I’ve read so many articles written by beautiful hearts sharing their journeys, lessons, thoughts, and experiences along life’s path. This one touched me deeply I had to share.
Rest in peace, Kara. Thank you for sharing your beautiful heart with us.
Editor’s Note: On March 22nd, 2015, Kara Tippetts went home to be with Jesus after a long and difficult battle with cancer. While she was here, she touched so many lives, and helped people understand how you can find God, even in the midst of suffering, even in the midst of the mundane. Kara’s response to her terminal brain cancer was filled with grace, hope and peace. This devotional comes from her final book, And It Was Beautiful. We hope these words will speak to you in a special way today.
Life without a Bucket List
I can confidently say I don’t live with a long list of things I want to do, see or complete before I’m done in this place. I carried a dream for years of having a farm. I was in love with all things Wendell Berry. I could picture it, the life of routine created by the land and its rhythms.
But beyond that, I’ve never longed for having a list and checking things off. I’m happy with my old cars, my simple wardrobe, my lack of fancy things and vacations. Don’t get me wrong, I do love a good concert, but I also love an organic dance party in my kitchen. I love great food, but I also love a hot dog over the fire pit in my backyard. I love a hike in the mountains, but I also love a walk around the block with my people.
Last week, when I heard I may have another long road to travel on this journey, I turned to Jason and cried. I told him how day after day this place is losing its grip on me. Driving down the street, this place sometimes feels so [vulgar], so wanting my money without care for my heart.
Billboards blare at me what to buy, what to think, how to vote. But the tie that binds me here is relationships. Sickness makes those bonds more real, more important. It’s people who grip my heart.
Suffering has a way of exposing our theology, certainly our practical theology, where what we believe about God collides with where we live. My heart always hurts a little when someone hears my story and begins to question God’s goodness.
I have found that suffering makes my faith more childlike, more simple. Our ideas of God are not necessarily made bigger or more grandiose through suffering, but they are simplified as we wade through the unknown of what comes next.
Last week, in that unknown, I was smooching on [my son] Lake and the thought hit me that I won’t be around to help him navigate his first heartbreak. I was in a public place and I nearly lost my footing because of the fear that gripped me in that moment. I looked up and saw my growing girls and was almost suffocated by the thought of who will help them during the awkward years of puberty. Shouldn’t it be me? That’s the way it’s supposed to be, right? Can’t I stay and be here for them when they need me?
The truth is none of us know the length of our lives. So we pray for daily bread and say thank you when it comes. For today I have a little boy who will cross the room to give me a hug. I have a baby girl who gives me 10 kisses when I ask for five. I have a preteen who still holds my hand in public, in front of her friends even. I have a second born who loves to tell me every tiny detail of her day. I have a guy who makes coffee just like I like it.
A bucket list? No, I don’t need one. I’m so rich. It’s relationships that matter. And for me, paying attention to the precious gift of today is the only thing on my list.
Dear Lord, thank You for the blessings that I have, the friends, family, relationships, even the material possessions I own. But Lord, please let my heart not rest in these. Let my heart not grow hard, or grow weary when You decide that something should be taken from me. May You forever be my ultimate rock and resting place. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
I emerge from this conversation dumbfounded. I’ve seen this a million times before, but it still gets me every time.
I’m listening to a man tell a story. A woman he knows was in a devastating car accident; her life shattered in an instant. She now lives in a state of near-permanent pain; a paraplegic; many of her hopes stolen.
He tells of how she had been a mess before the accident, but that the tragedy had engendered positive changes in her life. That she was, as a result of this devastation, living a wonderful life.
And then he utters the words. The words that are responsible for nothing less than emotional, spiritual and psychological violence:
Everything happens for a reason. That this was something that had to happen in order for her to grow.
That’s the kind of bullshit that destroys lives. And it is categorically untrue.
It is amazing to me that so many of these myths persist—and that is why I share actionable tools and strategies to work with your pain in my free newsletter. These myths are nothing more than platitudes cloaked as sophistication, and they preclude us from doing the one and only thing we must do when our lives are turned upside down: grieve.
You know exactly what I’m talking about. You’ve heard these countless times. You’ve probably even uttered them a few times yourself. And every single one of them needs to be annihilated.
