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There were only 39 homes in Palm Lake, our Florida neighborhood, so when we moved there it didn’t take long for my late wife, Bobbie, and me to meet each of these folks. In fact, soon after moving there, I was asked to serve on the Homeowner’s Association Board. Without thinking, I said “yes.” A year later I was the president. Again, what was I thinking?
What this meant was that Bobbie and I had a chance to get better acquainted with our neighbors. We quickly learned which ones were essentially invisible, except for coming in and out of their automatically opening and closing their garages, which ones were angry curmudgeons, and which were angels.
We did life with these people, and, as it turned out, we did death, too. Seventeen years after moving there, we said goodbye to Bobbie. But before she died, she told two friends that she “hopes Robert marries Nancy.” She did not tell me this.
Almost a year later, I took my brand-new fiancé, Nancy, on a walk. As we circled this familiar loop, I told her about each family. Their names and how many kids and grandkids they sported and what they did for work. I also filled her in on my relationship with each one. Good, as well as not so good.
When we passed Scotty’s house, my heart skipped a beat. By this time, he and Angela had moved. I lost touch with them. Scotty and I had done a lot of things together, enduring long board meetings, decorating the Palm Lake entrance with lights for Christmas, American-flag buntings for Memorial Day, and pressure washing all the sidewalks. And lots more.
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The reason why my ticker had jumped was that in that moment of walking past his home, I realized there were a few things ol’ Scotty and I had not discussed. These were things I had tiptoed around in our friendship and neighborhood busyness. Things we should have covered, just Scotty and me. Things I wish I had said to him but did not. Truths I still need to tell myself every day.
So, if you know where Scotty went, maybe you can share these things with him. Five simple topics I didn’t mention to him but, pretending you’re my neighbor now, I will say to you as gently as I’m able. Just between us:
1. You’re going to die. And I’m going to die.
Someday, sooner or later, no matter how old you and I are today, our hearts will squeeze their last squeeze, our eyes will close, and we’ll be gone. As dark as this may sound to you, I wish Scotty and I had talked about death. His and mine. We did not. But since you and I are still on the north side of the sod, I hope it’s OK if I say this to you.
2. Since death is certain, can I suggest that you should plan your ending arrangements?
Be sure to include where and how you want to be buried? Should there be a funeral service? Who should speak? Should there be music? If you’re thinking I’m overprogramming, pretend you didn’t do any of these things and then envision your loved ones looking at each other at the news of your demise. They’re wondering what you want them to do now that you’re gone. Planning these final things before you’re dead will be a gift to your survivors.
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3. This may sound silly, but before you’re room temperature, you should try to thank and bless your loved ones.
Do this as soon as you can because someday you won’t be able to.
Maybe you can speak or write blessings over them now. With words. And while you’re at it, you can clear the deck of any unfinished business. This may include identifying and confessing things you may have done that you know were hurtful to these people. When you and I ask them to issue you grace and forgiveness, most likely they will.
4. Now, I’m really going to get personal, but this pre-death planning may need to include decluttering.
Over the years you’ve likely collected things. Everything from teacups to rare spoons to crystal figurines to books to Madam Alexander dolls, and antique shaving instruments.
Please listen carefully. Your survivors don’t want your stuff. These people may include your children and grandchildren. They love you. They’ll miss you when you’re gone. But they do not want your stuff. Do something with the clutter now so your kids won’t have to. I spent time at Scotty’s house and saw some of the collections. He needed to know this.
5. Ask God to stand with you—to draw near to you—between now and that final breath.
His promise is that He will. Since He’s close by, You and I need to do with the Lord what we are doing with our friends and family, before it’s too late. Clear the deck of unfinished business. Confess, repent, and receive God’s cleansing forgiveness. After 42 years of marriage, when Bobbie was diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer, my daughters and I made a resolution. We determined that however long we had left with her, we were going to give Bobbie a chance to use this terminal diagnosis as a megaphone for God’s grace, His love, His mercy, His forgiveness, and His eagerness that she spend eternity with Him.
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She did this. Beautifully. And as a witness to her funeral, even though there were tears, there was also laughter and celebration. And resolve. As the old-time preacher used to exclaim, “Make things right with God.” This is a really good idea, too.
Since moving away from the old neighborhood. I’ve lost touch with Scotty. We haven’t seen each other or spoken for a long time. But if I could spin my clocks back a few years and walk past his house once more before he moved, I’d take the time to walk up his front sidewalk, knock on his door, and mention these things to him.
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He may think I’m crazy to query him about such serious issues. Or he may express gratitude for my caring enough to fill him in.
Oh, and I’d also hug Scotty and thank him for letting me finally say these things, being my friend, and not dying until I told him how much I love him.
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