We come into this world naked and screaming. We slowly learn how to talk and walk. As we grow up, we strive to be the best we can be—in school, in relationships and at work We work hard so we can drive a good car, buy nice clothes and live in a big house that we fill up with stuff—like collectibles, artwork, and furniture.
But time flies by and before you know it, your children are all grown up, your grandchildren are getting older and something has happened. As impossible as it may seem, you find yourself facing a limited time left on earth. You can run but you can’t hide—death is inevitable.
Life is full of joy and tragedy. Even though dying is a natural part of life, it’s never easy when you love the person whose time has come. While there’s nothing more tragic than the death of a child, the sadness that accompanies watching the illness and eventual death of a parent is devastating. I watched my dad lose his battle with cancer 10 years ago and some days the pain is still as fresh as an open wound. And as we approach the middle of our lives, the pain continues. I lost my “second” father John “Papa” Foley, followed by the tragic loss of my father-in-law, Frank. Now my mother-in-law Josie is next in line to leave us.
When we moved Frank and Josie from the home they lived in for 60 years, we helped them go through their belongings to decide what to bring to their new one bedroom apartment. Their important stuff, which included photos, musical instruments, books and some clothes, was neatly packed for the big move. Frank’s death robbed what little joy Josie had left in her world. Her decline towards death left her unable to do the things we worked so hard to learn as children—to walk or talk. Sadly, we recently packed one small suitcase of her belongings and took her to Keystone Hospice House in Philadelphia.
A lifetime in one suitcase. It made me cry. When she leaves us, she’ll take nothing*.
So what does this mean to you? Stop working so hard, sell your stuff and move to a beach in Costa Rica? Or does it help you look at life a little differently? With less emphasis on stuff and more emphasis on what really matters: the people in your life.
If you had to pack one suitcase tonight, what would you pack? Please share your stories of coping with these difficult life situations.
*Josie left us early in the morning on Father’s Day—what a wonderful gift for her husband, Frank.