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DAVID ROSMAN: Death of loved ones brings mortality into sharper focus

Wednesday, February 26, 2014 | 3:41 p.m. CST; updated 7:52 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 26, 2014

I have been thinking of death lately. The mother of my wife, Kathy, died two weeks ago, and my dad is on his last legs.

I've been watching the public mourn Columbia Fire Department's Lt. Bruce Britt, and lately, I have been thinking about my own mortality.

My wife's mother, Mary Dowling, spent her last days at Lenoir Retirement Community’s hospice care, the REACH Unit. My dad is receiving hospice care at home.

In both cases the care has been outstanding. As someone said, hospice professionals are a special breed of health care provider. You would have to be in order to deal with death and dying on a daily basis. They deserve a major thank-you.

Kathy’s mom was buried at the military cemetery outside of Higginsville, next to her husband and Kathy’s father, John, a Vietnam and Korean War veteran who flew fighter-bombers. My dad will find his final resting place at the military cemetery on Long Island. Their burials are done with honors.

As I approach my 62nd birthday, I am thinking about how I want to be treated when I die. I had a "near-death experience" in June, so the topic has been closer than I might wish.

I joke that I want to die at 95 at the hands of a jealous husband of a 21-year-old beauty, but in reality, I hope I go peacefully, like Mary, asleep with a smile on my face.

Robert Ingersoll said in his "Eulogy to a Small Child": "The largest and the noblest faith in all that is, and is to be, tells us that death, even at its worst, is only perfect rest." I want to "rest" with minimal pain and no anxiety. Good meds, but do not prolong my life by artificial means.

Like many of my friends, I have no children of my own. I "borrow" Kathy’s two boys and a plethora of grandkids, but I have no immediate family who will make sure I die with dignity. It saddens me to a point.

My dad’s death will be hard on our family. Living memory places my dad as the patriarch of the family, the "parent" everyone called upon when there was a celebration or a problem. We all paid him back by working at his retail store, especially during the holiday season.

Cele, my stepmom, gave Dad a surprise birthday party recently. My dad will be 91 on March 7, but having the party a bit early was a good thing. All of the New York kids and grandkids attended. Those who live out of state did not have enough notice to get there in time.

In the Jewish faith, one is more concerned with here and now, as opposed to the Christian focus on the hereafter. Additionally, unlike many Christian funerals, a Jewish burial is completed as soon as possible, so going back to New York after my father’s passing may not be possible.

Even as an atheist, I want to adhere to that singular principle of a quick burial, or in my case a cremation with my ashes spread on Vail Mountain in Colorado or Hunter Mountain in New York. My last ski run.

My dad asked that I write his obituary for him. I did and he approved the 500 words. Keeping it to 500 words was not easy. I think I am going to take time to write my own obit this weekend. It is an exercise I did in graduate school in a course on death and dying, but things have changed over the past 30 years.

I had to stop for a bit to watch our new kitten explore the boxes I have packed in the corner of my office. She reminds me how to smile, even in the gloom of death.

Kathy’s family celebrated their mother, in part, by going bowling. I don’t know if Mary bowled, but she would have laughed along with us as we flopped bowling balls down the alley.

In this world "where life and death are kings, none should fear what will come to all that is," I think I will celebrate my dad’s life and his passing as I hope others will celebrate my own years from now.

Thank you for letting me ramble a bit. I feel much better now.

David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. You can read more of his commentaries at ColumbiaMissourian.com, InkandVoice.com and NYJournalofBooks.com.


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