In the space of three days I attended two prayer services. I suspect that among the hundreds of mourners many of us had similar thoughts as the priest officiated, the cantor sang, and the families mourned.
I suspect we thought about our connection to these two men and the last time we saw them. We may have consoled ourselves with the belief their earthly suffering was over and blessed eternal life awaits. We might have concluded each man led a good life, loved and been loved, made a mark on those they knew; that 61 and 79 years was enough time to do what needed to be done in this life.
We likely marvelled how someone with an October diagnosis of lung cancer could be gone in late November. Some of us wept knowing he didn’t live long enough to see his first grandchild born; a child due any day now. All of us remember his ability to make anyone laugh, usually by sprinkling just the right Ukrainian words into an otherwise English sentence.
In the other instance the farmers in the crowd understood the pain of selling the precious cattle herd two days before the stroke that led, weeks later, ultimately to death. Was it foreshadowing or the more practical realization the demanding work was becoming impossible? I wept because all three of his sons had served the priest through countless Sunday and special services and that evening they were served. I cried because the son-in-law’s deep and resonating voice filled the funeral chapel as the mournful songs unfolded. How many times had he sung those words for others?
I cried at the sight of distraught wives, children, grandchildren, and siblings trying to cope with their grief because I know the pain has only begun. I cried when hundreds of unprompted voices sang the traditional ?Memory Eternal? in Ukrainian and then English. Even if I haven’t shed a tear to that point, inevitably that hymn is my undoing.
Between Friday and Sunday nights I watched a TV movie, Last Holiday starring Queen Latifah. In it Georgia May Byrd cashes in her life savings for a spectacular last holiday in Europe after discovering she has three weeks left to live. ?You wait and wait for something big to happen . . . and then find out You’re gonna die.?
She forgoes Lean Cuisine for gourmet meals, she tries extreme sports, she gambles and gets pampered. She regrets how most of us ?keep our head down . . . hustle, hustle . . . sometimes what we care about is pretty worthless.? She wishes she’d laughed more, loved more, seen the world, not been so afraid. In a letter about funeral arrangements she writes ?I spent my whole life in a box. I don’t want to be buried in one.? A misdiagnosis provides the happy ending as envisioned in her Possibilities Book.
I can’t presume to know if these two men died with regrets but I can use these recent words and images from real life and TV to re-examine how I want to live and die. To try to turn possibility into reality, from where I sit.