What If I Had Died Last Night?

Last night, thirty minutes past the midnight hour following a wonderful Tuesday night “campus” gathering, a convulsion suddenly and forcefully awakened me from a deep sleep. I was choking and unable to breathe. Words fail me in describing the terror I felt.  It seemed like a vice was around my throat and I was slowly suffocating. This has never happened to me in over five decades of life. I really did have the proverbial life flashing before my eyes experience.

My wife Chris was startled and thought heart attack but as suddenly as it had begun, I was able to breathe again. She began to question me—did I feel a crushing weight on my chest? cold sweats? nausea? pain in left arm? dizziness? The answer to all those questions was no. She observed my color was fine, but we both were very concerned.

As I gathered my wits about me, I went downstairs, grabbed my iPad, came back to bed and we began to Google the phrase “choking in sleep.” After a few minutes, we came to realize it was most likely either a type of sleep apnea or acid reflux. The reflux option seemed the most logical due to the spiciness and late hour of our Mexican food and drink.

Shaken to the core, I could not bring myself to relax and go back to sleep. As Chris settled back into a fitful slumber, I took my Kindle and sporadically continued my reading of  Stephen King’s The Stand (thanks a lot Michael Hyatt!) interrupted by deep, introspective thoughts of life, death, fear and the unknown. I might point out that Uncle Stevie’s tale of terror did not help the situation very much. As I came to acknowledge readiness to face my creator (God, will you really be white, male and Baptist?) I began to ponder a few important and necessary questions.

What if I had died last night?

I posed this difficult but necessary question to Chris the next morning as we enjoyed coffee—savoring more than usual—the crisp autumn air of our back porch. I said, “I don’t want to jinx myself and a few days from now everyone is saying, yeah, Randy was talking about dying, he must have had a premonition. However, we need to address this question. Believe me, I’m not ready to die, but for your sake, I want to be more than just spiritually ready when death happens.”

Most people I know never take time to address this question. Especially creative and artistic types. We simply choose not to face it. I have assisted many distraught families who were devastated not only by the loss of their family member but by the lack of preparation for death.

To help others, I thought it important to address this difficult subject without being overly self-disclosing. Here are a few items Chris and I discussed and are acting on today.

— How much life insurance do I have? Is it paid up? How does it pay out? Are there any clauses we should know about? Find out what exactly what would have happened if I had died last night.

— What would be your first steps back to reality after the initial grieving process and burial?

— We decided the surviving party should consult our trusted financial manager before distributing any monies, or paying anything off. He will know the best way for us to steward our monies for the future. He will also be well versed on current tax implications.

— We decided to immediately make an appointment with our attorney and update our living wills and trusts. It has been several years since our last update and laws change frequently. We also talked about the importance of monies going to a trust for our children rather than to a new life partner that may or may not come in our later years. We have seen much heartache in our extended families over this matter.

— We talked about my funeral service. I know it sounds morbid, but it is a really big deal to me after witnessing evangelical travesties in over 99.9% of funerals we have attended. Most funerals are a sad joke and tardy afterthought and have nothing to do with the person’s life that is to be memorialized. Obviously, this is not really about the deceased, it is about the ones that remain.

— We talked about my business ventures. Which ones will continue? Who will lead them? Who will care? Which should continue and which should cease to exist?

— We talked about various retirement accounts and distributions and passwords, access codes and beneficiaries.

— We talked about what means the most to us after a thirty year career and ministry helping people. Hint: It was not our accomplishments, savings, investments and work record. It is our personal relationship, our two daughters, their families and friends, our dearest friends and extended family. Everything else pales in comparison.

Now, don’t misunderstand me, I really hope for many more years on this earth with my family and friends. I have prayed for over thirty years that God would provide me the opportunity to see my grandchildren. My family traditionally lives a very long time. My genetic heritage is solid.

BUT, if not, I have lived a full and happy life. I plan to continue seeking adrenaline rushes, climbing steep and tall mountains, sledding down hills at 35 miles per hour, down hill skiing, and more. Much more. But should I die before I wake, and pray the Lord my soul to take, I have peace knowing everything possible has been done to ease the difficulty of my death for my family as much as humanly possible. That’s the least I can do.

How about you?

Have you taken these steps?

If you have already walked this road, are there more steps I should take?

Be courageous. Let’s talk openly about this…

66 Responses to “What If I Had Died Last Night?”

  1. Thanks for sharing Randy. Too many people shy away from this question. The preparation is a love gesture to those who will be left behind.

    Your point about setting a trust for children is not talked about enough either. Your reason for a trust was one that I had not considered. We have a special needs child with severe medical issues and leaving even a small insurance policy in his name could affect his ability to maintain medical coverage through programs like Medicaid.
    Hank´s last blog post ..iPad or Kindle

  2. What a dream!

    When my husband and I went on a short term missions trip to Poland we took several steps to prepare for the end ~ just in case. We did it for our children who weren’t able to join us at the time.

