To die a happy death:

Bird Droppings March 18, 2022

To die a happy death:

Lately, sitting on my back porch pondering, I think of death. As you get to my age, you realize that the amount of time left is limited, and how can you cram as much life in as possible. In recent months my brother-in-law and my wife’s aunt both passed on, and I thought of the day my mother’s spirit passed on three years ago. The night before, I promised her grilled salmon from a local restaurant. They were not open for dinner yet when I got there, and I had to do something different. I got some fresh salmon and grilled her for lunch and went to take it by. During the night, she went to sleep and moved on. I found her and called our family.

As I pondered my thoughts for today, I am always thinking about education. I have taught public high school for nearly twenty years, and my current retirement is not my favorite. I am starting my writing day a bit later than usual since I have been doing some chores. I have been wandering for two days. Over the past few years, I have been searching for my older thoughts for my dissertation editing, cleaning up, and often finding a dropping that ties in with my thoughts of the moment or even somewhere I went yesterday.

A few days ago, I got into a discussion on the idea of fearing death, which led me to search for an email and some thoughts I jotted down many years ago. Since that note, nearly ten years back, my friend has lost several loved ones, and I have lost loved both my father-in-law father, and now my mother and many around us have lost loved ones. So digging in my archives yesterday, I started reading a thought from a friend trying to generate answers for his niece based on how we die a happy death?

I was a bit taken back, sitting here only a few days ago, not genuinely giving death much of thought, having the attitude when it happens, it happens, and for some number of years now, I have lost any fear of death. I realized we need to live each day; it has been some time since I realized we need to live each day. It isn’t about death and what is next; it is about what is now and where we are on our journey. It is not about anyone else’s, though we constantly interact and intertwine in my cosmic jigsaw puzzle of explaining life. I had several answers to share from a mixed bag of intellectuals across the country when I responded to my friend’s note. I used to sit in Geometry in tenth grade with the first responder, and her thought was this.  

“A contented life. One that has (at least partially) fulfilled personal dreams. “5/28/06 – A child psychologist From California 

As I thought about it, dreams and aspirations are at the center of many of our hearts and souls. I have always wanted to go to Tahiti, and however, I probably never will for one reason or another. It all goes back to my first reading of a Michener book, “Hawaii,” and how the original settlers sailed from Tahiti. In my romanticism, I know it is not the tropical paradise I dream of, and I will probably settle for South Florida and Sanibel Island, which today would be fine. My next responder is a mom and teacher from Texas that I have met and known for eleven or twelve years from correspondence.  

“I, personally, have always told myself that there is a difference between three powerful things: 1) mistakes learned from, 2) regret, and 3) a higher God that leaves certain things out of my control (thank goodness)…but anyway, ideally, I want to die having learned from my mistakes, having passed control over in areas of my life in which I have no control, and to die without regret. These are the three potentially negative “things” that will make me lose sleep even during my life. All in all…if we could live surrounded by love, and die surrounded by love (which will happen, of course, if we give just as much)…that would be a happy death.”  5/28/06 – A teacher in Texas 

I have read and reread this one several times, and always her comments are profound and heartfelt, “Having learned from my mistakes,” which is a life lesson many should heed. Even within the past few days, I have addressed this with several friends and family members. Take and learn from your mistakes and move forward and or backward as a good friend would say, the direction is not the key but movement, and in our world of multiple dimensions, it could be anywhere. My mother responded next to the question, and this was a year before my father passed away. Interestingly, your mom is an avid reader of your essays and thoughts as I am of her poetry and writing. Perhaps this is the critical thought for today.

