on death and living life to the fullest

There are so many things I want to write about right now. I have a long list of recent experiences to share, not to mention wanting to get back to things related to my time in Asia. But, sometimes, life gets in the way. We wish life was all sunshine and roses, but, unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

Last December, my family lost our grandfather on my mom’s side. He was a gruff man who built his legacy on a tow yard. I wrote about the experience here. Now, it looks like we may be losing my grandmother, “Nana,” too. Nana has spent more time in the hospital than out of it since my grandfather’s death, and just recently everything has gone downhill. Presently doctors are trying to keep her comfortable at a hospital in Ohio. We’re not sure how much more time she has to live.

Upon hearing the news last night, my brother Derek, who is himself a talented writer, sat down and penned (with a few minor edits) the following thoughts:

On Death and Living Life to the Fullest

By Derek Cyphers

Whatever happened to passing peacefully in one’s sleep? Is one of the few drawbacks to advancements in medicine that we can now prolong life further than it was meant to, ultimately leading to more suffering over time? At least for our family, this has probably been the hardest part. My first exposure to this came with our paternal grandmother, who fought cancer bravely, and painfully, for nine years before finally succumbing in 2003. More recently, it was our grandfather on our mom’s side, who was a shell of his true self due to mental and physical decline by the time he passed this last December.

Now our grandmother on the same side, affectionately called “Nana,” is in the hospital, and things are looking as bleak as ever. She’s a tough lady—a feisty, Depression Era, salt-of-the-earth Midwesterner—who is simultaneously one of the crassest and yet sweetest people you could ever meet. She has overcome health scares before, thanks to great doctors and her fighting spirit, but those incidents have taken their toll on her and our family. Death is never far from our minds, and yet, as integral as it is in our daily lives, we still struggle mightily to cope with it.

Undoubtedly, death is a facet of life that every person on Earth must confront at one point or another. In the end, we all get our chance to live our lives and then must fade away to allow those behind us to live theirs. To me, this brings specific emphasis to not the question of how we deal with death, but how we live!


My mom and Nana on the day of my (Jessica’s) college graduation, in 2007

What we do with the time we are given is of the utmost importance. Future generations inherit the fruits of our labor, whether positive or negative. Rob Bell, a favorite pastoral and spiritual influence of mine, dedicated an entire series of sermons to “Mastering the Art of Living” several years ago. Rob presents Jesus as a master of the “art of living” and explains how we can apply those same principles to our own lives—things like being “fully present” and living in a “rhythm.” Rob’s series approaches living life from a micro level. But what about the macro level? How do we approach life as a whole to get the most out of it?

Everyone’s path in life is different, but my set of circumstances and experiences has led me to develop, over the course of college and my first few years in the “real world,” the following general list of life priorities (in ascending order):

  • Achievements – What better way to leave the world a better place, to truly make a difference, than to achieve great things and provide future generations with the fruits of your labor and a positive example? History is full of examples of those who, by their incredible passion and hard work, have enriched the lives of those who have come after. There is no scale needed to define this: Whether you are Henry Ford who transformed transportation and business or a parent who loves unconditionally and works tirelessly to provide for your family—all roles are important.
  • Experiences – Achievements are the most likely way to positively influence the future, but they require a balance. If your achievements come at the expense of living your own life, have you really lived a full, meaningful life? It is entirely possible to spend your entire life improving the world without ever experiencing it for yourself. If this is the case, have you really profited the word? Or have you instead enriched future generations at the expense of your own? For this reason, I see experiences as a critical component of living a productive life: See the world, try new things, learn as much as possible. Take time to do what your heart desires!
  • People – No great achievements or experiences are likely to mean much in the twilight of our lives if we did not get to do those things for, or with, the people we love. Perhaps more than in any other area, our biggest impact on the world comes in our interactions with people. A trip of a lifetime with a best friend could mean so much more than the same trip alone. Achieving a seemingly impossible goal with the help of a great team could be far more enriching than doing it alone. To be sure, there will always be an important place in life for solitude—just see Jesus for an example—but, ultimately, I can think of no greater travesty than to achieve great things and experience the world but have no one to share it with.

Derek and his girlfriend, Cristina, on a recent trip to Canada

I don’t know what will happen with my dear Nana in the near future. I do know, though, that she’s managed nearly 85 years on this planet and made a tremendous impact on my parents and us grandkids. She also helped our grandfather run a successful business that provided other families with a living for more than 50 years. To me, that means she’s done a pretty darn good job with this life.

But my hope is that, every time we are forced to face the reality of death in this imperfect world, it will remind us of our opportunity to live our lives to the fullest. In this way, when we are knocking on Heaven’s door, we can know that we did our best to make the most of the time God gave us and that those left behind will be better off because of our efforts.

Thank you, Derek. You rock.



For more on life’s unique path, check out this interview with Scott Harrison, who went from party guru to founder of Charity:Water, an organization that helps developing nations get safe drinking water.

P.S. John Zande, it’s okay. I don’t expect you to like this. Still friends?