    It’s a great question. Not quite important as, “am I ready for eternity?” but super important, nonetheless.

    May the Lord bless you with many great years ahead!
    Cheryl´s last blog post ..Tired of Liking Worry

  3. Randy,
    Nice meeting you at STORY … sorry about the scare you had the other night. Hope it was only a scare and you live to be at least 100 :)

    After almost dying in an accident 6 yrs ago — I made sure I (we) had everything in order. Now as time has passed, I’ve gotten complacent about being prepared, so thanks for this reminder.

  4. Glad your still with us! Thanks for the reminder. I have been meaning to get my house in a little more order for my wife Diana. I handle all finances etc so planning on typing out instructions for when I die.
    The Music Gardener´s last blog post ..The Marketing Plan – The Final Touch

  5. Glad you are OK and thanks for sharing. My wife, Karen, and I recently discussed some plans verbally but have taken no action. Being in our late 30s, I guess we didn’t see the rush, but this post has brought our planning goals to the forefront. Thanks again for sharing.

  6. Thanks for sharing this with us Randy. My wife and I have tried to follow what Dave Ramsey lays out in his plan for a Legacy Drawer. It is basically a drawer in your home that contains all the important documents and information that your family needs if something happens to you. This has would great for us so far.

  7. Thank you for sharing Randy…that is a crazy wake up call!

    I love what you shared about relationships being most important to you and Chris. It reminded me of what a close friend did for me recently that was amazing!

    He and I live several states apart and only see each other about once per year these days. So it surprised me when a letter arrived from him recently. Over a couple of pages he poured his heart out to me…sharing how much our relationship has meant to him.

    He was answering a question I think we should all consider…DO THOSE CLOSEST TO US REALLY KNOW HOW MUCH THEY MEAN TO US? Maybe we should all find a way to articulate our feelings while we still can…

  8. Enjoyed your insight and thoughts. Also death is not death, but a coming home, and funerals are a time of celebration, a new birth.
    More and more people are realizing the importance of leaving a footprint for others to follow, a way to teach and help others, even when you are in Heaven.
    Thanks again for sharing!

  9. Randy, great post. As a single woman with no immediate family this side of heaven, I was brought up short a while back by a doctor’s office questionnaire: Who should we contact in case of emergency? I thought, “I don’t know. I don’t belong to anybody.”

    I have since arranged with one of my friends that she will be my contact, given her contact information for other people who need to know if I pop off, placed my important financial documents (including account numbers and passwords) in a safe deposit box (she has a key), and noted in writing in an easy-to-find file what my funeral preferences are. (I’m a singer, I have strong opinions about the music.)

    One thing you don’t mention that might be a huge help is to pre-purchase a burial/cremation plan and final resting place. When my mother was dying of cancer we took care of that on the front end and it was so much easier to make those decisions when my mind was not so clouded by grief. Then when the time came, the care center she was in already knew who to call and it was one less thing I had to handle.

  10. Rachel Wojnarowski September 30, 2010 at 08:40

    Such truth in this post. I have searched for books on this very topic. I have one entitled ” When Someone You Love is Dying” but it is more beneficial from an emotional standpoint. Does anyone know of a practical resource guide? I never want to seem morbid but when your child is terminally ill without treatment or cure, the reality is just what you said above-be prepared in every aspect . Thanks for your openness!
    Rachel Wojnarowski´s last blog post ..A Special Birthday Thank You

  11. Dennis Burkhart September 30, 2010 at 08:48

    Glad you are ok Randy. I went to the gym yesterday and over did it on the first day back for a while.I thought I was going to pass out in the shower. I really do need to get down to business on the issues of Life insurance and a will. Hope I will not procrastinate much longer.

  12. Dying scares the schnikes out of me, Randy. The intellectual part of me knows my fate. The spiritual part of me has faith. But the physical part of me clings to the leg of life like a screaming toddler.

    Each time my parents travel, my dad talks me through where everything is, what it is and the key steps I need to take in the event “it” happens. At 39, it’s easy for me to think this is something to worry about “later.”

    Sorry you experienced that scare, and are having to live in its wake. Thanks for paying it forward by forcing me to face this inevitability.

    • @Keith Jennings, Keith, I love, love, love your words. “The intellectual part of me knows my fate. The spiritual part of me has faith. But the physical part of me clings to the leg of life like a screaming toddler.”

      So true!!!

      I really feel this has been a blessing in disguise. Thanks!

