There’s nothing like a death in the family to get everyone thinking and talking about life.
My brother-in law – my husband’s younger brother – recently passed away following a protracted illness that broke everyone’s heart. The after-effects are slowly working their way through our bloodlines and will keep going until it all transforms itself into a loving memory we can live with and accept.
What struck me most this time, with this particular loss, was how we never really know the story a life tells until it ends. As long as there is life, there is hope and possibility. People can transform. They can turn things around, change for the better, make peace, love well, do good.
When the end comes, it’s so final, we say, as if we’re the first ones to say it. No more surprises, no more hoping for a miracle, no more possibilities… The end comes crashing down, packs an unexpected wallop and tells the tale. We have to sit with it for a long, long while to take it in slowly, like the last sentence in a savored book.
Johnny was not a man of words. He was a strong, ruddy redhead with big arms and hands, who mostly wore work boots, ready to fix things, mow lawns and paint houses – better than anyone else. He ate big plates of food and drank too much. He lived hard and out loud and did it his way, no matter who tried to slow him down.
You couldn’t help but love him. He was always so glad to see you! His hugs could crush and his humor was never far from the room. On Christmas Day, the last time we saw him, he had achieved his physical and personal opposite – boney, frail, pale. He was as vulnerable and talkative as we’d ever known him to be. He brought us close.
He asked for another blanket, a new one someone had brought, and as we put it over him, he said, “You know you’re bad off when you start getting blankets and lap robes for Christmas – and you want them!” The last laugh was the best medicine he could have given us.
When Johnny turned his life around about ten years ago, he didn’t go to a group or do the steps, he clenched his teeth and just did it once and for all. He kicked all the bad habits that had just about cremated everything around him, and gradually got it back. He got a job, paid the bills, mended hearts, and found forgiveness, even though he didn’t ask for it – in words.
When the last day came, he died with a smile on his face, I swear. There were three witnesses! He was a hero in our book. A man who turned everything around, made peace with his life, and left us with a smile. A wallop of a legacy.
So how’s your story coming along?
Bonnie Bell, with husband Jim Bell, CFP®, owns and manages Bell Investment Advisors, Inc., 1111 Broadway, Suite 1630, in downtown Oakland. The firm has been providing personalized financial planning, investment management and career and life coaching services since 1991. Visit Bonnie’s blog on career/life issues at the firm’s website,www.bellinvest.com. 510-433-1066.
Published in Piedmont Post on May, 2011