Last week my father died. While it was an end of an era, it was not necessarily a sad time for me. Pop was ninety-two and had lived a good life mostly on his own terms. He and my mother were together over sixty years and are now together again, so no, this is not sad for me.
For the past several years of his life he was confined to a wheelchair and most recently had to be fed and bathed as well as taken care of completely by nurses and aids. Alzheimer’s and dementia had robbed his mind of cognizance. The wear and tear of ninety plus years had stolen away his mobility. He spent his days in a far away place in his mind seemingly unaware of his surroundings, so no, this was not a sad occasion for me.
Just last spring I was able to see him for what turned out to be the last time. He was smiling as he always seemed to be. I believe he was happy. Living what appeared to me to be a terrible existence, he nonetheless seemed to be happy. May he now rest in peace.
My visits with him have caused me to re-examine the quality versus quantity of life issue. I believe our lives are determined less by our choices than by predetermined choices made for us. Some of you may have your own interpretation of this theology but that is mine. The questions I now have have to do with how we choose to live our lives. Recently I saw a cartoon where a person was turning down a hot fudge sundae in order to gain what she believed was an additional two weeks of life. It turns out that those two weeks would be spent in a nursing home hooked up to tubes and totally devoid of any dignity or quality of life. Given that choice wouldn’t you decide to just eat the sundae? I know I would.
It seems to me that the medical profession is in a constant struggle to extend our lives for the sake of quantity without much regard for quality. Bless their hearts. I am pleased that they are that concerned, but, sometimes it seems to me that the number of years we live lose some of their significance when compared to how we live those years. Now I am not advocating irresponsibility. I am not suggesting that one should just throw off all reason and common sense when it comes to how we live. What I am saying though is perhaps we worry too much about things which we probably don’t have any control over anyhow. Perhaps it would be better for us to just eat that hot fudge sundae instead of sacrificing our desires for what could turn out to be an extra two weeks hooked up and waiting to die.
Here then is a brief exercise. Using the phrase, “If I had my life to live over, I would...”. You fill in the blanks. Are you where you want to be? Are you the person you want to be or are you living your life for somebody else? Our lives are a journey not a destination. Death is the destination. If your life ended today would it have been the life you had wanted?
We all know, of course, that there are no guarantees. Today I am not sad at the loss of my father. I am instead happy, happy for the final lesson he taught me with his last days. I hope you will find his lesson has value for you as well.
Ron Scarbro August 13, 2010
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