  13. Great thoughts, Randy. Both my parents have died this year, and we were grateful for all the preparations they had made ahead of time. My neighbor (42) got a bad diagnosis 2 weeks ago and has since spent much time “getting his affairs in order.” We all need wake-up calls periodically to remind us that life is fleeting and that we are not the ones in control of our lives, but God is.

  14. Randy, I am so glad you are Ok. Don and I have NO plans and arrangements at all. This has got me thinking and I want to thank you for all the advise you have given us.

    God bless you and keep you in good health for many many years to come. You are a blessing!

  15. I am definitely discussing this with my husband tonight. In fact, will send him this post hoping he can read it NOW. His boss died from a heart attack last year – at 59, at work. Even with that, we’ve let these conversations fade into the background. Thanks for the reminder & continued blessings on your ministry.

  16. Randy,

    Thanks for sharing your experience. Sometimes its hard for a couples to face these important life issues. It was great to read how you (as a couple) talked things through, came up with a plan, and started to execute on it. As a husband you do your wife and children a great service. It’s nice to see men who love God translate their love of God into loving action and comfort to their wives and children.
    –Joe

  17. First, let me say how happy I am that you are still here (assuming you are still here to read this post and that this wasn’t some weird premonition…). To that end, let me say how much I appreciate you and cherish you as a friend. Walking with my friend through the death of both his parents these past few months has reminded me how fragile life is and how, in the end, it is the relationships you make that matter the most. So I want you to know that you are one of those people whose friendship has made a profound impact on my life… a profound impact.

    Second, I resonate with wrestling with whether or not you are “ready” to die. I had a recent scare that left me on the wrong side of a hospital bed realizing that, although my soul was prepared for heaven and I knew all the right jargon about living my life for God, I, in fact, was nowhere near able to say that I was living my life as a “living offering.” While saying I was ready, I was in no way prepared on God to take me up on the offer. In fact. I found myself clinging to and fighting for life. It definitely has done a number on my head and heart.

    Love you, my friend.
    Pat Callahan´s last blog post ..The New Bike

    • @Pat Callahan, Ha! Thanks, Pat. For your dear friendship and your transparency. I love what Keith said above: “The intellectual part of me knows my fate. The spiritual part of me has faith. But the physical part of me clings to the leg of life like a screaming toddler.”

      Love you!

  18. Thanks for sharing Randy – glad you’re OK. My friend Mike died on Monday night, leaving his wife and 4 kids under 7 behind. He was the only one working as his wife stayed home with the kids. And unfortunately he had no life insurance, no will, nothing prepared for his death.

    I think so many people don’t want to face their own mortality by thinking about what will happen when they’re gone. But what an act of love to make sure in those difficult days after ones death, their loved ones aren’t dealing with how to pay the mortgage or what the passwords are to the bank account.

    What a great service of love for your family – many people need to follow in your footsteps!

    • @Laura, Agh. That is so desperately sad. Our family has been through this and it is very, very tough.

      Thanks so much for joining the conversation. I hope our stories will help many be better prepared.

  19. ohmylanta. i’m glad you’re okay. that would’ve been so, so frightening…

    this is something i’ve, sadly, wrestled with my dad on. while he’s got a great business mind and excels at “planning ahead” in the work arena, none of that translates into his personal life. it scares me. he has no life insurance, no retirement fund, no plan in place to care for my mom should something happen, nothing… it breaks my heart. i know it makes my mom very fearful. my dad just keeps shrugging it off and saying he’ll get to it when he has time. i don’t know what the real reason is that he’s so paralyzed in this area, but there’s something deeply rooted there i think.

  20. Thankfully God gave you a “wake up” call to do what You & Chris have/are doing!!! Indeed, it is something that many need to at least think about if not ACT on it. It certainly DOES take alot of “bricks” off a grieving person(s) shoulder when “Pre-Death Arrangements” are already made!!! :-) Learned thru experiences & watching parents!!! I’m THANKFUL that my dad’s was already taken care of bc Lord only knows that my first brothers death was sudden. Er’ both brother’s deaths were sudden — hense, “why put off till tomorrow what you can do today, tomorrow may never come” WHICH my comment on your post was BAD timing now that I SEE what it was about — I’m sorry about that Randy & Chris! Tho, I did like your comment back “in hopes” — made me think a bit — yes, there ARE times when that quote “why put off till tomorrow what you can do today, tomorrow may never come” isn’t always the best… (if you know what I mean — there’s personal process time to attend to & not the world is your FAMILY). Again, I’m sorry Randy & Chris!!! Thank You much for sharing this blog to the public… it’s a good “Wake Up Call” — and a Reminder to get our lives “in order” & also to “ENJOY EACH DAY!” (you’d think by now I’d have that drilled into my head beings both brothers were killed & dad suddenly got so sick & died and and and and_ Don’t ppl call that “hard headed?” LOL

