Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Like many, I was shocked and saddened by the recent death of Tim Russert of NBC News. I liked Mr. Russert. Because of my ministry responsibilities, I don’t get to watch “Meet The Press” on Sunday mornings. I knew him from his commentator/expert analyst role on the various outlets of NBC. Also, I knew him from his appearances of the Don Imus radio program. [Imus in the Morning is one of the Baby Boomers’ guilty pleasures.] He was great on that show, standing up to Imus’ insults, always with a smile and a twinkle in his eye. He just seemed like a likeable guy that happened to be very smart.

However, this piece will not further extol him nor elevate him to saintly status as many of the media commentaries have done.

His death impacted me because he was only a few months younger than me, a stark reminder of my own mortality. A casual observation I made to my wife about Mr. Russert’s death continues to haunt me. Mr. Russert died suddenly of a massive heart attack in the midst of his busy day, as he was planning for his usual busy weekend schedule.

Upon learning of his death, I flippantly said “That’s the way I want to go!” No lingering illness, no endless treatments, no prolonged hospital stay, and no nursing home indignities to be endured. However, as I’ve thought about that prospect, I have to ask myself how prepared was I to die suddenly that Friday afternoon or this afternoon? I wasn’t really ready then, or now.
I don’t mean this from a spiritual perspective. I am a Christian, I am confident that whenever I die, I will go to be with Jesus Christ for eternity. I am not afraid of death from that perspective.
However, there are other areas of life in which I am not at all prepared.

From a practical point of view, I would not want leave my wife with our financial records as disorganized as they are. I am not a good record keeper. I use the “pile and file” method. It would be tough for her to know what needs to be paid when or how to put together the income tax return. I need to have our financial records in much better order—and keep them that way.

Another practical financial matter is my will. I have a will in my financial papers, but it’s not official. I have never had it registered. That’s another thing I need to get in order and keep it that way.

There are relationships I need to put in order as well. These are seriously unfinished.
For one whose profession includes public speaking, I am not very good at telling people I love how much they mean to me. I don’t tell my wife Karen nearly often enough how much I love her and how precious she is to me. Most of the time, I just talk about day-to-day stuff and keep my feelings to myself.

I do the same thing with my children—who are now adults. It is much easier to talk with my son and daughter about anything other than how much I love them. I am sure they don’t know how blessed I am to be their Dad.

Being nothing if not consistent, I also have unfinished business with my Mom. I had a great childhood but our family was not expressive about our feelings. Before my Dad died of cancer, he and I said our “I love you’s’ to each other and I made sure he knew how thankful I was that he’d been my Dad.

I have not done that with my Mom. I need to find a way to have those same conversations with her without being under the shadow of a terminal illness.

There are people who were once important in my life, who were dear and cherished friends with whom I have lost touch. I would like to reconnect with them but I haven’t done it. In this age of instant communication there is no excuse for not getting in touch. I would hate for them to not know how much their friendship and shared memories mean to me.

On a personal level, there are things that I have wanted to do, that I would enjoy doing, and that maybe would benefit others that I have put off. I busy myself with day-to-day “stuff” that most of the time is urgent but not important. There are people I’d like to meet and talk with, books I’d like to write, places I’d like to see, adventures that I’d like to experience, dreams I’d like to see fulfilled, and fun I’d like to have.

I must confess, in a lot of significant ways, I was not ready to die like Tim Russert on June 13. For me, his death was a wake-up call; it remains to be seen if I’ll just go back to sleep or make the changes in my life necessary to live in such a way that I am ready to die at any moment. I suppose that is what Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the woman who taught us a great deal about facing death, meant when she said “It's only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth--and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up--that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it were the only one we had."


Mark said...

good-bye Dad... I love you

swampcritter2 said...

Terribly sorry to hear of this. I always enjoyed reading this blog. My prayers go out to you.