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…