    I’m thankful you are Breathing to ENJOY all you do have & can do!!! Didn’t know you were a downhill skiier also — that’s pretty kewl :-) I was on slalom ski team for years! :-)

  21. So glad you are okay. Life is so fragile. I want more than ever to make these “Twilight (not in the vampire way) Years count. I want my wife, children, grandchildren and friend to know that I loved them. I want to know God’s love and forgiveness. I want to know that we will be together someday. You have made my life richer. Hope I have done the same for you. Crimany, this is starting to sound like funeral. Love ya.
    Ken Davis´s last blog post ..What If I Had Died Last Night

  22. well… this made me think.. a lot… then what if something actually had happen to you? yep… sobering. I love you my friend. thanks for this post.

  23. Thank you for your concern and help!
    Rachel Wojnarowski´s last blog post ..A Special Birthday Thank You

  24. Randy, you have done a tremendous service to your readers to highlight the importance of planning. I’m proud you and Chris have allowed me to serve as your trusted insurance professional for many years and would welcome the opportunity to assist any readers with their life insurance needs. I may be reached at (615)319-7150. Let’s get together soon.

  25. Randy, this is a good challenge. Thanks for leading us in this. My wife and I have made plans, insurance and so forth but no to the detail you mention. I think I’ll get working a bit to update things. On another note, it was great to see you last week!
    Rich Kirkpatrick´s last blog post ..Worship Recap &amp Set List- TheMET in Houston – September 26- 2010 sundaysetlists

  26. Randy –
    Wow. Quite a rude awakening – literally.

    John and I also had some thoughts regarding this in our devo book “Duets” (Cook Publishing) and there is really strong biblical support for this concept. I’ve taken the liberty of pasting it in here.

    ONLY GRIEVING ONCE

    Ruth 1:1-5; 4:3
    (MESSAGE)
    Once upon a time—it was back in the days when judges led Israel— there was a famine in the land. A man from Bethlehem in Judah left home to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The man’s name was Elimelech; his wife’s name was Naomi; his sons were named Mahlon and Kilion—all Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They all went to the country of Moab and settled there.
    Elimelech died and Naomi was left, she and her two sons. The sons took Moabite wives; the name of the first was Orpah, the second Ruth. They lived there in Moab for the next ten years. But then the two brothers, Mahlon and Kilion, died. Now the woman was left without either her young men or her husband.
    The piece of property that belonged to our relative Elimelech is being sold by his widow Naomi, who just returned from the country of Moab.

    Proverbs 13:22 (NIV)
    A good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous.

    They say that the only two sure things are death and taxes. If you stack famine on top of that, the hardship is unbearable. Here in the United States we have had rare brushes with times of universal hardship. In times of famine it was an entire nation struggling for basic survival. Such was the case with the family of Naomi. The principle was; you did whatever was necessary to take care of the family, and that’s what Elimelech was trying to do when he died in Moab , leaving his family to be provided for by his two sons who sadly met the same fate as their father. That left three (considered by their culture) “fragile” females to make it on their own in a foreign land with no other kin. Naomi was able to return to her homeland with Ruth because Elimelech had the foresight to purchase property to provide for his family so that she had options, rather than being sold into slavery. Because he leveraged his assets during his lifetime his family was able to continue without him. The Proverb above tells us that Elimelech was, indeed, a good man.

    Couples have a responsibility to each other in life and even in death to make sure your spouse and family are provided for. One thing you don’t want for your family is for the to grieve twice, once on your passing and a second time when they realize you have only left them debt. Talk about how your respective families have handled their planning and what your models have been.

    DO THIS TOGETHER
    Get out your will (or start plans to get one right now) and make sure things are up to date. You need to decide as a couple what your estate plans are to provide for the possibilities of a surviving spouse, don’t leave in the hands of others to determine how they will be treated.

  27. Randy,

    Great post! This is something that everyone, regardless of age, should consider and take time to prepare to minimize the pain of having to do it when the time comes.

    Franklin
    Franklin´s last blog post ..School Rezoning Vote Delayed

  28. Hi Randy,

    Very thoughtful post. I love the quote about, “clinging to the leg of life like a screaming toddler.” I think it is a testament to the power of the life that God has placed on the inside of us. Even in the face of terminal illness, I have watched many patients “cling” to life past what seems possible for a human body to endure. Talking about death is uncomfortable for many, but the conversation should start with, “when something happens to me”, not “if something should happen to me.” It’s also a matter of being ready to die vs wanting to die. I think your post addresses so appropriately many of the areas that are part of that readiness.
    Blessings!

  29. Thank you for the reminder, Randy! Tim & I were just discussing last night that we need to get started on a will.

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