There just wasn’t a good day to die. I simply didn’t have time for it. As a mother of three, my to-do list was always full and rarely finished. How could I possibly fit Die Young into an already busy schedule? Would I put it between Drive to team practice and Wash the dog? Or, maybe there’d be time just after I Impart wisdom to my daughter about middle school boys but just before I Sit up in the night with a frightened first grader.
Sure, I could shuffle things like housecleaning and grocery shopping to make room for it. But who’d want to miss kissing tears and reading stories? Not me. I mean, this is the stuff of life. My life. And I wasn’t ready to give it up.
Actually, I was mad at Death. It had been stalking me for six years; I felt fed up. This time had been the worst and my family knew it. I had had just about enough of its antics and told it so as I sat alone in my bedroom. As I began to list all the reasons why dying was not on my to-do list, I finally concluded that I just really lacked interest in the after-life in my thirties. It held about the same appeal to me as finding myself seated behind a crying baby on a long flight to Australia. Honestly, I would rather peel all my fingernails off backwards while watching the fishing channel than have to do something like Die Young.
Then, something out of the corner of my eye snapped me back from The Big Bass Locator and 10 gauze bandages. It was my oxygen tube. The lifeline that kept me out of the hospital and home with my family seemed to have a kink. It snaked from my snubbed-at-death-nose, onto my bed, and across the floor to its source in my closet. Ironically, the tubing lay tangled up in my once heavily-used running shoes.
“Geez, There’s some irony!” I snapped with sharp sarcasm as I jerked the cord free. Actually, I felt like ripping the tube out of my nose, grabbing the tank and hurling the entire apparatus from my second story window. I could just see the headline in my mind: Angry Soccer Mom Commits Medical Supply Murder: Will Her Insurance Cover the Damages? See Page 2B for Full Story and Page 3A For Her Untimely Obituary.
Truth was, any satisfaction that could come from tossing that device overboard would only scratch the surface of how sold-out and angry I felt. But it would feel good to have power over something, anything, even for a moment.
As I sat in my window-smashing fantasy, I eased myself back to reality as I considered how much energy it would take to commit oxygen-tank homicide. Energy I didn’t have. Multiple heart conditions including congestive heart failure at 38, brought on by earlier cancer treatments, can leave a girl very few options. My life smacked of ironies.
Sitting there as a young, old woman on my bed, I became still in my anger, breathed deep and vanquished thoughts of obituaries and the cost of oxygen tanks. I decided to come at this a different way. I laid aside my witty banter with Death for a moment, and let the beggar inside me emerge before God. Ragged, ravenous and weakened by the elements, I stumbled into prayer
“Please, God…send help.” It was all I could say. I couldn’t get any further. As I paused for more words to come, my soul began to explode its boarders. Tears gushed and all words became lost in a jumbled mix of blankets and sobbing moans.
You see, I became what I truly was and nothing more when I prayed: a kid awake, alone and scared in the dark night of her life. I wanted something bigger than me to make it all OK. I felt insufficient for what lay ahead. I needed help.
Companioned by grief, I sobbed through my prayer. I then collapsed into surrender. Ironically, in that moment, my body was at its worst but my soul was at its best.
These conversations with God had become so familiar that I didn’t think much of their strange content anymore. They allowed me to swap my pansy outlook on things for a more stealthy vision as I rolled up the blankets of His companionship around me. Mysteriously, the pattern of the eternal seemed to rise and repeat every time I went weak before God. It would take that to prepare a young family for death.
Just as I began to sense the calming effect of this not-alone-prayer, suddenly, I was not alone. Three young hearts flush with love and grief stood silent watching me. I rose with my red, streaked face and caught their eyes.
The weight of a tragedy stood between us. Pushing past the obvious, I smiled and threw my arms open wide, a sunrise on my face. They fell against me as the Sacred became ordinary. Or, was it the other way around?
“Hey, come here you guys. I was just thinking about you and about us. Come close!” My adoring fans snuggled their way into Hero Headquarters, smiling and trying to beat each other for the closest spot. As they encircled me, the four of us looked like a recipe of Pajama Soup in a bowl of blankets. As they snuggled up the questions began to flow from all sides:
“Why were you crying?” “Are you OK?” “How long will your heart last?” “Will you have to get a new heart?” “Are you going to die?” “What is heaven like?”
God had seen my heap and sent me love-in-three-parts as a distraction. I giggled and nodded at their questions. I thoughtfully answered each of their wonderings with bright gestures and animated silliness, humbled by the richness of my poverty. Then, in answering, the stuff of courage began to flow through me.
My youngest son Brandon touched my face with a gentle wondering hand and asked me if the oxygen tube coming out of my nose hurt me much? And then he asked, “Does it hurt to die?” Caught off-guard by the trapped tenderness of his question, I paused. The rawness of my earlier prayer was still wet on my cheeks, “No. I think that I will be just like a butterfly coming out of her cocoon,” I said.
My gritty conversations with Death were done. Fingernails and fishing aside, I suddenly became a visionary instructor of Heaven and all things eternal for the three students who listened with rapt attention.
As I compared dying to the silent miracle of metamorphosis, their eyes began to drink me in. As they waited for me to explain, I reached into my nightstand drawer and pulled out some folded papers. It was time.
In the heavy splendor of that moment I opened up a poem I had written on another honest kind of day. It had been a different day of wrestling with poverty, weakness and strength. From my fight and the sunrise of surrender, it had come – the poem of a very busy mom with a very long to-do-list who had finally began to come to grips with the inevitable.
As untimely as time can be, we are all granted just so much of it and then there is no more. It runs out. And it never runs back in once it’s gone. It just doesn’t.
This scared kid, with a sunrise in her heart, had finally moved into accepting that Heaven may have laid out a shortened plan for her.
From that realization and a time of gutsy weakness, I wrote. And finally today was the day I could share the paradox of “Life after Life” within my bowl of precious Pajama Soup. I read to them: If I should go and skies turn gray and life swings long and low, If clouds should burst and hearts should break and between us time should grow...
I folded the papers and put them away as the sweet and timeless moment hung in the air. Glad to be swallowed up in hero hugs and small trembling hands, I laughed at myself and all my to-do lists. I mean, everyone knows life is not about to-do lists. Life isn’t even about Death. Life is about Pajama Soup.