If I should die before I wake…

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I’ve been thinking a lot about this line from the prayer I was taught as a child. “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

Every night, my Mom would sit on the side of my bed while I said my prayers. Every night the same prayer followed by asking God to bless everyone in our lives we could think of.

As a child, the “if I die before I wake” phrase didn’t have a ton of meaning for me. I didn’t know many kids who died in their sleep…or many kids who died for that matter. But, I grew up in a huge, extended family and a closely connected church and death was a part of our life. When you have that many aunts, uncles, cousins, and church family friends, you’re exposed to death from a young age. And my family was from the South, so funerals were huge, family occasions and we’d all travel for miles to be together.

The “if I die before I wake” phrase has been on my mind lately because of the number of people I’ve known, either personally or through friends, whose lives have been abruptly altered by death or life changing illness in the past year.

In December of last year, my oldest brother was planning to come for a visit to help me get my house ready to go on the market. He had to postpone his trip because of changes in his insurance that made it necessary to have surgery before the end of the year. He scheduled double knee replacement surgery for right after Christmas. Around the same time he found out he’d be having surgery, another sister in law found out she had terminal cancer and doctors predicted she’d only live another few months.

I live 3000 miles away from all of my family, so I decided it was time for a visit. I thought I could spend some time with my sister in law and be my brother’s cheerleader for a few days while he was going through rehab.

As is often the case, things didn’t work out quite as planned. My brother’s knee surgery went quite well, but when he woke up he didn’t know who or where he was and couldn’t communicate. In one of those rare “complications of surgery,” he had had a stroke. At age 63, this otherwise healthy and vibrant man’s life had changed forever. I was coming home the next week – not knowing what my experience of my big brother was going to be…

Each of my three brothers and my sister have a special place in my life – and David is my oldest brother. He was enough older than me that we really didn’t have any sibling rivalry stuff going on. He was the one who would play tea party with me, gave me an allowance from his first job when my parents couldn’t afford to – and would do 100 push ups when the ice cream truck came around to get me a free popsicle…(cool incentive from the ice cream “man,” don’t you think??)

I arrived the week after his surgery and had no idea the kind of experience I was about to have. I spent much of the next day with my sister in law. We laughed, hugged, said lots of “I love you’s,” and had a great time. I had no idea that when I left that afternoon, we’d never have another conversation. Two days later, she died with my brother and I by her side. 33 days from diagnosis to death. My brother, sister, nephew and his family all rallied around her for that final month and I’m sure she died knowing how much she was loved. She never thought she’d be leaving the planet at the age of 63…I wonder how she would have lived her life if she had known it would end so soon. Her early passing was a wake up call for me and I’m living my life even more consciously than I ever have before.

That experience would have been enough for the week, but I was there to see my brother too. My visit with him was nothing short of amazing. It was like listening to someone whose first language isn’t English – while they hunt for the right words to communicate their thoughts. He’d try out a word, we’d guess where he was going with it and piece together what he wanted to say. His story about his experience not being able to communicate after the stroke was moving and heartbreaking at the same time….but that’s a topic for another blog post.

My week was awesome, amazing, connecting, loving, challenging and, most of all, awakening! In my reflection and meditation time following all of this, I’ve given lots of thought to what I am here to do – and “if I should die before I wake” – what I will have left undone. This experience has renewed my commitment to work with people who know there is something bigger they’re supposed to do…people who know it is time for them to stop playing small – and step up and into who they’re called to be in the world.

If you don’t wake up tomorrow, what part of your mission on the planet will be unfinished? Where are you playing small? And when will you step into your greatness and your calling? Life is meant to be played “full out.” What’s holding you back?

I believe in you. And I’m here to help when you’re ready.

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