The Last Breath

Last week I buried my second son, having lost him to suicide, and I find myself still struggling to believe it. Over the past year or so, as he down-spiraled into amphetamine psychosis, our exchanges became increasingly confrontational. The cause of his psychosis, his medically approved use of Adderol, wasn’t discovered until it was too late, and as a result, everyone who knew him and loved him is left carrying more questions than answers. And that, it seems to me, cuts to the core of this mystery we call life.
Procrastination is an almost universal human tendency, one that creeps into many aspects of our lives. Post-modern living is complicated, and we have so many things to accomplish that we have to set some things aside for later. We know what is important, but we tend to allow everyday stresses lead us astray. To get back on track, however, we need only take a moment to consider where our thoughts will be as we take our last breath on this earth. Clearly, we will not be thinking of our careers, disagreements, mortgage payments or other mundane elements of our lives. Instead we will have thoughts of our loved ones and the impact we had on the world into which we were born. Whatever we imagine ourselves thinking about at that last moment are the things that truly matter to us.  There is a simple Buddhist practice that is based on this awareness of our own limited time, and it can bring us to a better way of thinking. While our attention is drawn momentarily to the end of life, our observations can serve to point out that we are masters of our own choices and, consequently, our own existence. There is nothing preventing us from shifting our focus right now to those things we expect to consider in our final moments.  We can choose to spend more of our time and energy on what gives our lives meaning. We can spend more time with loved ones and give more service to those who are sent to us by divine appointment. Doing so may not always prove easy, and there will inevitably be times when circumstances interfere with our resolution, yet we do not have to regard this as an indication that our priorities are not in alignment with who God has created us to be.  Maybe the only way we can see life’s beauty is by accepting reminders that all of this is finite. The Gospel reminds us that faith and hope will not endure, but our loving actions will live long after we are gone. As I listened to the many people speak about my son’s influence in their lives at his funeral, I felt proud to have been his dad. He was a hard worker, dedicated to his wife and family, and he was a generous friend and co-worker. The way he made people feel is the gift that we will all leave behind. It seems clear to me that this life is not about dwelling on the losses and the tears, rather it’s about experiencing all the amazing gifts and potent graces that God offers us at every turn, even in our sorrow.
Thank you for your continuing prayers for myself and for my family. God is good, all the time.
Fr. Michel

About frmichelrcc

I have a degree in religious studies from the University of Wisconsin, did graduate work in theology at St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin, and also at St. Paul's University in Ottawa. I have been a Benedictine since I first professed as an oblate in 1982, making final profession in 2009. I have worked as vocations director in a large diocese in the mid-west and am a spiritual director in the Benedictine tradition. I have 3 sons, one of whom is now in God's loving embrace in eternity, and 2 grandsons, Bradley and Jacob.
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