“It is a good day to die!” It seemed like a suicidal statement from the 33-year-old Lakota leader named Crazy Horse, as he prepared to go into battle with General Armstrong Custer at Little Big Horn, June 25, 1876. However, unlike Custer, Crazy Horse survived the battle to fight again. The famous statement, which illustrates the courage in which Crazy Horse faced death, can be un-nerving to contemporary mankind. However, it is evidence that we can face the end of our lives in this world with confidence.
I have been inspired over the past year as I watched my father approach the end of his life, which finally came October 30, 2012. For 48 years, he has been my example and chief mentor relating to manhood, family, leadership, and church-life; and now he has provided a great example in how to die well. For him, it was a time of moving into the unknown, and nothing in his 79 years of experience could change that. It’s something we do only once.
Although he had no strength to walk, he had a sound mind and had been laughing and joking with his neighbors just an hour before he passed. My brother had just made him a strawberry milkshake, which my dad had requested. His final words were, “Raise me up so I don’t choke on this thing!” Then before my brother could help him raise up, my dad raised his right arm into the air, lowered it across his chest, and breathed his last breath. Wow! How awesome is that! He never took a sip of that milkshake, but instead went on heaven! It was a journey he was well prepared to take, and one he had sung about in church many times. He had said several times, “I’m ready to go!”
Five Important Things I Learned as He Transitioned from this Life to the Next.
1. Face the fact that you are dying. We all are! We simply don’t know when! Don’t’ be fooled into thinking you will escape it. Today might be your last!
2. Prepare yourself to meet God. Dad was a man of faith, choosing to embrace his need for a Savior, rather than running from it. He knew he was not a perfect man and didn’t qualify to spend eternity with a perfect God without some help! Jesus Christ was his Savior.
3. Help prepare the people around you. Remind them they too need a Savior. In his final year, Dad went to share his faith with two different men who were dying of cancer, and who had shown little evidence of a faith connection. He also told us often that he was ready to go to heaven. He joked, “I could have been in heaven months ago if I hadn’t gotten this pace-maker put in!” He talked openly about death and the confidence of his faith.
4. Talk about your past. One of my greatest past-times was to listen to dad talk about his life. He was a great storyteller! He hitchhiked from San Diego to Georgia four times! I encouraged him to put some of his journey on paper, which he did. I also interviewed him on camera last spring. I now have an awesome treasure of family stories to pass through the generations to come!
5. If you love someone, tell him or her so. Some day you will say, “I love you” for the last time. These were the last words dad and I said to each other. Since 1993, when my brother was killed in an accident, we said those words every time we said goodbye or finished a phone call. Say what you need to say when you have the chance. I was with dad the night before he died, and we talked about several things, but I fully expected to talk again the next day.
Some day, I’m not sure when, we will pick up where we left off and finish our conversation. In the meanwhile, I will treasure my dad’s legacy, and attempt to make one of my own!