An exercise performed in class one fall afternoon to demonstrate the helplessness of the terminally ill has left me with much to ponder.  If I knew in advance that death was near, what five things had been most important to me in life, and which of them could I do without?  

We were asked to write each of these on individual note cards.  I listed the following things of greatest importance to me, and in no particular order, they were:

  • Spirituality (not religion)

  • My nuclear family

  • Honesty

  • Wisdom

  • Sanctity of life

It was surprising and revelatory that my values could be reduced to only five general topics.  I did not select things, possessions, or activities but rather subjects that can never have a price tag attached to them, and this pleased me very much.  For when death finally overtakes me, I do not want to be remembered for “things” but rather “attitudes” and “values”.  This I feel is all of any real significance we can pass on to those still alive.

We were then told to tear up two of the cards.  I was enraged.  My life had just been distilled down to five things, and I was now being asked to give up two of them!  The things that I simply cannot do without are my daughters (and the rest of my family to a lesser extent), and my God.  Honesty, wisdom, and the sanctity of life have been extremely important to me, but these were the selections I had to choose between.

Getting rid of the “sanctity of life” was the easiest, for I was able to justify this elimination with the old saying, “Let God sort ‘em out!”  The next selection was not so easy.

Between “wisdom” and “honesty” I reasoned that probably honesty could be done without IFF wisdom was still available and attainable.  Wisdom would get me what I wanted anyway, including the discernment of honesty or dishonesty.  

Our instructor then came to each of us and arbitrarily took one of our cards.  This was almost more than I could bear.  Yes, I could do without even wisdom and the remainder of my family, but NOT my daughters or my God, but this was not under my control.  Someone else would decide what I was left with.  What a helpless feeling!!!

Fortunately, my instructor selected the one remaining subject I could do without, and I was left with my daughters and my God.  I was tremendously relieved, but again enraged when one of my classmates had daughters taken from her.  It wasn’t fair, and I wanted to fight for her freedom to keep what was most precious.

But in thinking over this exercise again, I wonder if we truly do have any choices available to us.  We are all in a terminal phase of life.  We will all someday die.  A cosmic roll of the dice will determine how and when, and all we can do is prepare ourselves and our families as best we can without knowing when death will come.

I need more life insurance.