Imagining the Death Bed

Patti Armstrong - Bucket List


“I’m sorry, but it’s terminal,” your doctor says. “You have very little time left—a couple months at best.” What would you do? Take all of your money and go on a dream vacation? Buy the boat you always wanted? Party like there’s no tomorrow?

Of course not. You would likely plead for a miracle and then proceed to get your soul in order. With mortality on the horizon, worldly pleasures would become less pleasurable. They don’t last. They don’t matter.

It’s likely that your soul is not quite in order all the way even though your doctor has not said this to you. Yet, your condition really is fatal. All of life is. I’m not a killjoy. Honest. But I know and you know it’s a good idea to focus on the important things in order to be ready whenever God calls.

I once read a reflection about a saint, (I do not recall which) who was working in the fields and asked what he would do if he was told he only had 24-hours left to live. His response was that he would continue doing exactly as he was doing, working in the fields. God was at the center of his life. He did not have a list of spiritual things to do that had not been done yet.

Who lives like that? We all should. Consider when you have a trip to take. If you get packed well in advance, you can relax and go about life without the stress. You have done the things that need to get done and thus it brings you peace. Well, we are all going on a one-way trip in the future. We need to get ready and then, we can go about our life in peace.

Here is something I do sometimes. You will suspect I’m a bit crazy but keep an open mind. If I really want something or I’m disappointed about something, I imagine myself on my deathbed. I think about the item or issue at hand and imagine how I will feel about it on my deathbed. It helps me get things in perspective. I don’t run every little thing through this scenario but it is good to occasionally consider life from that vantage point. Morbid? No. It is going to happen one day. It’s far weirder to act like the inevitable is not going to happen.

When I come across scenarios in movies where a love interest or having fun becomes the main priority of a character that is dying, while God is completely left out, to me, that is totally crazy. They are sinking what’s left of their life into something that won’t last. In the movie, The Bucket List, two terminally ill patients (Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman) escape from a cancer ward to accomplish their list of dreams before they die. But an end-of-life plan to prepare for facing God by indulging in worldly desires is foolish. It’s more important to know what God’s has placed on our to-do list before leaving earth.

In the new book God’s Bucket List, author and EWTN TV and radio talk-show host Teresa Tomeo, challenges people to examine God’s to-do list for us. As a one-time TV news reporter in Detroit, she once lived for worldly success. Tomeo shares how the enviable career she had built for herself fell apart along with other parts of her life. Not until she put God at the center did she find peace and a different kind of success. God\’s Bucket List examines God’s priorities for us, which includes mercy, fruitfulness, fellowship, and peace.

Tomeo is no longer chasing after dust but striving for eternity and trying to drag others along with her. She was unwillingly knocked off her earthly path and set on a heavenly course. I personally want to get on the right course myself without God needing to get rough with me. By embracing the end of life and planning accordingly, I’ll be better prepared for eternity and live with peace in this world. So, really, I’m not a killjoy at all. I even smile sometimes.

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9 thoughts on “Imagining the Death Bed”

  1. Patti – what an interesting thought to gain perspective. I am so often like Martha, “anxious and worried about many things” (Luke 10:41) that I need to slow down and live with stillness.
    “Live with Stillness” is chapter 1 of Teresa Tomeo’s book, God’s Bucket List. I have greatly enjoyed it because she reveals details of her life that are common to so many of us. Reading the book has given me a new perspective on thinking about God’s will for my life as a husband and father. It’s helped to remind me that my time is not my own, my time is a gift from God.

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  3. disqus_NAVsMmJ24g

    I just finished reading God’s Bucket list and I liked it. I like anything Teresa Tomeo writes. The idea is thought provoking – what does God want you to accomplish in this life? We try to fit God into our plans but in doing so we miss out on the great plans he has for us.

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  5. I agree that considering how unimportant something will be on your deathbed is actually not a bad idea. I look at the world in a rather similar way. For some people the prospect of death seems gloomy, but for me (and I live with it a LOT) it sparks me to be mindful of each day I live.

    I think Im unusual in that I dead with death in some manner every day but my friends have become accustomed to hearing me say stuff like…”What are you waiting for? if you want to do that , you should do it NOW” I tell everyone who will listen that you cant do Paris in a wheelchair or scooter “Go now while you can walk”.

    Trips to Paris notwithstanding, how do we live everyday? I told the moms in the support group I run that I know that life is short and I have decided that the best use of my time (after my family of course) is to spend it with them. I love the babies I care for and I love their moms …I love living my vocation every day.

