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A Life Well Lived


By: Michael Aun


They sent her home to die.  At 90 years of age, life does not owe anyone a refund. The natural cycle of life has an expiration date, despite all that one endures over a lifetime.

The doctors gathered outside her door to tell her loved ones there was nothing else they could do for her. Per her wishes, they took her off of life support and antibiotics, either of which could hasten her end.

She could overhear the doctor’s conversation and so sent word to let them know if they had something to say about her… then to say it to her face. That is the kind of fighter that my mother-in-law Rita Mary Thiel is.

So she went home to die… and spit in their eye. She not only survived… she even thrived in spite of odds that are clearly stacked against her. Bully for her. There is no question that her days are numbered, but it is heartening to see that she has never lost her will to win.

Life is not fair. I have been blessed in my seven decades on this earth. I have not endured a lot of loss. I have ten brothers and sisters and, despite the varying shapes and conditions of each of us, we are all still alive and kicking.

I did lose my mom on my 35th birthday. Mama Alice was only 60, the victim of that desperate disease that attacks so many with ruthless abandon. And like her father Elias S. Mack, Sr., who passed at the same age, she departed this earth far too soon. 

The God we worship does not rob us of our loved ones before their time, so says most religions. Still, I suspect living unhappily is much sadder than dying too soon.

Rita is blessed in so many ways, and also cursed in others. It broke my heart to watch her bury two children, an infant grandchild and a husband of some 65 years.

Her mind is as crisp as the day I met her. I told her when I visited her recently in intensive care: “Rita, the good news is you’re smart; the bad news is you’re smart… and you know exactly what is going on.” Any Registered Nurse with five decades of experience on the job as she has would know her situation.

When someone dies young like her daughter Julie at the age of 40, her beauty and youth still burns brightly in my mind today even though it has been a quarter century since I stood in the pulpit to eulogize her. She will always be young and she will always be beautiful to me.

Henry Fielding once said “It is not death, but dying, which is terrible.” Though brave and courageous as Rita is, it hurts my heart to watch her lose her battle eventually. Despite the way life deteriorates, the greatest loss is what dies inside us while we are alive.

Rita Thiel is alive and well in that department, an inspiration to all who bear witness to her battle with cancer. We can lose people without them dying. Emotional loss is real. Sometimes we are too proud to face that loss honestly. Not Rita Thiel.

While autumn is a gorgeous and beautiful time of the year, it is significant to note that everything is dying despite the natural and noble process. Rita does not worry about dying.  In fact, she privately confided to me she wants it to be over. That is the sign of a life well lived without regrets.

Perhaps Leonardo da Vinci said it best: “As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well used brings a happy death.” Rita… I’m surmising that Leonardo was thinking of you, my dear mother-in-law. I commend you of a life well lived.

 Michael Aun, CSP®, CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame® is the author of “The Great Communicator”