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A Night to Remember!

As I shared one part of my hospital story with my friend Otoma Edje via email, he made this comment: “What you share about ‘getting your house in order’ is very sobering.” Early in my hospital stay, as I’ve said, I was in bad enough shape that the possibility of dying was almost constantly on my mind. For that reason, I asked that my son, his wife and three sons come to the hospital together with my wife on one of the first nights I was there. My oldest grandson was about to turn 24 and my youngest about to be 17. They were old enough to be a part of the serious discussion I had in mind. Discussing death is to some morbid, but to me it is simply reality, howbeit a sobering one. I shared my concerns that I might die and shared my concerns that I hadn’t done all I had intended to fully set my house in order. I began sharing what those latter concerns were.

I had two file cabinets full of old documents, most of which were irrelevant and unneeded. I explained which of them would be relevant if I died and asked them to have the rest shredded. I also explained that I had a closet and desk drawers full of electronic items that would need to be disposed of as well and how to best do that. I then moved on to how to help Theresa with the immediate finances, although the long-range issues were in a document that I’ve kept updated for years on my computer. Periodically, I have given Theresa paper copies to keep in a safe place, since she isn’t much of a computer person.

In trying to describe the short-range issues, I asked Bryce, my oldest grandson, who happens to be a business graduate with a financial job, to get a pen and paper and start making notes. As I tried to recall needed usernames and passwords, I tried to verify their accuracy on my phone. Being in somewhat of a hallucinatory state, the phone screen looked weird, as if someone had put a totally different operating system on it. I could not figure out how to make passwords work on it. That was a frustrating experience. But I went on to share as many details as I could think of in my altered mental state about what to do in the event of my death.

Some of my family members were crying as they seriously contemplated my possible imminent death, and some were concentrating on what I was trying to explain. Knowing it was a strange night, I told them that I had been trying to teach them how to live well but also wanted to teach them how to die well. Dealing with the realities involved is, and was then, sobering. It was a night none of us will ever forget, but at the end of it, I felt good about it.

Since I didn’t die, my house is in much better order. Six boxes of file folders and other materials have been shredded. My old buddy from Boston, Rich Evans, flew in for several days to help me with the electronic collection of now useless (to me) items. He dealt with five old computers, three electronic tablets and two phones. Hitting the delete button doesn’t fully delete files, but Rich knew how to erase it all. With some of the equipment left, he thought of ways they could be used by others; some obsolete items we simply threw away; and the remainder we dropped off at a recycling center.

I updated my “In the event of my death…” document with all sorts of instructions in it, including those for my memorial service, and gave Theresa a printed copy. Of course, I have an updated will in a safety deposit box. (I hope you do too.) I feel relieved to have all of that accomplished, for when I do “croak,” as my deceased buddy Jerry Jones used to call it, my family members will find it much easier to deal with the details. I spoke with a widow friend shortly after her husband died, and she just shook her head and said that he had been a “clutterbug.” I don’t want to be remembered with any such term!

Many people have asked me how Theresa handled all of this, knowing that her husband might well die. Two words come to mind: maturity and spirituality. Theresa took it a day at a time and never came close to freaking out. That’s just not her. Mentioning Jerry Jones brought back a special memory. One day years ago, I was in his truck with him and his wife, Karen, as we traveled to and from an orphanage in Mexico that our church members visited regularly to serve the kids and workers. During our long drive from Phoenix to the edge of Mexico, we talked about many things. At one point, Jerry said to me, “Now you and Theresa do talk about how to handle things when one of you croaks, don’t you?”

All people as they age should do this, should get our house in order. When I recounted the story to Theresa upon arriving home, she just cackled at the word “croak.” From then until Jerry died a couple of years back, Theresa searched to find birthday cards to send him each year that typically had a frog on the front, and then inside said something along the lines of “Thank God you haven’t croaked yet!” Well, Jerry finally croaked and he did it with class. I was able to have a very meaningful conversation with him on the phone the day before he died, and I can assure you, he was quite ready to croak. His house was in order.