Let me be crystal clear: if you’ve faced a tragedy and someone tells you in any way, shape or form that your tragedy was meant to be, that it happened for a reason, that it will make you a better person, or that taking responsibility for it will fix it, you have every right to remove them from your life.
Grief is brutally painful. Grief does not only occur when someone dies. When relationships fall apart, you grieve. When opportunities are shattered, you grieve. When dreams die, you grieve. When illnesses wreck you, you grieve.
So I’m going to repeat a few words I’ve uttered countless times; words so powerful and honest they tear at the hubris of every jackass who participates in the debasing of the grieving:
Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.
These words come from my dear friend Megan Devine, one of the only writers in the field of loss and trauma I endorse. These words are so poignant because they aim right at the pathetic platitudes our culture has come to embody on a increasingly hopeless level. Losing a child cannot be fixed. Being diagnosed with a debilitating illness cannot be fixed. Facing the betrayal of your closest confidante cannot be fixed.
They can only be carried.
I hate to break it to you, but although devastation can lead to growth, it often doesn’t. The reality is that it often destroys lives. And the real calamity is that this happens precisely because we’ve replaced grieving with advice. With platitudes. With our absence.
I now live an extraordinary life. I’ve been deeply blessed by the opportunities I’ve had and the radically unconventional life I’ve built for myself. Yet even with that said, I’m hardly being facetious when I say that loss has not in and of itself made me a better person. In fact, in many ways it’s hardened me.
While so much loss has made me acutely aware and empathetic of the pains of others, it has made me more insular and predisposed to hide. I have a more cynical view of human nature, and a greater impatience with those who are unfamiliar with what loss does to people.
Above all, I’ve been left with a pervasive survivor’s guilt that has haunted me all my life. This guilt is really the genesis of my hiding, self-sabotage and brokenness.
In short, my pain has never been eradicated, I’ve just learned to channel it into my work with others. I consider it a great privilege to work with others in pain, but to say that my losses somehow had to happen in order for my gifts to grow would be to trample on the memories of all those I lost too young; all those who suffered needlessly, and all those who faced the same trials I did early in life, but who did not make it.
I’m simply not going to do that. I’m not going to construct some delusional narrative fallacy for myself so that I can feel better about being alive. I’m not going to assume that God ordained me for life instead of all the others so that I could do what I do now. And I’m certainly not going to pretend that I’ve made it through simply because I was strong enough; that I became “successful” because I “took responsibility.”
There’s a lot of “take responsibility” platitudes in the personal development space, and they are largely nonsense. People tell others to take responsibility when they don’t want to understand.
Because understanding is harder than posturing. Telling someone to “take responsibility” for their loss is a form of benevolent masturbation. It’s the inverse of inspirational porn: it’s sanctimonious porn.
Personal responsibility implies that there’s something to take responsibility for. You don’t take responsibility for being raped or losing your child. You take responsibility for how you choose to live in the wake of the horrors that confront you, but you don’t choose whether you grieve. We’re not that smart or powerful. When hell visits us, we don’t get to escape grieving.
This is why all the platitudes and fixes and posturing are so dangerous: in unleashing them upon those we claim to love, we deny them the right to grieve.
In so doing, we deny them the right to be human. We steal a bit of their freedom precisely when they’re standing at the intersection of their greatest fragility and despair.
No one—and I mean no one—has that authority. Though we claim it all the time.
The irony is that the only thing that even can be “responsible” amidst loss is grieving.
So if anyone tells you some form of get over it, move on, or rise above, you can let them go.
If anyone avoids you amidst loss, or pretends like it didn’t happen, or disappears from your life, you can let them go.
If anyone tells you that all is not lost, that it happened for a reason, that you’ll become better as a result of your grief, you can let them go.
Let me reiterate: all of those platitudes are bullshit.
You are not responsible to those who try to shove them down your throat. You can let them go.
I’m not saying you should. That is up to you, and only up to you. It isn’t an easy decision to make and should be made carefully. But I want you to understand that you can.
I’ve grieved many times in my life. I’ve been overwhelmed with shame and self-hatred so strong it’s nearly killed me.
The ones who helped—the only ones who helped—were those who were there. And said nothing.
In that nothingness, they did everything.
I am here—I have lived—because they chose to love me. They loved me in their silence, in their willingness to suffer with me, alongside me, and through me. They loved me in their desire to be as uncomfortable, as destroyed, as I was, if only for a week, an hour, even just a few minutes.
