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People Die the Way They Live

April 11, 2011

On Wednesday, March 23, 2011, I visited my dad. At ninety years of age, his heart was failing. We talked of his impending death.

He joked, “I’m an old man.”

“Yes, you are,” I agreed.

“Do you know how old I am?” he asked, with a twinkle in his eye.

“You’re about as old as dirt,” I offered.

He chuckled. “I’m so old that when I was born the Dead Sea wasn’t even sick.”

We laughed together. Then the conversation turned.

“Kirk, we are not meant to live forever.  These old bodies wear out.  When I was selling appliances, we called it planned obsolescence.  I’m winding down. There’s something in the Bible about this.”

I knew exactly the passage he had in mind. I picked up his Bible from the bedside table and read. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (II Corinthians 4:16).

After I read the scripture, I closed the Bible and asked, “Dad, what is your mission now?”

“You tell me.”

“It’s time to show us how to live this part of life.  You’ve set a sterling example for us in every other phase of life. Now show us how to go through this transition and how to go through it well.”

Gasping for breath, he answered, “I’ll do my best.”

He was tired and weak and ready to go.

On March 29, my eighth grandchild was born. I held that little girl only a few hours after her birth. She gripped my finger with her tiny hand. Less than an hour later I was again by my Dad’s bedside. He had been placed on Hospice Care. I held his ninety-year-old hand. I announced the birth of his forty-third great-grandchild. “Dad, you have a new great-grandchild; a little girl!”

With the constant joy that has been his hallmark, he whispered, “Wonderful!” That was his last word to me. The following Sunday, he died.

Forty-nine years ago, I watched my grandfather die. Pappy was in the hospital for more than a month. His heart was failing. I volunteered to stay with him at night.  In those last weeks before I entered college, I received an invaluable education. Though he was a man of few words, Pappy had much to say.

The night before I left for Furman, Pappy said, “My time is short. This part of life is nothing to fear as long as you’re ready for the next. There is no need to be afraid.”

That was the last time I saw him alive.  Two weeks later, back in his own home, Pappy asked, “Help me sit up.”  His children propped him up. He spoke a few words from a hymn.

“Just as I am,” he said. Then Pappy went home.

I learned an important lesson forty-nine years ago when Pappy died and again last week when Dad died.

People die the way they live.

Kirk H. Neely
© April 2011

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