What would you do if you learned you had only one more day to live? Most of us think we have all the time in the world to get our affairs in order. We rarely imagine our life or the life of a loved one might abruptly end in only 24 precious hours.
My wife Claudia, my daughter Jenny, and I faced that dilemma on the evening of Oct. 28, 1995.
After nearly four years of fighting a deadly form of leukemia, Jenny was admitted to Valley Children’s Hospital to receive transfusions, fluids, and pain management for what would be her last hospital stay. The doctor came into her room as we waited to hear the prognosis.
“Jenny, you have been so strong, and I know you have fought back each time we thought you were at this point. But Jenny,” the doctor said, “this time you are not going win this battle. Most likely you will slip away over the next 24 hours.”
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Her response to the doctor was typical, vintage Jenny, “Maybe” she said, thoughtfully. “I might die, but then again I might just ask Jesus to send me back.” I understood she would argue the “call,” as any good catcher would do for her team!
Over the past few months, those had been fighting words for Jenny, this girl who was so competitive in sports she refused to concede until the last out was recorded. But on this night, she was tired and understood the umpire was about to call the game.
She wanted to battle for another “inning,” but her body was finally telling her it was time to take off her catcher’s gear, put away her glove, and hang up the cleats. Jenny died at 10:30 p.m. the next evening.
Those last 24 hours, though hard for my wife and I, were also the best 24 hours we could have asked for. We experienced what it was like to look into our daughter’s eyes and see what a beautiful woman she had become. We saw her blue eyes twinkle with excitement as she told us how much she loved us.
She thanked us for being her parents and giving her the rich heritage she enjoyed in a family that followed Jesus and the encouragement she was given to do the same.
Over that 24 hours, the dozens and dozens of family, friends, fellow students from Fresno State, and even doctors and nurses who had come into contact with her over the years, came into her room to reminisce and cry, but mostly laugh and say goodbye. For the entire 24 hours, many loved ones refused to leave her side.
Jenny was able to tell her friends the things that were important in their relationship. She had taught them well: “Play hard, leave everything you have on the field, then walk off, and celebrate.” So, it was not a surprise that as she took her last breath, having left everything she had on the field of life, everyone in that room celebrated a victorious life.
I am so thankful for those final 24 hours. They were perfect and provided wonderful memories to cherish for a lifetime.
Most people, of course, do not get a 24-hour notice! Some, who die tragically and accidentally, do not get any notice. So, how are we to live our lives knowing tomorrow is not guaranteed? Do we live in fear of the unknown? Do we live fast and furious taking in as much as we can get? Do we accept our fate, or argue with God? Do we try to put everything in order or break down in a river of tears?
Having been through this, may I make a suggestion? Why don’t we start living from this second on, looking back each day on how we lived our lives over the previous 24 hours?
Ask yourself, “Were my conduct and priorities in line with how I would like to be remembered? Were my speech, body language, and attitude to those around me pleasing to all? Did I encourage my family, friends, and others I came in contact with today, or did I leave them with the feeling I was not pleased with them for some reason?”
Such an attitude would certainly change the way I spoke to my spouse, the waitress, grocery clerk, teacher, or even my son or daughter. That would be a day to cherish, and I believe God would be pleased.
So, like Jenny, we should strive in every 24-hour cycle to play hard, fight until the last out in the final inning, take off our cleats, put them on home plate, and walk away knowing we left everything of value in this life on the field. Knowing too, our family can mourn for a moment and then, celebrate a life well lived as we meet our Creator.