By Father Miles O’Brien Riley.
When it comes to matters of life and death, the two major influences in my life were my Mom and the Pope. Not just any pope, but Pope John the 23rd, 1959-1963. I was a young priest working and studying in the Eternal City and living in the Vatican when this new pope arrived in Roma and ordered the Catholic Church worldwide to open its stained glass windows and let in some fresh air. Pope John called it an“aggiornamento” or “up-dating” and he himself was a breath of fresh air.
First he declined the processional throne: he said he was afraid they would drop him because he was so fat! Then he held a press conference where reporters asked how many people work in the Vatican; he answered: “About half!” I stood under his window in St. Peter’s Square praying the rosary the night he died. They asked him if he was ready to die and he answered: “My bags are packed – I’m ready to go home.”
I hope we are all ready and packed for that final journey.
My Mom put it differently. My parents and six younger brothers and sisters and I all believe in donating our bodies or at least our organs to science and then being cremated as the most spiritual way to pass on to the next world. Mom used to say: “If anything still works, give it away!” Then she would say: “I want you to take all the money you would have spent on an expensive funeral – and I certainly hope you are planning a big one – and, instead, throw a celebration of life and love – and I will be there!” And we did, and she was!
Some irreverent jokester has created this “Living Will.”
I,_______________________, being of sound mind and body, do not wish to be kept alive indefinitely by artificial means. Under no circumstances should my fate be put in the hands of pinhead partisan politicians who couldn’t pass ninth-grade biology if their lives depended on it, or lawyers/doctors/hospitals interested in simply running up the bills.
If a reasonable amount of time passes, and I fail to ask for at least one of the following: ________a Martini ________a Margarita ________a Scotch and Soda ________ a Bloody Mary ________a Gin and Tonic ________a Tee Time ________a Steak ________Lobster or Crab Legs ________the Remote Control ________a Bowl of Ice Cream ________the Sports Page ________Sex ________or Chocolate, it should be presumed that I won’t ever get any better.
When such a determination is reached, I hereby instruct my appointed person and attending physicians to pull the plug, reel in the tubes, and call it a day. At this point, it is time to call the New Orleans Jazz Funeral Band to come dotheir thing at my funeral, and ask all of my friends to raise their glasses to toast the good times we’ve had.
NOTE: I also hear that in Ireland they have a Nursing Home with a Pub. The patients are a lot happier, and they have a lot more visitors. Some of them don’t even need embalming when their time comes…
Mom put it differently. After five cancer surgeries at Stanford Hospital, she slipped this note or prayer to my sister just before she died:
The day will come when my body will lie upon a white sheet neatly tucked under four corners of a mattress located in a hospital busily occupied with the living and the dying. At a certain moment a doctor will determine that my brain has ceased functioning and that, for all intents and purposes, my life has stopped.
When that happens, do not attempt to instill artificial life into my body by the use of a machine. And don’t call this my deathbed. Let it be called the Bed of Life and let my body be taken from it to help others lead fuller lives.
Give my sight to the man who has never seen a sunrise, a baby’s face or love in the eyes of a woman. Give my heart to a person whose own heart has caused nothing but endless days of pain. Give my blood to the teenager who is pulled from the wreckage of his car sothat he might live to see his grandchildren play. Give my kidneys to one who depends on a machine to exist from week to week. Take my bones, every muscle, every fiber and nerve in my body and find a way to make a crippled child walk.
Explore every corner of my brain. Take my cells if necessary and let them grow so that, someday, a speechless boy will shout at the crack of a bat and a deaf girl will hear the sound of rain against her window.
Burn what is left of me and scatter the ashes to the winds to help the flowers grow. If you must bury something, let it be my faults, my weaknesses and all prejudice against my fellow human beings. Give my sins to the devil. Give my soul to God.
And if, by chance, you wish to remember me, do it with a kind deed or word to someone who needs you. If you do all I have asked, I will live forever.
Photo Credit: Max Elman