Untimely Endings

Gilda Radner, who herself died an early death from ovarian cancer, once observed:  “I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end.”

I had occasion to remember that line twice in the last two weeks: last week when I attended the heartbreaking wake and funeral of a young man my daughter’s age who died in an automobile accident, and more recently yesterday, when a woman described the death of a young person in her family.

This was not, of course, my first experience with untimely deaths.  Indeed, my count of those is quite high, and includes, among others, friends and a relative who died on 9/11 and a younger cousin who died fighting a fire.

But the reality is that we all want perfect endings.  We want stories to have clear beginnings, middles, and ends – with the ends coming at the appropriate times.

And, for the most part, we live our lives – notwithstanding all evidence to the contrary – expecting that we will get that.  I can intellectually appreciate that my end may come at any moment, but I still expect that I will be hiking in Canada next month, celebrating Thanksgiving in Appleton in November, teaching a particular course next spring and summer, and so on.

Obviously we can’t live our lives without making plans.  But we also need to remember that no future moment is a guarantee, and that we should cherish each moment that we have, letting each be an opportunity to spread love and compassion.


3 thoughts on “Untimely Endings

  1. This is a wonderful reflection.
    Several years ago, I gave a homily at CTK. I forget the readings, but that morning the STrib had a story about a church in Alabama that had determined when the last day would occur. I used that theme and told the parish that I knew when Jesus would return and the world would end. I think I said it would be May 15, 2004 or something like that. I then told everyone, knowing that date I would begin to have half and half on my morning oatmeal. Of course, the point was (and is) that if we did know what our final day on earth would be, we might do things and live our lives differently. I then made the point that we do not know, and cannot know, what our final day will be. Nevertheless should act as though we do know so we can prepare and do things differently. As you note, it could be any moment. As the hymn goes, “Keep your lamps trimmed and burning.”

  2. Wonderful reflection — living each day is something that takes work for me. But it’s worthwhile work. The past 18 months seem to be trying to make me practice harder.
    Six or seven weeks ago I knew my mom was “fading” but I never thought that June would bring life without her.

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