  6. Zofie died today. She most likely never knew I stroked her hair and held her hand
    for just under two hours over two days. Her daughter, up from SC and on her way
    back down along with her husband requested hospice too late for me to know mom
    but the comfort that someone would stand in her staid for as long as it took for her
    soul to release was great comfort. The face of those at that dark door is usually
    the same: very slack, mouth agape, gums discolored – at 91 the teeth are usually long gone. The O2 line and thrum of the machine agitate the air as does a comedy TV show playing on the other side of the curtain. Zofie is close and this comes from
    all those signs : rapid breathing, cooling skin and an odor not unique yet peculiar
    to the life of their body. Looking at the picture of her next to a large statue of the
    BVM in her home, one of her and the daughter who will be returning tomorrow to
    bury her mom, it is very easy to picture Zofie alive even while looking at her now,
    it what she would consider an undignified state. The two pairs of rosary beads over
    her bed prompt me to say what was probably her great devotion. I look at the cross
    and first four beads and using the fingers of the hand I’m not holding Zofie with I
    begin. I know she will not be in this bed tomorrow. Upstairs is another patient who
    is quite different, quite alive with ovarian cancer. My 6 weeks of visits has melded
    a bond with Patricia. We watch TV, talk about her special needs grown up girls and
    she cracks jokes that send me into fits. I cannot picture her like the woman in 227B.
    But I will be there and experience her slide into a secret journey. The point ? It’s not in the face or sometimes contorted body, it’s in the breath of life that passes in and out, like a swing going higher and higher, until it lifts and goes where it will. Then I
    can breathe easier, knowing this “… weariest river, winds somewhere safe to sea.”

  7. Thanks for this post, Patti!

    You write: “Here is something I do sometimes… If I really want something or I’m disappointed about something, I imagine myself on my deathbed. I think about the item or issue at hand and imagine how I will feel about it on my deathbed. It helps me get things in perspective. I don’t run every little thing through this scenario but it is good to occasionally consider life from that vantage point. Morbid? No. It is going to happen one day. It’s far weirder to act like the inevitable is not going to happen.”

    I respond: This is a profound bit of advice. You are not crazy, that’s for sure. You are a practical teleologist. You keep The End in mind when appropriate.

    When is that appropriate?

    I have found that such an approach is not helpful when making judgments about the past. Judgment-making is based on hypothetical reasoning about assumptions and evidence of fact. Very complicated exercise with strict rules. It might be the death of you.

    Also, I have found such an approach is not helpful when making choices about present options. Death by chocolate is lost likely the result.

    However, your approach is critically important when we confront a real issue, a question about which we are nearly being torn in half. There is a true sense that with each issue we ultimately decide, there is a death involved. There is a path not taken.

    How to avoid being morbid?

    Understand that on our death beds we want to be thinking about Heaven. Here’s a good Catholic book about Heaven that I highly recommend:

    “A Travel Guide to Heaven” [ ]

    While it might be expected that we will not be needing or maybe even wanting to take thinks to Heaven with us, it is a mistake to think that we will not be playing baseball there. So, for example, when struggling with whether to buy Johnny a new glove instead of buying him new clothes, think about Heaven, not Death, and you will respond to the joy Heaven has in store for us who get there, you will see him glimpse Heaven when he plays, and you will hit a homerun into your child’s heart.

    1. Patti Maguire Armstrong

      I agree completely, John, not to stress about the past. Actually, i think about the death bed as it relates to my current life, usually when some ambition is involved. For instance, my writing should be about serving God and acting in union with him. That means going to a NY TImes Best Seller should not be my goal. I imagine having used my ambitions for worldly success but the necessity of making that a priority over my family.

      On my deathbed, those best selling books would pale in value to the relationships with my family. It’s not all or nothing–writing or family–it’s a matter of discerning what God wants. Taking personal ambition out helps keep a clearer vision.

    2. Ah, Patti! You’ve hit the nail squarely!

      When we each discern what God wants of us, we have found the path that fits. Father John Dunne talks of the problem with such issues in his book “Reasons of the Heart” [ ].

      He notes that it seems there is always a loss when we choose one path and not another. What he taught me is to look for the path where loss is effectively rendered insignificant. That is where the path decided on contains the significance we are looking for. What is that path?

      The way I formulate it is that it is the Decision-Maker’s Path. That path goes where the reasons of the heart goes. Following it, we become single-minded out of a process of dealing with our double-mindedness.

      And at the key stopping point along the way, the reasons of the heart emerge. The reasons of the heart, says Pascal,…well, the heart has reasons that reason does not know. Our hearts take us beyond emotions, rationality, irrationality, and will to find and discern our deepest desire.

      I think I have found when and where that deepest desire arrives and from whom it comes. At our conceptions, when our parents and the Holy Spirit conceive us, give us life, give us being, and also our deepest desire.

      Our deepest desire is our commission. It is also our cross.

      Each of us has our own cross to bear, to carry, to embrace. It is not a matter of ambition. That signals our own wants. That is a vision based on oversight.

      Finding what God wants, that is the key. It is the sharpest insight. The keenest one. The key to our true happiness which we can share with all of our loved ones in any way we are talented enough to express.

      By showing your family that you are writing to please God, and not just yourself or your readers, you set a wonderful example for each family member. They are then better equipped for their own adventurous journey to find what God wants of them.

      And when you see them get that insight, no matter when that comes, you can help them write about it and pass along the grace that inspires it. Instead of either/or and the double-mindedness that entails, deciding to write integrates us into a single-mindedness that wills one thing.

      What is that one thing?

      Soren Kierkegaard, a writer I love to read, wrote a book called “Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing” [ ]. I like his answer. Hope you will as well.

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