The "when-I-die" file
April 29, 2008
My mother-in-law gave her children a generous gift when she passed away: She put her affairs in order before suffering from a stroke.
Her efforts, however, didn't just include advance directives, or legal documents spelling out how she wanted her medical care to be handled.
She also kept a manila file folder called "When-I-Die." Inside, my husband found some typewritten poems and the lyrics to "I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing." We sang this hopeful song near the end of her memorial service, comforted by the thought that this was what she had wanted.
In my own "when-I-die" file, which I just started yesterday, I have just one thing so far: A quote by the Dutch Catholic priest, Henri Nouwen.
It was passed on to me by Joey Rodger, who rose halfway through Phyllis' memorial service at the Evanston Friends (Quaker) Meeting House and delivered his words in a way that gripped my heart. She also sent along another verse from the monks of Weston Priory in Vermont that was a source of comfort for her when her own mother died.
Maybe one day, these passages--or others that readers have posted--will speak to you.
"Every time we make the decision to love someone, we open ourselves to great suffering, because those we love most cause us not only great joy, but also great pain.
"The greatest pain comes from leaving. When the child leaves home, when the husband or wife leaves for a long period of time or for good, when the beloved friend departs to another country or dies, the pain of the leaving can tear us apart.
"Still, if we want to avoid the suffering of leaving, we will never experience the joy of loving. And love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair. We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking."
Here's the other passage, from the monks of Weston Priory in Vermont:
"Wherever You Go
I want to say something to all of you who have become a part of the fabric of my life.
The color and texture which you have brought into my being have become a song, and I want to sing it forever.
There is an energy in us which makes things happen when the paths of other persons touch ours and we have to be there and let it happen.
When the time of our particular sunset comes, our thing, our accomplishment won't matter a great deal.
But the clarity and care with which we have loved others will speak with vitality of the great gift of life we have been for each other."