finally go out for good and what this life was for. I do it on a daily basis.
So it’s not that I ever wanted to die, or wouldn’t mind dying, but now more than ever, if I have any say in the matter, it’s as simple as this:
I don’t want to die right now.
And if I shall continue waking up alive each day, as I have done for 30 years so far, then I shall continue to live to the best of my ability. I’m the kind of guy who takes life way too seriously, but in a good way, I would like to think.
Ironically, while waiting for my first child to be born I am accompanied by thoughts of the finality of my own life. Having a baby is such a huge milestone, such a life-changing event, that my mind skips decades ahead to when my kid will graduate high school, to when I will be a grandparent, and ultimately, to my inevitable passing into eternity. In my mind, all those big events are strung together like bubbly Christmas lights from 1988.
My wife and I have this agreement that concerning our own inevitable deaths, we will die healthy but of “natural causes” in our sleep, both at age 92, holding hands. And I would assume that most happily married people would wish for the same thing- to be able to raise their children with their spouse, to grow old with their family, and to pass this life in our right minds – not lonely and suffering in a nursing home. I don’t consider a sudden brain aneurism, a car accident, or being mauled by a bear while hiking through the woods. No, you see, I have carefully planned out my own “natural causes” death in a romantic and perfect way.
And that’s the only way I can think about the end of my life- with optimism. Assuming I will live a long, happy life, giving all I can to my family. It’s the only way I can think, because even now, two months before Baby Jack is scheduled to arrive, I am responsible for another life. I have to be here to take care of him. And my wife.
I truly am incapable of trying to fathom how so many people in the world don’t have a solid understanding (or at least some kind of basic perspective) of what happens after this life, and that they don’t think about it on a daily basis like I do. How the afterlife is completely something to be considered, how beyond heaven and hell issues, this dream of life is the prequel to eternity. And now, already, a new soul has been created, and I had something to do with that. I have changed the course of eternity.
This baby is not just a body; he’s got a soul. A soul that will need guidance for this life and the eternal one. And I have to be here for that. Even if these thoughts may seem dark and depressing to some, I refuse to ignore the reality that life and death are intertwined. As much as I “try not to take life too seriously” like all those stupid bumper stickers and annoying e-mail forwards tell me, I still take life seriously enough to think about this stuff.
All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography: