A long time ago in a land faraway called California . . . I was a teen doing my chores as quickly as possible, so I could spend my Saturday with friends. This day’s chore was dusting and organizing the bookshelves that separated our living room from the entry hall. After hustling through a zillion Reader’s Digest Condensed books, I tackled Dad’s precious LP record collection on the bottom shelf. In among the few 45’s, I came across an odd “record.” It was the size of a 45, but it was colored, flexible plastic instead of the customary hard, black disc. Curious, I went and asked Mom about it. She smiled mysteriously and said, “Play it.”
As soon as the needle touched the “record,” there was background static, so I went over and sat down by Dad’s custom-made speaker to hear it better. What I heard was my dad’s voice . . . not the one I was accustomed to, but a young man’s voice. He was speaking specifically to me, his infant daughter. Why? It was 1945, and he was shipping out. Dad had been scheduled for Operation Downfall, the invasion of Japan. He did not know if he would be coming home. He could make no promises, but in this recording, he did the two things he could do. First, Dad declared his love for me . . . what was not in the words was in the voice inflection and his endearments. I was loved. Had he not returned, I would not doubt this. Secondly, he honored my mother as a woman worth emulating. I knew my father as an articulate, brilliant man, yet he struggled to find words to express his respect and admiration for his young wife. Few words that my father spoke to me in person were as moving as those he chose that day to record. He conveyed his fervent desire to share life with me and Mom, his sense of parental wonder and privilege.
Underlying Dad’s recording was an acknowledgement of great importance—the likelihood of his death. You and I may not be going to war, but we too will die. When you accept death as part of your future, you are then able to give precious gifts to your offspring as did my dad.
ACCEPTING DEATH AS PART OF YOUR FUTURE
One task is to (1) PRESERVE YOUR PARENTAL WONDER. My techy dad chose to make a recording. I have one friend who wrote a letter to each of her daughters on their childhood birthdays—sharing her heart and the cute things they had done or said the previous year. Whatever parent-child conflicts may have developed, those girls know they were wanted, cherished and loved. What a heritage! The next time you gaze at your child and feel overwhelmed with love, preserve that moment of awe. Trust me, the feelings you have at this stage are much different than the ones you have when they start shaving. Today’s parental delight may be the very medicine they need in adolescence. Whether you write, record or make a scrapbook does not matter. Preserve your wonder and sense of privilege.
A second task is learning to (2) TREASURE TODAY. Receiving a terminal diagnosis typically causes one to stop living for tomorrow and value the moment. My dad did not know if he would see me grow up. Similarly, acknowledging your toddler is only going to be this age once seems to increase one’s capacity to deal with the annoying, exhausting parts of parenting and find the sweetness. There are many things over which we have no control, but thankfulness and joy can be chosen. We can rejoice in the terrible 2’s and the inquisitive 3’s.
GET PRACTICAL AND . . .
(3) PURCHASE ADEQUATE LIFE INSURANCE. One dear friend, a young widow with four children, received no insurance benefits. While she was busy dealing with all the medical crisis of her husband’s cancer, his life insurance lapsed. After his death, she chose to survive on Social Security benefits. “My children have already lost one parent; they will not lose another to the work world.” I believe it was a good decision even though she and her family were very limited financially. Spare your spouse this struggle with automated payments.
(4) PICK A GUARDIAN for your children, someone with values similar to yours. Setting this up will involve numerous discussions and legal docs. If your children are old enough, you might involve them in this choice.
(5) MAKE IT LEGAL. No matter what verbal agreements you make with your selected guardian or the size of your estate, all parents need a notarized will to protect the interests of their children. Visit an attorney and be sure to complete the process. Sadly, many do not.
(6) KNOW HOW TO PAY THE BILLS. Be sure you both you and your spouse have access to account numbers and passwords. No matter who pays the bills and balances your accounts, have a monthly business meeting. Even though these arrangements often change with the seasons of life, emergencies do happen. Regularly reviewing your financial situation together will prepare you to deal with the unexpected.
TEAM UP AND . . .
(7) LIVE IN COMMUNITY. Our American culture is so individualistic, we forget we need one another and become isolated. May I suggest you get intentional about your relationships? First, stay in touch with the friends you already have. Those folks with whom you share history are an irreplaceable treasure. Give them a call, organize a reunion, or take a trip to your old “stomping grounds.” Secondly, purposely make new friends. Invite the neighbors to dinner, join a small group at church or the library, enroll in a class. Take a risk and be the faithful friend you would like to find—the one who will be there whether it is convenient or not.
(8) BUILD A SUPPORT TEAM. I so admire one mother who had cultivated such supportive friends and dared to call upon them. She was dying of cancer. This woman had a loving husband, but she was concerned for her pre-teen daughter. So, she and her daughter hosted a meeting with Mom’s close friends. Together they decided who would fill the “Mom” role for the various rites of passage. For example, the friend who loved to shop was the one who would help daughter select her prom dress. Another friend opted to host daughter’s bridal shower when that time came and so forth. I am sure the father was as relieved as were the Mom and daughter to know these loving ladies would usher his pre-teen girl into womanhood. Having such a support team in place was no accident. Please endeavor to build one for yourself.
(9) HONOR YOUR PARENTS BY ASKING THEIR WISHES. It is tempting to think you know what is best for your folks as you watch them age. Probably not. If you have thought and worked through the previous eight tasks, you are definitely ahead of the curve. However, ageism is everywhere . . . even in you. Are you moaning about each birthday or wrinkle? Aging is a privilege but also a humbling process—no matter how healthy you are. Accordingly, pride can inhibit conversation between generations, but an attitude of honor may defeat that. At any age, it is much easier to share your heart if someone is respectfully listening.
In her last days, my mom told us what she wanted—Keep me comfortable and hold my hand. Knowing this was her desire, it was satisfying to keep vigil around the clock for ten days with my family. However, her life and ours would have been much different if both our folks could have been so open about their fourth quarters, not just their last days. May I suggest you work through the Heritage of Hope video series with your folks to learn of their wishes and team up effectively?
Accepting death as part of your future prompts one to trust God, treasure today, and the people God has given you. Boldly looking ahead motivates the practical and loving tasks that will bless those dear to you. After salvation, perhaps the most important response to your mortality is recognizing that life is a team sport. Perhaps you could team up to accomplish these nine tasks? Start your own Heritage Of Hope small group? Tackle one task a month? The nine tasks I have suggested for creating a heritage of hope will not, of course, avert death. Having a plan, however, greatly reduces the fear factor as you navigate the uncertainties of this life, and it communicates deep love and commitment to your people.
Psalm 146: 2-5 I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, who hope is in the Lord their God.