25 thoughts

  1. Your brother is talented. It was a very good write. Hope your family is doing well. You have my prayers.

  2. Derek writes well, and his hope is inspiring. Reminds me of a book I’m reading called “Proof of Heaven,” by Eben Alexander MD, the neurosurgeon who contracted e-coli meningitis and spent 7 days with a non-functioning cerebral cortex. His experiences while comatose, his unexpected recovery, and his methodical review of what happened left him convinced of an after-life. He began remembering his own patient’s ND experiences and experienced an epiphany about how hopeful and similar they all were given his experience.

    • Wow, Mike. That sounds really interesting… Weird, but interesting. I remember, after my rock climbing accident when I was essentially “out” for 3+ weeks, thinking I wasn’t afraid to die. I thought death would be just like going to sleep, like I was during those three weeks… I’ll have to check that book out.

      I’ll pay Derek your compliments. :) Thanks for commenting!

  3. Thank you Jessica for featuring the words of Derek. I am facing this same thing with my Mom. While heartbreaking to watch her decline further into dementia, I find a commonality that is comforting with those going through the same challenge. Love to your Mom as she takes this journey alongside her Mom.

    • Thank you, Terri. Maybe my mom will even read your comment. Yes, it’s hard. We only lost my grandfather such a short time ago, and my Nana seemed so strong then… She’s dear to me. She’s hilarious and crass and stubborn as an ox, but, as Derek said, she’s got this soft side, too. I will definitely write more about her later…

      I’m so sorry to hear about your mom. I didn’t know about her dementia. You and your family are definitely in my thoughts.

      • If there’s anything to be grateful about Nana’s passing, it is that it was fairly quick once we knew it was almost certain, and she was still Nana when she died. Our grandfather’s passing was much more prolonged, and his dementia had reduced him to only a part of who he once was, which I think made things that much harder. Thanks for reading and commenting Terri.

  4. very nicely stated… and even if “the end” is nearing, i am positive she will remain healthy and live on through the people who loved her and who she loved, and in all the great memories y’all have of her!

  5. Jessica (& Derek),

    This is 3 simple perspectives and understandings to face the monster or angel of death when it comes for you or loved ones. I love Derek’s (or his Pastor’s) “People” perspective the most! It fits nicely with my own. I too do not understand our society’s drive to prolong life beyond its intended length or quality….especially when “death” is merely a transition to something very new and very different; the stuff that intrigues a person like me! :)

    Great post Jessica! Thank you for sharing it.

    • And thank you for reading, Professor. I’m glad you got something out of it. I too agree that people are a very important part of life. That’s why I’m very glad I created this blog!

      I think maybe we try to extend our lives because we fear the unknown? Because, with all of the advancements of modern medicine, we’d like to think we can make ourselves immortal?

      • Given your Nana’s death last night I will hold off on my further thoughts/beliefs on death and show my respects wishing you and everyone sympathies and peace. *Hugs*

      • Thank you. That is probably for the best. Honestly, I have no wish to delve into what I do or do not believe about death and the after life (or any other controversial subject, for that matter) on my site. There are too many varying opinions out there, and who can really prove any of it? I don’t want to make enemies or start arguments on Shift. I’d rather make friends. :)

  6. In 2010, my family went through the exact same process with my grandmother, who outlived her husband by almost 17 years. She, too, was “a feisty, Depression Era, salt-of-the-earth Midwesterner” from Butler, MO, and I had the distinct privilege of living with her on the family farm for 6 years while I was in college. I’m touched by your brother’s words, and I wish you the best as you go through these life-changing experiences…

    • Thank you so much. My grandmother passed away tonight. It is a sad night for all of us, but a reality none can escape. My Nana was truly a hoot, as I’ll bet yours was, too, and I will miss her dearly… I’m so glad I got to talk to her briefly two days ago. I told her, “I love you, Nana.” And she said, “I know.”

    • Thank you, Mike. I’m always impressed by my brother’s talent. :) Been meaning to catch up with you again on your site, by the way. It’s just been a busy few days!

  7. *HUGS*
    it is never easy, losing a loved one, watching them suffer or slip away in pain or discomfort in their last days. may God grant you peace and hope that comes from Him..knowing that if your grandma is in Christ, He will provide her an eternity that is far more glorious than the temporary life she has had here on earth.

    and that no matter the hardships your family is enduring at the moment, He will carry you through them.

    you and your brother are both talented writers. press on.

    • Thank you so much, Sophia. My grandmother passed away tonight. She was never much interested in religion, but I know she believed. Now I have no fear entrusting her to God… She was a dear soul. I miss her already. But, yes. We will press on. :)

      • oh Jess… sending my condolences….
        what you’re going through, and what i wish to convey, feel so limited by words at this moment. may God be near to your family through this time.

      • Thank you so much. You are so sweet. We’ll be all right. My Nana is missed dearly, but that is because she was loved dearly. There will always be a hole now that she’s gone, but I’d rather that hole than to have never known her at all… God is good, even and especially in the difficult times.

        Bless you!

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