“Living a life that is fruitful and true makes for a happy death.  Like your father has said many times, there is nothing in this world that he still wants to do.  He has been there, done it and seen it, and he always did it with love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control as his companions.” 5/28/06, My mom Esther S. Bird, author, poet, and great grandmother from Loganville, Georgia

My father was eighty-four and had been all over the world teaching about Loss Control and Safety Management. In South Africa, a headline once proclaimed he had saved millions of lives in the South African mines. Great Britain proclaimed him the Billy Graham of Safety in news headlines. My dad started to be a medical missionary, and I was the culprit that sent him to the steel mills for work. As a baby, I was very ill and hospitalized numerous times with seizures and a stoppage of breathing. My dad had to go to work instead of school. He found good-paying work in the open hearth of Lukens Steel Mill, and until they needed a Safety guy with a college diploma, he was a bricklayer in the open hearth. He was offered a job as a Safety man, which being nonunion was less pay, but it was better hours, he thought, and an office no more twenty-eight hundred-degree furnaces to contend with.

Shortly after that, his first book changed modern Safety Management in the early 1960s. In 1965 he coined and then registered the trademark statement of “Total Loss Control,” The rest is history. So instead of saving souls in Africa in a mission hospital, he was saving lives worldwide through his programs and insights. I began reading the subsequent responders’ poems several months ago and now several hundred later find them exhilarating.

“For me, the idea of a happy death is one where I’ve given my best effort, stayed current with conflict resolution, and being in the right place in my God’s eyes.”  5/29/06 Poet from Puget Sound, Washington

I have read numerous blogs and poems posted by this beautiful person. She has many life-threatening illnesses and still features a giant smiley face as her calling card. She is such a powerful human spirit. I will end today with another responder regularly, who thinks far more profoundly than most teenagers and surprises me with responses beyond her few years of experience. Today she is a karate instructor in Georgia, and I would never have guessed that five years ago.  

“I also enjoyed your droppings earlier about a happy death. I like to think of it this way, ‘Do what you feel in your heart to be right, for you will be criticized either way.’ Eleanor Roosevelt”  5/29/06, A former student at Loganville High School,  Loganville, Georgia

I wondered if death is ever happy with all the death in the news here and abroad. Yesterday I read a blog from a young fellow in the army, and the remembrance of a buddy killed a few days earlier in Iraq. Someone posted a series of crosses on a backcountry road where three teenagers a few years back hit a tree at a hundred miles an hour. I have attended many funerals over the years and often will do my best to avoid them. I have in recent years been to my father’s, father-in-law’s, several students, friends, and other family members’ memorials. When I listen to the comments of joy and celebrating a life rather than mourning death, it is so different. It is so difficult to lose someone, but what if they have done what they intended to do and know that. What if they were happy and knew there was meaning to their life? I recall a death some twelve years ago when a young man came to me the last time I saw him unaware of his surroundings, for I held his hand through the night, watching monitors blink showing his brain functioning was going and irreversible. I sat and did last rights in my way as I held his hand though there was no movement from him or acknowledgment, only monitors blinking and the respirators movement in his lungs.

At my last meeting with this young man, he shook my hand and said, ” Not this time, Mr. Bird. Usually, he would extend his hand and pull it away, laughing a joke at me. This time was different as he extended his hand, smiling, grasping with his other hand mine and saying thank you for everything, and we parted ways. He was riding in another car going home from a day of tubing in North Georgia. I never spoke with him again. I know to the marrow of my bones he was happy in death. He was always happy, go-lucky, always joking, always the party’s life he was the group clown. When we gathered after the funeral, each of us said something similar he had said goodbye to us each differently. My son left a yellow sticky note for me on my computer that I shall never forget.

“Life is about the journey, not the destination” Steven Tyler Aerosmith  

I have thought about that note daily since I have listened to the Aerosmith CD version of Awesome many hundreds of times for that line. Somewhere in a box, I still have that yellow sticky note almost twenty years old now folded away as a reminder about how precious each second is. We honor our veterans who died to provide us with ideas and thoughts about freedom and liberty over the years. I want to end with, what if we could have world peace? What if, always a what if it seems. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin 

(We are all related) 


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