Alex Trebek and Pancreatic Cancer
Robot Doctor Tells Man He Has Only Days to Live


By Regan Burke who blogs at BackStory Essays

A friend asked me if I’ve given my son a list of people to call when I die. And right then I felt the future running away with me so fast I could hardly catch my breath.


“Why not?”

I told her he'd never do it. “He'd get mad if I even approached the subject.”

“How do you know?”

How do I know? He hardly talks to me as it is, much less about an uncomfortable subject.

“It’s a hard job—to call around to strangers and tell them their friend has died. Think of the responses—the oh-no’s! and the demand for details. No. He wouldn’t do it.”

“Well, how will I find out?” pleaded my friend.

There’s that future again, coaxing me to live in it, whispering that it’s my responsibility to inform my friends when I die.

I’m drawn to a passage in Pascal’s Pensees:

“We never keep to the present…we anticipate the future as if we found it too slow in coming and were trying to hurry it up.” He writes about our failure to live in the present, “we think how we are going to arrange things over which we have no control…”

So, no. I’m not going to try to control what happens to me after I die other than keeping my end-of-days papers in order. I’m happier owning this moment and this moment and this moment. I’ll let time future govern itself.

On the Sunday after All Saints Day, November 1, my church recites the names of those members who’ve died the past year. This year there were more people on the list I knew. I mean, I knew them. Not just their names. I knew them.

After the service, as I sat alone in my pew listening to the organ postlude, I popped open my iPhone. I read an account about two women who guarded the dead body of one of the synagogue victims in Pittsburgh so that, in keeping with Jewish custom, the person would never be alone.

I had descended into the grace of solitude, a still point, wondering if Jews believed the soul lives beyond the body when I heard someone call my name.

“Hi Regan,” came the voice of my pastor, Shannon Kershner. I looked up to see we were the only two people left in the church after the All Saints Service.

She had just delivered a sermon on John, 11:35: Jesus wept. It’s the shortest verse in the Bible. Pastor Shannon reminded us Jesus cried over the death of his friend, Lazarus, joining in the collective grief of his community.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“No,” I answered, “the dead.”


She knew.

* * *

EDITORIAL NOTE: You are a prolific bunch of writers and there is now a backlog of reader stories to carry us almost to summer. So for awhile, I am not accepting new stories until we work through some of the ones already on the list.


Thanks Regan and Ronni. Just loved this one.

Made me remember the saying: Today is a gift. That's why it's called the present.

Beautiful. I’m reminded of one of the greatest blessings in my life: a son who talks to me all the time, and better yet, seems to enjoy the conversation.

Thanks so much for made me realize that I'm worrying too much about the possible difficulties I might leave for others if I should die soon. I've got a lot of the paper work done, the house is fairly simplified, but oh, my studio! Giving up the most meaningful aspects of my life, it still feels too hard.

"I'm happier owning this moment, and this moment, and this moment." Oh yes, that's where the freedom is, isn't it?

Like Salina this made me more aware of living today for what it is.

But I’m also a planner.

There’s a book I bought from Amazon called
“I’m dead, now what”.

A sort of guide that’s been thoughtfully put together with pages for accounts, credit cards, email addresses of friends, blogs where I’m known and passwords.

Sort of like those old Income Tax check lists we used to have..I’d get one every year..where everything you need to file can be put in an envelope back when paper saving was something we all did..well I still do it!

Regan. I have a son like yours. My eldest. I hadn’t seen him for 2 years until he came for dinner for my birthday. I only think he came as the rest of the family was coming and his not being there would have been obvious.

I once tried to bring my end of life needs up to him. He’s old enough to be in AARP but he stuck his fingers in his ears and yelled “I can’t hear you”. He’s my eldest as I said and I thought he should be the one in charge. I should have known better..he never got over being raised in a working poor single parent household.

Fortunately I have other children who I can be honest with. In fact my youngest daughter is the one who told me about the book.

So I can plan in advance and leave information then let things go.

Best of both worlds.

I wish you well.

Elle in Oregon.

Thank you Regan for your thought provoking story. You have presented us with a virtual buffet of "food for thought"....yet the ideas you shared almost cost me my appetite. :-)

Upon reading your opening paragraph I reacted pretty much the way you did with the clear awareness of the "fleeing future". Because at 81, the number of dear ones in my life is ever diminishing. It has circled in my mind all morning. Who, if anyone other than my 2 sons, would want, care, or need to know?

An oft quoted phrase in recent years has been "Live one day at a time". I believe the trick for me, (if I can call it that), is be sure it is this day I'm living, and can best focus on with any success. No answer even needed for my own question.

So agree with Salinda Dahl's comment about the "freedom" in taking care of this moment, hour, or day.

Being an introvert, I don't worry a lot about who gets notified when I shuffle off. There aren't many people who would much care, and that's a fact. As part of my end of life paperwork, I've left the phone number of the local GOT JUNK. I've suggested to our son, that once my husband and I are both gone, he call these folks. They can clear out an entire house in 4 hours or less. If I have any money left, I'll leave a check to cover the cost, as well.

When my beloved son died two years ago, I was the person who told, by message, the family ( my other sons, my brothers and sisters), his coleagues, his office, his ex-wives, his doctor, that he was dead. My hands were trembling so much and I was crying so intensely, that I could hardly see or touch the letters of the mobile, just to write that he had died that night. People contacted each other and hundreds of friends and family joined us at the service. A week later, as is customary in Catholic countries, his office held a Mass in his memory. It was announced on the most read newspaper of the area, and again hundreds of friends and family were there.
Yes, dear Ronni, let's inform friends and family. We couldn't care less if we are the dead person, but those who love us care very much! And need to say goodbye. And closure.

We all know.
Thank you.

I know too. And sometimes it's too much.
Thank you

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