The Man Who Wanted to Die Last

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Most men I know when you start talking about death and dying usually say that they hope they die before their partner.  The motive is quite obvious.  Who wants to be alone.  There is almost nothing worse than loneliness for human beings.

Now imagine spending forty or fifty years living with someone.  You eat together, sleep together, travel together, make love together, raise children together, work together, talk together, and laugh together.  This goes on for year after year.  In a happy marriage or partnership, the relationship is one of joy and delight.

269318614.galleryNow suddenly your partner for one reason or another is gone.  She or he passes away.  You come back to your home after the funeral and well-wishers have left, and you are now alone.  You are more alone than you have ever been in your entire life.  You go from room to room and no one else is there.  The bedroom is empty.  The kitchen is empty.  The living room is empty.  You notice the picture of you and your spouse at your anniversary party hanging on the wall.  It brings back memories and tears.  Every day for many days, objects, thoughts, and reflections will bring back good times and bad times that you shared with your lover.  You will reflect over and over again about these past times.  No doubt you will feel remorse about some things that you did and wish you could undo.  You will also miss the fun things that you enjoyed together and the many good times that you had together.

The above scenario is very sad.  But there is one way you can avoid it.  You can pray that you pass away before your spouse or partner or loved one does.  Leave the planet earth sooner than they do and avoid the pain and heartache that comes with the death of your beloved.  This is the solution that I have hoped for many times.  I have always planned to leave my wife financially well off so that when I do go to the vast beyond, she can continue to live a happy life.  I thought this sounded like a grand plan until the following incident occurred.  It left me feeling selfish and self-centered.

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It all began with a mission retreat that Karen and I started going on several years ago.   A good friend organizes the trip twice a year to bring food and needed items to an orphanage in Sonoita, Mexico and a Saint Vincent de Paul center in Puerto Penasco, Mexico.  We have as many as 15 cars in an auto caravan bringing items down.  Volunteers from Casa Grande, Eloy, and Arizona City (many from local churches as well as friends of Evelia) will join the caravan each year.  We typically leave on a Friday and come back on a Monday.  While down in Mexico, we stay at Puerto Penasco and enjoy the beach, ocean, and seafood for a few days before coming back across the border.

IMG_5379Each evening after dinner, we enjoy food, dancing, and music at the Playa Bonita restaurant.  It is right on the beach and while enjoying shrimp cocktails, we watch the most beautiful sunsets I have seen anywhere.  As night falls, a band or singer will begin entertaining our group.  Evalia loves to dance and will make sure that we all have a spin with her on the dance floor.  The dance floor is outside where we eat.  Almost always the weather is balmy and comfortable.  Infrequently one might need a shawl or a sweater but an active time on the dance floor will mitigate any night chills.

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One night after dinner and drinks, three of us, Steve, Alexandro, and myself decided to go sip some tequila and smoke some cigars where it would not impose on anyone’s sense of smell.  We typically go out to the back of the restaurant.  There are a few round tables there and it is quite secluded.

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Steve is Evelia’s son, and he often comes on the mission tours.  He is a real nice guy who was studying to be a deacon in the Catholic Church.  He married an Italian woman who is a medical doctor but after several years of trying she has been unable to acquire a permanent work visa for the USA.  Steve and Julia now reside in two countries.  Steve in the USA and Julia in Italy.  They reunite frequently in either Italy or the USA.  I think it is Steve’s plan to eventually join Julia in Italy.  Steve owns a management consultant firm and does not want to retire yet.

I had never met Alexandro before.  This was his first time on a mission retreat, and I never saw him again after this night.  We did some brief introductions, shared the bottle of tequila, and lit our cigars.  We chatted about the usual subjects, politics, wives, sports etc.   As the conversation became deeper and more serious, we started talking about aging and the impacts it was having on each of our lives.

Alexandro told us that his wife was an invalid and severely disabled.  She required considerable medical care.  He was the primary caregiver as they had no provision for medical assistance in the home.  It was evident form our conversation that Alexandro spent a large amount of time and effort in providing compassionate care for his wife.

I began thinking about how much love we all seemed to have for our spouses.  I started thinking about what I would do without Karen who provides so much compassion for me when I am sick or when I need support.  I could not imagine a life without her.  I stated emphatically that I hoped I did not ever have to deal with a life alone.  It was my desire to die first to avoid the pain of heartache and loneliness.

Alexandro spoke up and his words surprised me.  He said, “I hope my wife dies first.”  I could not believe what I had just heard.  My immediate thought was “What a selfish bastard!  He wants his wife to die before he dies so that he will not have to take care of her anymore or deal with her problems.”  I remained silent for a minute or so while I wondered how any person could be so heartless.  My curiosity finally got the better of me and I asked Alexandro “Why do you want your wife to die first?”  He replied “My wife needs so much care and there is no one else around who could provide enough care for her.  I do not want to think of her alone and without me to provide the care.”

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I heard Alexandro’s explanation and suddenly I was inundated by a tsunami of guilt and an earthquake of self-reproach.  How could I have thought so miserably of a man with so much character that he would sacrifice himself for his spouse?  On the other hand, how could I be so selfish that all I could think of was that I wanted to die first to avoid the feelings of loneliness and heartache that accompany the death of a loved one.

I sat speechless for quite a while as I reflected on my thoughts about what I had just heard.  Never before had I heard anyone say anything like Alexandro did.  It never occurred to me that my life and my feelings are not the hub of the universe.  The sun does not rise and set by how I feel or how I should feel.  “Compassion literally means “to suffer together.”  When we are confronted with the suffering of another, it means that we will take steps to help relieve that suffering.  Perhaps suffering for another person may not mean dying for them, perhaps it means living for them.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Wayne Woodman
    Jul 26, 2021 @ 15:41:40

    Thank you John and I must say I agree that we do tend to be selfish when it comes to death and it can be difficult to accept that about ourselves. Good for you for recognizing that and actualizing your feelings.

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  2. jeanmoe
    Jul 29, 2021 @ 07:21:08

    This blog broke my heart as I have made that statement myself, I.e, I wanted to die before my spouse who I have been with through good times, and not so good times, for 53 years. I am rethinking that now as I believe it is rather selfish of me to want my husband to have to deal with the heartbreak and loneliness after I am gone. I pray for the strength to deal with whatever the case might be, and I also pray that whether I go first, or my spouse, we die a peaceful death. Last of all, there is faith and knowing that without it I will be far worse off. I believe all our loved ones will be with us through eternity if we just BELIEVE.

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