The Word of God

The Party

lake with lined trees in the background

“What life expects of us is that we celebrate.” Jose Eduardo Agualusa

Somewhere walking around, maybe in your neighborhood, in your office space, or sitting next to you at the movie theater, is a truly remarkable forty-something year-old-man, or at least I would put real money that he still is, if I were a betting man. The reason I say this is because I knew him as an insightful ten-year-old who one day, with his mother driving him and his sister to school, passed a rather large billboard advertising the latest craze in beer advertisement with the well-known phrase, “Life is a party,” with young, loosely clad people drinking up a storm without showing any weight gain or hung over nausea. His mother was astounded when he told her, “Mom, life isn’t a party; it’s a privilege.”

Now to be sure, thirty years ago I completely agreed with this little guy’s cute but pithy assessment. However, after all those years, I would like to not deny it—but rather amend it. Life can easily be compared to a party. And to the extent that we live it to the fullest, it is also a privilege. This definite shift in my opinion was recently caused in no small way by a beautiful soul who crossed my path. We will from this moment forward call her “Charlotte.” Miss Charlotte was a patient of mine who had lived ninety-seven years and, from all apparent clues, was going strong. She was born the same year that Mount Rushmore was dedicated, Sears opened its first store and in the same year that other “greats” first graced the planet such as Johnny Carson and Richard Burton.

Her family was as numerous as they were friendly and equally hospitable. Counting all the sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, grand and great grandchildren, I counted over fifty different framed faces in the front patio-den area where we often sat overlooking a magnificent river that flowed into a lake sandwiched between two groves of trees lining the banks. “You don’t have to come way out here just to see me,” she often reminded me. “Just come on out, grab a glass of sweet tea and watch the unfolding power of nature. It’ll take your mind off what ever might be troubling you.”

It was good advice.

You will recall that I said she looked great “from all apparent clues,” because there was nothing apparently suggesting that the end was near, but it was. Internally, her body was simply, slowly shutting down and the normal aches and pains for just getting around began to become amplified. Her breathing and blood levels all suggested that she was definitely on the path to the window to eternal life and it was my responsibility, heavy but honorable, to get her ready for that last visit to the lakefront patio and head on out for more incredibly beautiful scenes, already waiting for her.

There were two items on her heart that would dominate our further conversations and that brought no small amount of anxiety upon her during our time together. One was the obvious way her body was speaking to her and having occupied that body for nearly a century, she knew what the signs were saying. The second was the unexpected pressure she was feeling concerning the upcoming pre-Thanksgiving party that her relatives were planning to celebrate her long life and double as a huge family reunion to be attended by members as far away as Idaho and Florida, which caused her to worry as to whether she would be able to welcome all those people and truly be present to them. Both moments were troubling her, and it was up to me to try to help her articulate not only her deep thoughts mixed in with remarkable memories, but also to ease her growing panic.

On one of those soft, quiet, idyllic afternoons that reminded me of a scene from the old Andy Griffith Show, we sat alone on the porch with just the sounds of the water splashing against the shore, an occasional bird cawing, and maybe just maybe a train whistle in the far distance. I caught her crying just a bit and after a nice pause, I leaned over and offered her my thoughts:

“You know, Charlotte, the problem here is quite simple. You need to decide on which party sounds more interesting and fun. You have over fifty people traveling miles and miles just to see you. And you have the possibility of another grand and exciting Homecoming in Heaven, a party that has been going on for quite some time now. What do you think about that?”

She laughed and shot me a Cheshire Cat grin that said it all. “Looks like I am going to be alright!” After promising to review the events of her special day with her sometime in late November, I said my goodbyes, told her how wonderfully blessed she is, and made my way back to the multi-layered fabric of life waiting for me, all the better for the experience of sharing this part of Charlotte’s amazing life.

The following Sunday I received a call from the on-duty nurse who was clearly distraught. Although I had received similar calls in the not-so-distant past, I guess you could say I was not all that ready to receive the news. Charlotte died peacefully Saturday morning at 11:18. Her party was to begin at 12 noon. I will leave the drawing of the inescapable conclusion to our readers.

