How Not To Die

This is not to be confused with deceptive click-bait leading you to think I have the secret to staying alive in this health crisis. Heck if I know – I don’t even think Dr. Fauci really knows. Me? I’m sitting all alone in a cabin sucking on oranges, doubling up on multi-vitamins, and binge-watching TV COVID updates like it’s the new season of Stranger Things. My only human interaction is shouting across the yard to my drunk hippy neighbors and FaceTiming the kids.

No, the nature of this post is quite the opposite of how to stay alive.

Let’s be honest, every one of us – at some point since hearing about this deadly virus – has thought about dying. Who wouldn’t? This thing is a killer and whether we believe it or not, we will all be touched in some grisly way by this virus. I don’t think any of us were ready to be thrust into morbid conversations about sickness, PPE, viral load, pandemics, and a TV-ticker that literally counts the dead. Yet suddenly EVERY stinkin’ one of us has to concern ourselves with the reality that “it” could be coming for us. Even us.

Generally speaking, our culture is not all that adept in dealing with dying. We value LIFE! YOUTH! ACTION! STRENGTH! and don’t give much credence to the reality of sickness, tragedy, suffering and the inevitable end to our existence. We like to put old people in homes so we don’t have a daily reminder of our own mortality. We would rather pour our hard earned money into removing our facial wrinkles, coloring over our grey hair and adding long, lush eyelashes as opposed to taking care of grandma. We prefer to minimize, ignore, or even deny the reality of death.

I know I did, anyway.

That was, until I had no choice but to deal with it.

I’ve had a head start on the general population to contemplate death when I was diagnosed with a really crappy lung disease about six years ago. Early on, the prognosis was grim with most websites giving between 5-15 years to live. I’ve been extremely fortunate and it seems my disease progress is on the slower end of that spectrum. Still, I’ve given a lot of thought to my death and how to die well.

Morbid, I know. But I was recently brought back to some of the most powerful insights on dying from Morrie Schwartz as he shared them with his former student, Mitch Albom in Albom’s book “Tuesdays with Morrie.” This is my favorite:

“When you know how to die, you know how to live.”

Isn’t that brilliant? Perhaps if our culture WOULD give more thought and discussion to dying, perhaps we’d live BETTER! Let’s not miss this opportunity the coronavirus has given us to stare down death and ask ourselves, do I know how to die? And therefore – do I know how to live?

When I received my LAM diagnosis, I came up with many things I wanted to do differently with my truncated life. Anyone who knows me knows I’m totally a work in progress, but when I was handed an approximate expiration date, I was forced to evaluate my preparedness to exit this reality. I came up with several ways I knew I did NOT want to die:

Angry – You know that feeling when your heart is racing, your stomach is churning – nearly to the point of vomit – and you break into a cold sweat whenever you see that certain person or even hear their name? You know what I’m talking about? Yeah, that. I definitely don’t want to die with any of that in me.

Unforgiving – I’m sure you’ve heard it said that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies. No way would I want to take that kind of toxicity to the grave with me. I’m still working on reaching out to all the people I’ve struggled to forgive in my life. I wasn’t able to forgive my dad for the hurt he caused me before he died – and I grieve that critical omission to this day. Forgiving is an important work. But it is work.

Afraid – Am I afraid of this virus? Heck yeah. I once heard pastor Ed Dobson, who was dying of ALS, say: “I’m not afraid of dying. I’m afraid of the getting dead.” Exactly. The only way we can go into that dark night – whether that be this week, next week or thousands of weeks from now – without fear is to know our eternal salvation is secure, to be able to say, “My soul is good, I’m ready to go.”

Bitter – This is the ugly twin sister to unforgiveness. But bitterness can actually CAUSE high blood pressure, ulcers, stomach issues and lost sleep. I know I don’t want to DIE with bitterness in my soul – but even moreso, who would want to LIVE like that? People can spot if we’re bitter even from outside a 6 ft. social distance. And it’s so unbecoming. No one wants to hang around bitter people – not in life or death. Lord, take my bitterness away.

