Edna Parker, 115 years and 220 days old, died today

Edna Parker, 115 years and 220 days old, died today

Did you know…

SHELBYVILLE, Ind. (Nov. 27) — Edna Parker, who became the world’s oldest person more than a year ago, has died at age 115.

So have you given thought to how long you want to live?  Interesting question.  I had occasion to push a wheelchair for a man 110 years old a few years back at our local Masonic Home here in Burlington, NJ.  He was still sound of mind (I was taking him down to the daily civic affairs discussion group)  and when I asked his what he felt about being 110, he replied; “Its too long.”

I’ve given it thought myself….  now hold that thought (and give it some thought yourself, while I go off to bed and return tomorrow to finish this post…)

Coming: My obituary story.

Jan 27:  Wow, does life fly by quickly.  It was back on Nov 28 when I began this post, with all intentions of adding the rest the next day, or later that week.  Well, life has been very busy in so many good ways that its now January 27, 2009 and I am finally making time to fulfill my promise to you of finishing the story referred to as “The obituary story…”

Now I warn you that I will give you most of it here, but to get the final “cherry on top of the sundae” you will have to link to it …

In chapter 26 of my book,  A Gift from the Heart, I was supporting my success tip for life of writing down your goals in life, which begins by trying to list your dreams in life, and thus it began:

So what are your dreams in life? Are you serious about those dreams? Do you want to make them real? If your answer is yes, then follow this formula and most importantly, write down that goal and its associated action plan. Let me share another story from my post transplant experience and despite its initial shock, follow the story through to completion to see its true potential impact on your own life.

Two transplant friends and I were discussing the frustrations of a busy life in trying to get everything done in our daily lives, feeling over committed in our business and personal lives. I shared my personal beliefs that the approach to such pressures was to establish priorities in one’s life and then work the daily activities according to those priorities. In this way at least the most important things would get done even if you never finished the entire wish list. The discussion continued on how to decide such priorities in life. From that developed the idea that what was most important, our highest priority, might be what we would like written on our tombstone, our epitaph. Kind of weird, huh? Well, I then took it a step further to an exercise I had heard of but never been assigned nor participated in. What we would most want to accomplish in our lives might best come out in a self-authored obituary, reflecting sort of a to-do list of what we wanted to accomplish in our ideal lives. After some initial discussion and protest it was agreed that we would take on such an assignment and return a month later to share our work over dinner together.

So far it seemed simple enough to me, especially since I was the one who had suggested this endeavor. One month passed quickly and I found myself at work reflecting on the task of writing this obit before dinner that evening. I had only gotten so far as looking over the Obituary page in our local paper, something I had never done before, to see what format ideas I might find there. I had cut out one in particular that seemed to my liking, a simple one that was title with the deceased’s name followed by their age and a three word phrase describing their life. Under pressure of time now (it was noon with dinner planned for 6pm that evening), I opened up my word processor for what would be a simple exercise in creative writing, word processing offering an easy way to edit my thoughts once committed to the screen, later to paper to share with both friends. “Piece of cake…” as I have often said.

Ok, first type out my name. Easy enough: “James Gleason My template then called for a number, the age at which I had died. Fingers hung over the waiting keyboard as I realized the depth of the question before me. How long did I plan to live? Hummm…, with a life already extended by the heart transplant several years ago, this proved to be a non-trivial question. First thoughts of living forever – certainly unrealistic given our mortality – I then brought it down to something in the low hundred+ years range. Did I really want to live to 120 given the frailty of the human condition in such later years? Maybe not. Ok, so what then? I was in my mid-fifties at the time of the exercise and certainly wanted to go on living for “many” years yet, but given the absoluteness of this number, such a generality wasn’t acceptable. I finally settled on a compromise and typed that number. Whew, more than a couple of minutes had passed in deep thought of what had begun as such a simple exercise, and I hadn’t even moved much beyond the name in a title.

Now for that three word summary of my life as it would appear in the title of this obituary. This too was a showstopper. Everything I came up with seemed so trivial when it was meant to represent such a summary of a meaningful life of many years. I typed one phrase, then replaced it with another hopefully better one. No, that wouldn’t do either. And so the next hour passed in trying to come up with the “right” words to represent a life of accomplishment. You really can’t appreciate what this entails until you actually try it yourself, and at the end of this sharing I will challenge you to do just that. Don’t let that thought scare you off. It really is a very valuable exercise and I will show you why and how it relates to the topic of this Tip.