I wish I could say that I wrote this closing summary of thought, and although I did not, I certainly endorse it more than I could say. Here it is, an anonymous reflection I found hand-written in the back of a donated book to be placed in one of our homeless shelters:

Life is kind of like a party. You invite a lot of people. Some leave early, some stay all night, some laugh with you, some laugh at you, and some show up really late. But in the end, after the fun, there are a few who stay to help you clean up the mess. And most of the time, they aren’t even the ones who made the mess. These people are your true friends in life. They are the only ones who matter.

And so they are.

“How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” —A.A. Milne

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” —DR. SEUSS

Share your thoughts (8 thoughts)

8 thoughts on “The Party”

  • Julie Trevino says:

    What a beautiful story about life!
    I love the advice he gave Charlotte. He told her she had to decide which party sounded more interesting and fun; people coming from all over to see her or an exciting homecoming in Heaven. Well, she died minutes before her party was to begin, at noon, so she evidently decided to go to her exciting homecoming celebration in Heaven!!
    It’s also true about people coming and going in and out of our life. The true friends are the ones that stay to the bitter end.
    This was a story I needed because my beautiful mother in law will be 97 in March. She’s worried about her large estates and what some of her children are already fighting over. I told my husband she should be enjoying these last days of her life. She’s in good health but her last Dr visit noted her heart was slowing down. So, I shall pass the advice given to Charlotte.
    Happy Advent as we prepare for Jesus’ Birthday Party!!!

    • Caro says:

      Thank you once again, Julie, for visiting us with us once again with your wonderful comments! You and I clearly believe that Christmas means not just hope for the world, despite all its unending problems, but hope for you and me, despite all our unending failings. I have always seen and celebrated the similarities between preparing for Christmas and preparing for our own death. When you think of Christmas, images of food, family, old friends, bright colors and lights, decorations, singing, and even angels. Sounds a lot like heaven, doesn’t it? Imagine the reunion in Heaven those few seconds after we close our eyes for the last time. Christmas every year is a “dress rehearsal” of sorts to get us ready. God bless you always!

      “The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity– a hope of pardon, a hope of peace with God, the hope of glory–because at the Father’s will Jesus became poor, and was born in a stable so that thirty years later He might hang on a cross.” ― J. I. Packer

  • Tony Montez says:

    My dear mother is in her mid 90s, and her surviving 8 of 12 adult children are planning a birthday celebration next month. She’s an amazingly strong woman. She lost her parents tragically, her husband and two children died in 2001. She has since lost another son in April of this year, and another is in a nursing home due to strokes. All 3 of her sisters have died as well as most of her friends. And yet, through her remarkable faith, she is looking forward to her birthday celebration knowing that it is love being lived, enter favorite mariachis have been booked.

    • Caro says:

      FIRST AND FOREMOST, one behalf of all of us at the Foundation, and dare I say from the hearts of our many readers, please receive and convey the most profound and beautiful greetings of a most wonderful birthday to your mother. She ranks among the real heroes in this life and too often we overlook them distracted by the glitz and glamour of people who have a lot of fame and money but are allergic to meaning and purpose. Your Mom’s life helps us all put everything in perspective: we wish the time hadn’t gone so fast and sometimes we wish we’d enjoyed it more along the way, and worried about it less. But then again, we still have today to make it last and enjoy the moments we still have. The nest of our memories still has a few leftover feathers here and there to remind us of the miracles we helped create to make this life amazing. I think that’s wonderful.

  • Kristen says:

    Of course, my throat caught there at the end. First, my condolences to you. It seems Charlotte was an absolute joy to accompany. Her family and friends are in my prayers… This article very much moved me, as this year alone has been quite the “party.” In the first half of the year, I’d suffered a great amount of loss. The comings and goings of those whom I’ve loved and those I’d known just en passing; all their voices becoming haunting echoes, carried in and out by the breeze of a revolving door. Let me start by saying, I am socially awkward and dread large gatherings. Combine those traits with being the host of my own life is utterly exhausting. In real life situations where I’m more comfortable being alone or avoiding crowds of people, familiar or not, this year had left me trying to hold on to everyone so that they wouldn’t leave my party… I don’t know if it’s because of age that is making me appreciate life more and all those in it. In my overwhelming period of grief from the back to back losses I’d endured, I’d rested my head on my mom’s lap and cried day after day until I stared into a middle-ground, emotionless. I had worn myself out from trying to hold on for just a little longer. It was then that my mom had told me something that I will never forget: “God introduces people to us for a single reason, or many, but all who we cross paths with have a purpose. And when those purposes have been fulfilled in our lives, God calls them back Home or sends them on another journey. It doesn’t mean you’ve been abandoned; it only means the job that God has given them is done.” Whether she read this somewhere, was told this by someone, or made it up right then, I’ll never know… but it was exactly what I needed to hear. This holiday season is full of parties, and although I have days where I prefer a party of one, I know I’m never truly alone. I have, and always had, God by my side. And I’m thinking… as I set up for a new party, a brightly-themed extravaganza, I’m trusting God more with the hosting.

    • Caro says:

      Once again, Kristen, thank you so very much for gracing these pages with your beautiful and insightful thoughts! When I read your comments I had a waterfall of thoughts: Alone time. Some people are terrified of it, while others can’t function without it. Regardless of which category we fall under, incorporating some quality “me-time” into our busy schedule can have plenty of benefits. And now during this rather pensive and reflective time of Advent (a “mini-Lent” as I like to call it), is a good time to take advantage of all that alone time has to offer. In a world where we are constantly connected, either via text or social media, it can feel a bit foreign to be without the presence of others. Many feel “lost” without their cell phones or disconnected when they go days without checking Facebook. While this increased sense of connection has its benefits, it has also overshadowed the importance of alone time. It is important to note the difference between alone time—a period of time we choose to spend by ourselves—and loneliness, a sense of sadness triggered by feelings of isolation. Loneliness carries health risks, including: Weakened immune system, Increased depression, Higher risk of heart disease. Moreover, lonely people are less likely to eat healthy foods and exercise, putting them at an even higher risk for illness.
      Fortunately, it is possible and beneficial to be alone without feeling lonely. Here is what I have found as to great reasons to embrace alone time:

      1. Enhance Creativity
      Being alone can create a powerful space for creativity to flourish. According to a 2015 article in Harvard Business Review, when you let your mind wander freely (something that is more likely to occur when you’re alone versus surrounded by people), you activate the brain’s default mode network, which is responsible for most of your original thoughts and ideas.

      2. Recharge Your Brain
      In order to function properly, the brain needs to rest and recharge. Think about a time when you had to be “on” for an extended period of time—perhaps at a work event or family function. You probably felt exhausted afterward, an indication that the brain needed a break. (Introverts can especially relate to this as they require more downtime to recharge). Fortunately, time spent alone allows the brain to slow down and replenish itself, making space for clearer thinking and the ability to be more present with others.

      3. Increase Self-Sufficiency
      Alone time gives us the opportunity to self-reflect and become more comfortable with who we are and what we value. It encourages us to form our own opinions, independent of the judgment and criticism of others. Spending time alone also forces us to solve problems on our own—problems we may be surprised to learn we can work through without the help of others.

      4. Improve Relationships
      When we are comfortable being alone and believe that we can take care of ourselves, we are less likely to be overly dependent on others. Plus, alone time can breed self-awareness and empathy, two traits found in healthy relationships. By becoming comfortable in our own skin, we can also better meet people where they are without judgement.

      God bless you, Kristen and May we all have a remarkable journey toward Christmas!

  • Deacon Ron says:

    What a beautiful message to share at a time when all are reminded by Holy Mother Church to prepare for our day of judgement. We do not know the day nor the hour but we do know life in this world will end and if we have truly prepared the scenery WILL be breathtaking.

    • Caro says:

      Advent greetings to you, Deacon, and thank you for your comment after having read “The Party.” Life doesn’t always give us a whole lot to smile or laugh about, does it? It would be great if we felt like the woman in the story every day, right? But we don’t. There are seasons of tears or heartbreak. There are days where sadness and discouragement come to choke out our faith. But if we can just remember that this will pass and God is setting us up for greater, you can laugh and smile through it.

      Stay focused and stay faithful. A reward is coming. Just hold on. Merry Christmas, almost!

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