Rich – One thing I know is that those who die with lots of money, still die. And having an accountant husband I’ve learned it’s practically a sure thing that when the rich die, they WILL leave behind seismic family feuds and division amongst the children. Who would WANT that for their offspring? I don’t want to die with any money – I think life is best lived by giving away as much as humanly possible. I just read this article about the Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in Myanmar. There is little doubt COVID-19 will destroy them when it enters their camps. Our money is about all that can help them right now. There must be at least a million different ways we could use our money right now. Come on, Christians – let’s BE the church!

Alone – Worse than actually dying from COVID-19, I’m more afraid of gasping for my final breaths all alone in the ICU without Paul or my kids at my side. The fact that visitors are not allowed in hospitals at all anymore feels like a big win for satan as his tactic is always to isolate then destroy. I’ve even decided that should I contract the virus, I’m gonna stay home until I recover or succumb. I want my people with me. I know the proper Christian response is that with Christ, I’m never truly alone. I know that. But that doesn’t seem real or helpful right now. I’ve worked in the ICU. I know what a lonely place it is even when your family MAY visit. I don’t want to go there now. Hell no.

I guess I’m learning just how precious and priceless my people are. Sometimes they are even Jesus to me.

Also – As the whole freakin’ world is experiencing the coronavirus, I think it has reminded us of just how globalized our world is and how all humanity is connected.  I’ve often wondered if Jesus was waiting for the internet before returning because he WANTED us to know global connectedness. Jesus was clear in the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your strength. And the second is this: to love your neighbor as yourself.” I wonder if Jesus has been waiting for us to see that the WHOLE WORLD is our neighbor. We must love ALL humanity, not just those who look and think and act just like us. We will never be alone if everyone is a brother or sister.

Bored – I’m not all that proficient at social media, but even I found about 100 ways one could get involved in bringing hope and peace and comfort in the midst of this COVID-19 storm. One of the best ways to find meaning in this life is to lay down our own agendas and serve others. There is no better time than now to begin. The need is astronomical. Lord, forgive us for using the word “bored” in the midst of a rampant humanitarian crisis. We have all been created on purpose for a purpose – and the most fulfilling, God-glorifying thing is to find that purpose.

I know it’s hard to talk about death at such a somber time in history, but let us remember, thinking about dying can inform how we LIVE!

Today, I’m still here. You’re still here – so let’s LIVE ALL-IN! Let’s not waste these precious days with mind numbing nothingness.

May we never forget that every single day and every single breath are just God-breathed gifts so that when we die (not if) we will be able to say, “I’ve lived well.”

18 thoughts on “How Not To Die

  1. Cindy, this is the best blog you have ever written! I want to write a book to my family entitled, “ He Taught us all How to Die”. Because that is what John Dekker did when he was diagnosed with colon cancer. His great faith in Jesus led him down the path into the valley of the shadow of death and up into the glory of heaven on August 7, 1996. He made us look it square in the face. He was going home! But every visitor who entered his room was asked the same question, “ Will I see you in heaven?” He passed out Message Bibles, gave us glimpses of heaven, and taught us that death is just a doorway to heaven. His last words were, “Jesus is coming, watch!”
    I believe you are gifted to write these profound truths to us because God has appointed you as his messenger. Thank you for being obedient and telling it like it is. Be safe, be comforted, you are loved!💕

    1. Oh Betsy! Thank you so much for sharing these poignant and precious memories from the legacy of John. What a beautiful example of how to die well – and thus, how to live well. Those stories truly inspire me!!! I want every day to matter and really, the true measure of that is how did I glorify God and tell others about Him? John certainly did that well! And there are no better words to leave this earth with than, “Jesus is coming, watch!” Oh my! I LOVE that!!! Thank you, Betsy. xoxo

  2. Love the quote “when you know to die, you know how to live”. After being discharged from the hospital with GBS, I developed an air embolism as I was walking into the house. Told my sister-in-law to call 911 (she thought I was joking) and I couldn’t breathe, felt my heart racing and could feel myself losing consciousness. Had crazy thoughts about dying on the couch in my living room ( as my sister in law was racing around trying to find anything with my house number on it) but peace took over. I felt grateful for the life I was given, felt I did the best I could with my children ….then the ambulance did arrive. Spent the night going through scans. But I’ll never forget that experience. Thanks for sharing Cindy how you don’t want to die….with anger or bitterness or fear.