An hour and a half into the exercise and I finally was ready to start the text of the obituary. This is not what I had expected. It was fortunate that my workday this day allowed such reflective time. Often it would not, but today I was lucky. Four hours to the dinner deadline. Having been the one to drive the idea, I couldn’t fail to deliver myself by not having it done by then. Driving time to the restaurant stole another hour from the deadline. I can usually write fast so shouldn’t be a problem. I began the first paragraph: “James Gleason, died today at the age of ___, from …. – another surprise. I hadn’t realized I would have to come up with a way to have died. This wouldn’t be that hard though since I had often said I would, if given the choice, elect to just die in my sleep, painless and without forewarning with that associated fear and worry. I typed that into the opening sentence. I reread what I had typed and realized something was wrong. I didn’t want to go out without even knowing it like that. That wasn’t my style at all! But then I really didn’t know what “my style” would be either. Stumped again, I sat in deep thought, testing one idea after another. Typing some out, each was rejected until I finally smiled and came up with the “right way” I would die – an event consistent with my “zest for life,” a living life to its fullest style. And that is what I typed, finally. With one sentence (and a title) now completed, it should go easier, or so I thought. The next line related how long Jim Gleason had worked for Unisys – had he retired before his death or was he still working at that age? Hummm…, yet another major decision before I could write this life story. I had no retirement goal so this was truly reflective moments in coming up with a serious answer to an important question.

Before I give you the whole picture, let me summarize the benefits learned from this exercise. When completed I had traveled forward in time to some years in the future and looked back on what would have been accomplished by that date of passing. Interesting view of one’s life, I can assure you. Once that picture was crafted in this obituary writing, I return to today and now realize for the first time all I have to get done in the years ahead (assuming I have those years actually available) to meet such life goals. Wow, what an interesting exercise, something I never anticipated at its outset. If you are curious now, you have to link over to that chapter at http://www.rjwitte.com/changeofheart/GiftFromTheHeart/Section2/chp-26-TIPS.pdf and find page 40which is the actual text written that day several years ago. Read it over and then I will finish the story here by telling you about our dinner and the sharing there.

Again from Tuesdays with Morrie, I like another quote by Mitch Albom:

“Everybody knows they are going to die – but nobody believes it. If we did, we would do things differently.”

And with that thought in mind, I went with a sense of satisfaction to meet these two very special friends and share my hard worked over obituary article. Over a nice meal we shared copies of our work. Mine was received with criticism that it only reflected what had already happened in my life. True, as I reread it in that light. Both an oversight and probably a product of having to do it last minute under duress of the dinner deadline. I promised myself to go back and rework that part of it. One of the others had an equally well done piece but we pointed out that it didn’t reflect the names of the loved ones left which showed that there lacked real commitment to believing the life goals of a family. Promises were made to go back and edit in light of such insight. The third of us had not done the homework. Disappointing but not surprising, knowing this person as we did. All in all, I found it an amazing life experience. Looking at the writing as being real, the quote from Morrie points out the morale or purpose of my sharing this with you. You do know you are going to die and this exercise forces us to face that fact instead of the denial he speaks of in that earlier quote. With the insight gained, maybe we would believe it (that we ARE going to die) and the “…we would do things differently” which is the whole point of this Tip # 5. Discovering our life goals and writing them down goes a long way to insure we will accomplish them in our lifetime, and that is where we started. What did you want to accomplish in your lifetime, now that you have faced death head on in your transplant experience? This obituary exercise is an interesting way to gain such insights. Try it and see if it does for you what it did for me. Take the defining action and see where that takes you. Studies show that if you do write down your goals you will be in the select 2% of the population who do so and in turn accomplish those goals in life.

Put another way, “If you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you attempt in your life?” You have heard this before and it opens up the mind to your real potential. You have the opportunity you were almost denied. So now what do you decide to do with that opportunity. You are alive today. What does being ALIVE mean to you? Translate those insights into written goals and your chance of successful living increases by the amount of effort you put into that exercise.


And since the opening may have made you curious, here are some facts that came out today, Dec 29, 2008:

Oldest Man in US Dies at at 112

SAN FRANCISCO (Dec. 29) – George Francis, the nation’s oldest man, who lived through both world wars, man’s first walk on the moon and the election of the first black president, has died. He was 112.
UCLA gerontologist Dr. Stephen Coles, who maintains a list of the world’s oldest people, said Francis lived 112 years and 204 days.  With Francis’ death, Walter Breuning of Montana, who is 112 years, 98 days old, becomes the country’s oldest living man. At 114, Gertrude Baines of Los Angeles is the nation’s oldest living person. The world’s oldest person is Maria de Jesus of Portugal, who is 115 years, 109 days old, and the oldest man is Tomoji Tanabe of Japan, who is 113 years, 101 days, Coles said.