You never know when your last communication will be with anyone, including your children. Children can die from many causes, but it is always shocking when it happens. I remember the shock and heartache I felt for Christian singer Steven Curtis Chapman and his family when I heard about their little five year old girl being accidentally killed in the driveway of their home. My friend Jeff Butler worked in a risky occupation, serving as a pilot for a relief and development agency in Kenya. My heart broke when I heard that Jeff had been shot by bandits in a village near the Somalia border. Single and only 27 years old, Jeff was doing what he wanted to do, but that didn’t lessen his parents’ pain at having to say goodbye so soon. My daughter-in-law, Chelsea, lost her little brother to heart complications when he was only 7 months old. Whether death comes at 5 years, 27 years, or 7 months, the death of a child while their parent is still alive, seems so very unnatural. An older friend of mine lost a son to cancer when he was in his thirties. I remember him saying to someone in the funeral visitation line how it didn’t seem right that his son had died before he himself had. During their son’s fight with cancer, both he and his wife had said they wished that they had been the ones diagnosed with cancer instead of their son.
And, of course, parents sometimes also die—as it seems—before their time. My friend Ashley lost her father when she was a young girl. My good friend David lost his father, who, seemingly in good health in his early sixties, went to be with the Lord while sitting at home in his easy chair. Several years ago, I shared a serious conversation with one of my students about her father, who was in his fifties and in bad health; she was in her early twenties and was worried that he would not live until she got married. Our conversation took place in April, and her father died the following July.
We don’t know when our kids will die, nor do we know when we ourselves will die—and life is way too short to live with regret. My mother passed away last year and my dad is 81 years old and not in good health. Before my mom died, my dad told me how mom “brightened up” whenever she got a call from one of her kids, so I accepted his challenge to call her regularly. I called her almost every Sunday afternoon for years, just to see how she was doing. I was heartbroken when my mom died of a sudden heart attack, unable to speak to any of her family before passing away. But one thing that gave me solace was knowing I had ended my last phone conversation with her with the words, “I love you mom!”
REFLECTIONS: Do you regularly express your love for your children before leaving their presence (including in telephone and internet communications)? Make plans to check in weekly, biweekly, or monthly (by email or phone, if necessary) with both your parents and your kids.
Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.