Most people have no idea how utterly powerful this is.
Are there ways to find “healing” amidst devastation? Yes. Can one be “transformed” by the hell life thrusts upon them? Absolutely. But it does not happen if one is not permitted to grieve. Because grief itself is not an obstacle.
The obstacles come later. The choices as to how to live; how to carry what we have lost; how to weave a new mosaic for ourselves? Those come in the wake of grief. It cannot be any other way.
Grief is woven into the fabric of the human experience. If it is not permitted to occur, its absence pillages everything that remains: the fragile, vulnerable shell you might become in the face of catastrophe.
Yet our culture has treated grief as a problem to be solved, an illness to be healed, or both. In the process, we’ve done everything we can to avoid, ignore, or transform grief. As a result, when you’re faced with tragedy you usually find that you’re no longer surrounded by people, you’re surrounded by platitudes.
What to Offer Instead
When a person is devastated by grief, the last thing they need is advice. Their world has been shattered. This means that the act of inviting someone—anyone—into their world is an act of great risk. To try and fix or rationalize or wash away their pain only deepens their terror.
Instead, the most powerful thing you can do is acknowledge. Literally say the words:
I acknowledge your pain. I am here with you.
Note that I said with you, not for you. For implies that you’re going to do something. That is not for you to enact. But to stand with your loved one, to suffer with them, to listen to them, to do everything butsomething is incredibly powerful.
There is no greater act than acknowledgment. And acknowledgment requires no training, no special skills, no expertise. It only requires the willingness to be present with a wounded soul, and to stay present, as long as is necessary.
Be there. Only be there. Do not leave when you feel uncomfortable or when you feel like you’re not doing anything. In fact, it is when you feel uncomfortable and like you’re not doing anything that you must stay.
Because it is in those places—in the shadows of horror we rarely allow ourselves to enter—where the beginnings of healing are found. This healing is found when we have others who are willing to enter that space alongside us. Every grieving person on earth needs these people.
Thus I beg you, I plead with you, to be one of these people.
You are more needed than you will ever know.
And when you find yourself in need of those people, find them. I guarantee they are there.
Everyone else can go.
My Aunt Ann has Alzheimer’s. She is the fifth person in our family who is suffering with it.
Even though this is my 5th family member with the disease, it isn’t any easier than it was when my dad died in 1986.
He was the 1st family member to have it – early onset. He died at age 57; buried with full military honors (Lt. Col. Charles Parrish). He was exposed to nuclear testing and Agent Orange during his military career; they say that’s most likely what caused his early onset and early death.
At the time of my father’s death, our family provided a 3 generation genetic bank for the Bryan Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, which helped researcher’s worldwide locate and identify the APOE e4 gene. <click the links to learn more>
My grandmother (Ann’s mother), father (Ann’s brother), and Ann’s oldest sister (Aunt Laura) have all passed away.
Ann’s ‘just older’ sister, Peggy, is at the blissfully unaware stage. By that I mean she doesn’t know anyone & no longer speaks or worries about anything. Peggy is lost within her own world now.
Ann is 79, and is well into the disease, but remains cheerful and pleasant to all. When she meets someone, Ann will say – with a big smile on her face, “Hello. My name is Ann and I have Alzheimer’s so I’m going to be repeating myself.”
I bring this up not only to spread the word about Alzheimer’s but to share the opportunities it gave my family; and hopefully someone reading this will benefit from the information.
The advantages of our family’s Alzheimer’s experience is that we’ve learned that time is fleeting and memories are precious.
To help you and your family, I like to offer the following insights to the benefits of The Slow Death.. .
- My family had the chance to ‘soak up’ each member of our family because we knew their mind and memories would soon be gone.
- We shared the stories, names & important dates of our past family members; so future generations would know their heritage.
- We labeled photographs so the names of the people and the event when it was taken wouldn’t be lost to us forever.
- We learned how to help them cope with their deteriorating memory by offering them a notebook to write every visit, thought, memory in. And once, they lost the ability to read and write, we kept it for them and read it to them.. repeatedly.
- We all learned to be more patience than any Parrish ever had before! We are strong willed and outspoken usually, but learned to react more slowly and empathetically with each new challenge.
- We have all been advocates for Alzheimer’s – participating in studies, Alzheimer’s Walk to Remember
- We learned that even with a lot of time to prepare – we never quite were.