    1. Hey Christy! Man, I miss you. I can’t wait to get back to work with the best co-workers EVER! Thank-you for sharing your own personal brush with death and the incredible peace that washed over you. That HAS to be the Holy Spirit – Our Comforter! I’ve experienced a few similar moments and I know that in a blink we have to decide if we have lived well or not. I know for me, I want to be ready to die and that most importantly means to LIVE WELL!!! Love you!!!

  3. Excellent reflections, Sister Cynthia!

    Nouwen wrote extensively On the subject of dying – – and in particular, on dying well. One quote from him I came across, brings another dimension to what you wrote above: Fruitfulness.

    We will all die one day. That is one of the few things we can be sure of. But will we die well? That is less certain. Dying well means dying for others, making our lives fruitful for those we leave behind. The big question, therefore, is not “What can I still do in the years I have left to live?” but “How can I prepare myself for my death so that my life can continue to bear fruit in the generations that will follow me?”

    This resonates with the words of Jesus in John 12: Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

    Live well…Die fruitfully.

    Love to you and that beautiful family of yours!

    1. Oh my goodness, Keith! I LOVE that addition: fruitfulness. Love, love it. I think I’m going to hang that question up on my refrigerator: “How can I prepare myself for death so that my life can continue to bear fruit in the generations that will follow me?” This suggests living with intentionality and with enough self-love to trust God has given us something worth passing on. We all matter and how we live matters!!! Yes, yes, yes. Miss you and Suzanne so much! Although you are still very much alive, I will say that all the seeds you two had sown while in the Grand Rapids area continue to bear fruit in millions of ways!!! You guys are the epitome of living well!!! xoxo

  4. Thank you, Cindy, for reminding us to “live” first and how to live in order to give to others. Once again, you have captured in words, what we need to hear and do in order to live life to the fullest. You are a messenger of HIS good news!
    You are in my prayers each day my friend! Being isolated from your family and friends has to be extremely difficult but I hope you are finding some silver linings amidst it all!
    Love you much–

    1. Thanks so much, Kathy – especially for the prayers. I’ll be honest, I have plenty of “low” and angry moments. I am growing weary of being alone and sometimes fantasize of flying to China myself and blowing up their “live animal” markets!!! As soon as this is past us, we need to get together so I can hear about your plans to move overseas and then make plans for when we can visit you!!! Love you!

  5. So enjoy your writing. You have a real gift – thank you for sharing! This topic strikes so close to home for everyone. You keep it real! Easter Blessing to you!

    1. Thanks, Kurt! May you, too, make the most of this (strange) holy week and celebrate Easter with a new and special appreciation for LIVE human interaction!!! Love you!

  6. Dear Cindy…. I have been thinking of you so much lately!! I keep listening to my play list with Ben Rector’s son.. ” old friends” …. I always think of Heidi when I hear it.. and of course you sisters 🙂
    Kathy said you were camping out at your cottage. I am so glad you have a place to be and that you are able to communicate with your family. Thanks for your perspective …. you make me think….you challenge me to be better.
    Continued prayers Cindy!!! and a few hugs….wait… elbow bumps… sorry.. I forget sometimes 🙂

    1. Oh Janis! I love you AND Ben Rector! That song totally brings me back to the elementary school days at Forest Grove. We Visser girls sure had a wonderful, blessed group of friends and you were truly one of the most special – especially to Heidi. I recently saw Jeremy Veltema and just started weeping because of those same beautiful memories!!! Thanks for your prayers, Janis! I truly do appreciate every one. Stay safe and healthy and very soon we can toss those stupid elbow bumps out the door and hug each other tightly the way human beings were MEANT to greet one another!!! Love you!!!

  7. Thanks Cindy!! You are awesome and love your words!! You make it, make sense! Take care and be safe! Love ya!

    1. Thanks, Lin! I just write what God lays on my heart. Sometimes I have Paul proofread it first and he often tells me my words don’t make sense. So I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite until they do! Love you!

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