“Live like you were dying”

I’ve been holding on to these stories for a few months. I didn’t really know how to make it something that would help anyone but me, until now. So, before I tell you what I came up with, let me tell you a few stories about how I thought I was going to die:

This first story makes me cry, because it’s very sad and even though the words came out of my mouth, I don’t remember it at all. My friend told about this just a few months after it occurred. Right before I was taken to ICU, I spent a couple nights on another floor so they could monitor my low blood pressure. I think I was on a lot of morphine at the time. My dad was in the room with me when my friend came to visit. When he left the room,  I summoned her over to me. It was as if I was waiting for him to go out so he couldn’t hear me. Like I didn’t want to worry him. I could barely speak due to my labored breathing so I motioned for her to come down close and whispered, “I think I’m dying.” She said that she assured me this wasn’t the case, but in her heart she worried that I might be right. She then asked me if there is anything she could do for me (meaning: get you a drink, a blanket, change the channel on TV?). I answered (this is the part that makes me cry…), “I need you to take care of my kids.”

The story I do remember, was when I woke up in ICU. The room was dim and the nurses had on masks. I had never seen these nurses before since I was taken to ICU in pretty bad shape. I didn’t know where I was or why I was there, but it seemed like a very serious situation. It didn’t register that there were tubes coming out of my throat and nose or that my hands and feet were strapped to the bed. One thing that concerned me was that the nurses kept whispering and typing things into the computer in between turning my body from side to side, even when I shook my head, “no”. They would say, “honey, you don’t have a choice.” The other concerning piece, was that none of my family was in the room for what felt like hours (it was actually about 1/2 hr, but I was on drugs, so nothing seemed to be happening in real time). After assessing the situation, the only logical explanation I could come up with was, “I must be dying. I think they are trying to save my life.”

Next: After I didn’t die, my family finally came back in the room. They had been in there non stop for several days and had finally gone home to rest and take showers,  when I woke up. Figures. Anyway, I couldn’t talk due to weakness and being intubated about a week. I did my best to write down what I wanted to say, but it took a LOT of effort and a very LONG time to write even a few words. My mom tells me that I managed to write down these  questions: “where is everybody?” (She told me  that they had barely left my side for days but they had to go out for a bit and would be back soon.) Then, I wrote, “Because I am dying?”.

The other day I was telling Berkeley, my son, all these crazy death stories. He said, “Ya, you also thought people were trying to kill you. When a nurse would leave the room you would say, ‘I think they’re trying to kill me'”.  Apparently, I even said it once when my husband left the room! Berkeley assured me that he was pretty sure dad was not trying to kill me. 🙂

Death was definitely close. But until I talk with other people who were with me or praying for me, I didn’t realize that I wasn’t the only one who thought I might be dying. When I talk to my friends who are nurses, Executives at the Hospital or ICU surgeons (who have all witnessed people in the process of dying) and they literally tear up when we discuss the miracle of God in my healing, I can see that they too, thought I might be dying. In fact, one employee of the hospital said to me, “I have seen a lot of patients who were dying.  Typically, when the patient says they think they are going to die, they are probably going to die.” Yesterday I had the privilege of attending a service at a church that we pastored for about 18 years. I know that many of them had prayed their hearts out for me to recover from Leukemia. I was scared out of my mind to go, but was comforted and again “healed” as I spoke with people who spoke of mostly one thing; how glad and relieved they were to see me, alive!

I never want to forget the fact that I was rescued from death’s doorstep. It astounds me how quickly I can fall into patterns of ingratitude and whining about my stressful life or my less-than-perfect body and boy-like head of hair. I almost died from Leukemia, for pete’s sake! The other day, when I was lamenting some “hardship” in my life and mostly, how poorly I was handling it, I blurted out to a friend, “I certainly did not come back from the dead to live like THIS!”

Here’s what I desperately want you to hear. What I need to remind myself of all day, everyday. We are all in the process of dying (happy thoughts, right?). There is no guarantee that just because I had Leukemia, which was very un-fun, it doesn’t mean that I am exempt from future hardships. Death still is a possibility at any moment. When I went in to the Hospital with Leukemia, they told me that if I had waited until the next week to get my blood work done, I very well might not have lived through Leukemia. I was one week away from a death sentence. I am not trying to be morbid, but dang, aren’t we all? We have no control over our future health or safety. The best we can do is live in THIS moment with a grateful, loving spirit. It’s a simple goal, which is why I very often forget to focus on it. I am consumed with “bigger” plans. But here’s the truth-I lived through Leukemia. We all, through prayer and pleading-Kicked it in the butt! But I am still dying. It would do me good to remember to “live like I was dying”.

This is a tribute to all of us-and to a special friend (Charlie Britton)  who had this sung at his funeral/life celebration
“Live Like You Were Dyin'”-Tim McGraw

He said I was in my early 40’s,
With a lot of life before me,
And a moment came that stopped me on a dime.
I spent most of the next days, lookin’ at the x-rays,
Talkin’ ’bout the options and talkin’ ’bout sweet time.
Asked him when it sank in, that this might really be the real end.
How’s it hit ya, when you get that kind of news.
Man what ya do.
And he says,


I went sky divin’,
I went rocky mountain climbin’,
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull name Fumanchu.
And I loved deeper,
And I spoke sweeter,
And I gave forgiveness I’ve been denying,
And he said someday I hope you get the chance,
To live like you were dyin’.

He said I was finally the husband,
That most the time I wasn’t.
And I became a friend a friend would like to have.
And all the sudden goin’ fishing,
Wasn’t such an imposition.
And I went three times that year I lost my dad.
Well I finally read the good book,
And I took a good long hard look at what I’d do
If I could do it all again.
And then.


Like tomorrow was a gift and you’ve got eternity
To think about what you do with it,
What could you do with it, what can
I do with with it, what would I do with it.

Sky divin’,
I went rocky mountain climbin’,
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull name Fumanchu.
And I loved deeper,
And I spoke sweeter,
And I watched an eagle as it was flyin’.
And he said someday I hope you get the chance,
To live like you were dyin’.

To live like you were dyin’.
To live like you were dyin’.
To live like you were dyin’.
To live like you were dyin’.

4 thoughts on ““Live like you were dying”

  1. Thank you for your words of wisdom, Heather. Several decades ago, I too felt that way during a month long hospitalization when my heart stopped and other organs were shutting down. There is a lot more to my story too, but I won’t go there now. God has granted me many years and countless blessings since then. He will for you too, I’m so sure. I have shared my experience in a couple of my novels. You were given the ability to share your frightening ordeal on a deep level, which I’m sure touches and encourages many people. BTW, I have always liked that country song.
    Carol Cherry Anderson

  2. Heather, I had no idea you were afraid to make an appearance at Hope when I spoke with you yesterday. You are indeed one of God’s walking miracles! What joy it gave me to see you and talk with you. Please don’t be afraid to come back any time. Those who scorned you and Blake have moved on, and those remaining will welcome you both with open arms. Please stay in touch. I have missed you! You blessed my day yesterday.

  3. Once again Heather, you have completely touched me when I needed to hear this the most.     May God continue to use you thru this amazing reflections ….. praying for continued health, happiness and for your family who has gone thru so much and now enjoying having you back home…. Blessings from the Kenny’s

  4. I can’t believe how you keep inspiring me…do you know what a talented writer you are!!! Thank you from the bottom of my heart!! Have you always done this? Luv YOU!! Karen…

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