Lessons from Joe on Death and Dying
We want to enjoy a meaningful life. We want to have a peaceful death. But do we know how? The year before he died, my brother Joe taught me three powerful lessons on living and dying well.
Joe was the picture of good health. He was an avid runner. About two weeks after 9/11 he received a diagnosis of late stage lung cancer. A year later he died peacefully at age 54. I remember his last year and these lessons from Joe in every corner of my heart.
Lesson One: Express appreciation often during each day.
My brother was known as a grateful man at the Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia, South Carolina. He expressed his thanks for the smallest help given him. Even in pain, my brother smiled and appreciated each person.
Joe wrote a short letter to the editors of the Columbia Journal that captured his deep sense of appreciation. He was so pleased when they published it. We had his letter enlarged and made copies. Joe and I went around to each bulletin board on his hospital floor and posted a copy. He wanted everyone to read it and know his appreciation.
Lesson Two: Find humor in life's moments and laugh often.
Joe never lost his sense of humor and his ability to let loose with one-liners. He had a talent for dark humor and he reveled in it. I remember one story in particular. Its images remain vivid in my mind.
Toward the end of his life Joe had to rely on a wheelchair to get around. One day I was pushing him through the halls to the hospital’s garden atrium. Along the way he greeted numerous friends—also in wheel chairs. When we reached the atrium, Joe gave me a dead pan look and said, “I never thought I’d have wheel chair envy.” He made me laugh right out loud.
Lesson Three: Trust that your life has Divine meaning and purpose.
Shortly before he died, Joe and I sat in his living room and discussed the age-old dilemma of why good people suffer. We talked about how they should respond to this suffering. He was struggling with the question of “Why me?” Finally Joe put his head against the high back chair, closed his eyes and said softly, “I accept.” He had found the courage to trust that his life had Divine meaning and purpose. Stillness came over him. Three days later my brother died a peaceful death.
Joe fought for his life with courage and determination. He wanted to enjoy whatever time he had left. Yet he faced his death and all the fears and unknowns surrounding it with the same heroic spirit. He showed us that life holds more joy when we live each day, looking for things to appreciate and reasons to laugh. And death holds less fear when we live with trust in our Divine purpose for being here. In his last year on earth, Joe taught us powerful ways for living and dying well.