Going Out on Your Own Terms

By Jason Menard

Nov. 3, 2005 — Let’s hear it for Gary Hames for choosing to go out on his own terms.

Hames, a Londoner who was recently diagnosed with terminal lung and lymph cancer, chose to hold his wake before he actually shuffles off this mortal coil. A celebration of life while still living – and an opportunity to appreciate the friends and family around him.

Too often we wait too long to say what we feel. Whether it’s an “I love you” to a parent or telling a friend how special they are, we often wait until the person is no longer with us to say how we feel. Hames wasn’t going to give people that opportunity.

Normally, when attending wakes, we’re placed in that uncomfortable position of having to view the deceased in an open casket. To take a few moments to say our goodbyes with our words falling on deaf ears. We make idle talk with each other, commenting on how natural the deceased looks – only because death is a natural part of life.

In my own family, my wife is at her grandmother’s bedside along with her sister and mother, doing their all to ensure that her final moments are filled with the peace and serenity that comes from knowing that she’s surrounded by those that love her. Despite her inability to respond, they spend their time reminiscing, talking of great-grandchildren, and sharing memories of a life well lived.

And saying good-bye.

It’s a hard thing to do. To see a loved one pass on, knowing that despite all the platitudes and condolences, in the end you’re left with a void where once a vibrant person stood. The process of aging and watching health fail doesn’t make it any easier. There is no preparation and there is no way of being ready. We may say outwardly that we know it’s for the best, attempting to assuage our grief with the knowledge that our loved ones’ pain is ending. But deep inside we’re selfish and we’re never truly ready to let go.

It is when presented with death that we best learn to celebrate life. We learn to appreciate the very gifts of which we’ve taken for granted for too long. All the petty squabbles, the frustrations of the past, and the hurt feelings seem so minor when faced with the finality of death. It is at the end of a life when we truly see and feel the good in everyone – but that realization comes far too late.

Which is why Hames should be lauded. We all have an expiration date, Hames is just more aware of approximately when his will come. And instead of waiting for people to celebrate his life after his passing, he took the bull by the horns and decided to join in the party before it was too late.

I often joke with my wife about what I want to happen after my death. I don’t like the concept of an open-casket visitation, because I want people to remember how I was when I walked this earth – not how I look once I leave. So, to lighten the mood I make jokes about having an animatronic corpse – so that I can sit up in my casket and greet people as they walk in. I’ve even suggested making people come by in a certain order so that I can have a pre-recorded videotaped greeting for each person – that’s one way to get the last word.

And despite my attempts at levity, my semi-serious suggestions of taxidermy – although dad as a coat rack may warp the great-grandkids – in the end all I really want is what Hames decided to have: the comfort and knowledge that there are people in this world who care for him and feel that his was a life worth celebrating.

No matter how tough we pretend to be, or how much of a loner we want to imagine ourselves, the fact of the matter is that we all want to know that we’re loved and that we’ve mattered. We want to know that our existence has made a difference in people’s lives.

And it’s a knowledge that needs to come before it’s too late.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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