- We talked about funeral wishes… and butterflies, flowers or gifts… a PRICELESS discussion when the time came.
- We laughed over our proposed Epitaphs..
- We shared our past losses, things that left a hole in our soul.
- We ALL have preplanned and paid for our funerals.
To quickly sum it up, we grabbed every moment, every memory, every piece of information and planning ahead for the inevitable while we could. Because as anyone who has gone through A Slow Death of any type they KNOW how fleeting these precious moments are.
HELPFUL LINKS: (if you don’t see what you need, leave me a comment below, I’ll find it for you)
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Heart Disease
- Veteran’s Funeral Care
- Funeral Consumers Alliance
- Power of Attorney forms for each state
- Health Care Power of Attorney
- Wills, how to and why
- State by state end of life directives
- What is a Life Celebrant for Funerals?
- End of Life Plan
I recommend that you look these up NOW! Don’t delay.. you and your loved ones will be so very grateful you did.
For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.
People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them. When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.
It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.
By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.
We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.
It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.
When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.
Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.
This morning I am helping a friend who’s husband is under hospice care, to plan his funeral. I have known them for many, many years, and they are very dear friends of mine.
I am looking at websites through the eyes of one who is a professional in this business, but also through the heart of a person who is losing a dear friend and grieving. I will be forever changed by this experience, and a better rep for developing funeral home websites because now I have seen funeral home websites through eyes filled with tears and a grieving heart.
I would like to share my observations and suggestions for you who have a website for your funeral home:
** Make your phone number very prominent. I now know, through tear blurred vision, that it’s very hard to see a small phone number buried within the website, especially if it’s at the bottom of the page and very small.
** Put your pricing on your site. It saves time if someone has a budget that they have to adhere to as the result of a very long illness. And since my friend asked me to check pricing, I’ve had to call several firms, go through the pain each time of saying the words, “I have a friend who is dying”. Before today, I didn’t really have an opinion on showing your prices – after this, I will be recommending it to any funeral home owner I talk to.
** Take an objective, personal look at your website. Try to put yourself in the mindset of someone who’s heart is breaking. Someone who is looking through eyes filled with tears. Someone who is mentally and physically exhausted because of grief. Put the most important information right out there – big and bold – where it’s easy to find, easy to read and comprehend.
For that – grieving people will thank you now.
** The other ‘usual’ information is great for those who are planning ahead – but not once someone has lost that opportunity and has to make a plan now! OF COURSE encourage people to plan ahead on your website, market that message gently in your community.
For that, people will thank you later.
**When asked about pricing, don’t let your staff say, “That’s our price, but I can talk to <insert name of FH Manager/Owner> and see what they say.”
Instead try this: “I understand completely, and I’m certain we can help you with this and stay within your budget. Let me explain things to <insert name of FH Manager/Owner> and get back with you today.”
I didn’t select the firm with the lowest price – I selected the firm that provided their information on a website that I could navigate & see easily though my tears. One that I could understand even through the cloud of grief. The firm that listened to my needs and wishes, and answered with a heart of compassion.
It’s amazing what you can buy and have delivered to you today via the internet. Chinese food, purses, shoes, gag gifts, chocolate covered fruit, sweaters, shoes, boots, dogs, toys, books, movies…the list is endless. And now… it even includes FUNERALS!!
Yes, you read that right!
You can now plan ahead and pay for your funeral on line, You can plan a funeral in advance or plan a funeral at the time of death. You can select a casket, urn, even butterflies to be released; all on line – including paying for it.
Personally, I think this is a GREAT idea, but then I hate shopping. In fact, my girlfriends usually have to bribe me with a margaritas to get me to go with them.
I remember going with my sisters to the funeral home in a hazy fog to finalize our mother’s arrangements. The fog I was in was not due to margaritas, but exhaustion from the hours spent at the hospital, the shedding of tears, the runs to the airport to pick up family and answering the same questions over and over again. When we went shopping to find a beautiful gown to be buried in I just couldn’t participate. Shopping is hard enough for me on a normal day, but for something for my mother who had just passed away… I just sunk to the floor and waited for my sisters to find something.
Today, you don’t have to do that. Funeral firms are realizing that as wonderful as their services and employees are, we don’t really like facing them. They are located in a place we really want no part of. . . the place where we last viewed our loved ones.