October 6 marks 15 years since my son Josh, age 15 1/2, was struck by a car. Heroic brain surgery and monumental prayers could not save his life.
His heart’s final beat was at 11:17 the next morning, October 7, 2002.
A month after Josh died, a memorial service took place at Lake Forest Academy where Josh was a sophomore. I took the stage in the auditorium to comfort the community. And to comfort myself and my family by honoring Josh. In planning the service, I was asked to share what all of us could do to best remember him. In typical Josh character, HE found a way to respond on his own behalf, “communicating” to me through my pen days before. Here’s what he wanted to share with his peers, yet illuminating for any age. It’s an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Rising in the Mourning: Ways to Celebrate Life.
I hope Josh’s wisdom and guidance bring you inspiration to make the
life in your years meaningful and loving…and filled with gratitude for
the gift of life.
I never expected to live for only 15 years. My mom has been busy quoting Abraham Lincoln on my behalf. He said, “It’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” Wise man he was…and he was correct.
I guess I did a lot in 15 years. My parents gave me great opportunities- to travel, to have the means to pursue a great education and to give me the tools to overcome difficulties and to be the best that I could be. And they gave me a lot of love and affection. And I think I gave a lot back, to my family and to my friends.
I could go into tons of details but you don’t have all day to hear the story of my life, so I’ll tell you what I think is most important to help you make the best of your lives.
1. Be kind to others. You may get annoyed at hearing the “Golden Rule” over and over again, but it is right. Even if you don’t care about what others do to you, still be nice to them. I put up with a lot of crap because of my food allergies. Somehow it didn’t make me mean but taught me to be nicer. Anyway, please be considerate of and nice to kids who have severe food allergies. It’s tough enough to deal with them on a daily basis…They need your support. Thanks to everyone at LFA, where my allergies were never a big deal. My mom would say to me that you can’t change other people’s behavior, but you can change your response to it. I was starting to understand what she meant. Just remember, nasty people don’t deserve your attention. Try to avoid them. There are plenty of nice people to spend your time with.
2. Remember to tell your parents and family that you love them and that you appreciate what they do for you. I know I did a good job with this and now I am happy about that. As for respect, for a teenager, I did OK. Although sometimes I was a bit rude to my mom when my friends were over, asking her to leave my room. But I know she was just trying to see what we needed and to make sure that we were having a good time. I know how much she cared.
3. Don’t forget to apologize when you’re wrong. It doesn’t cost anything and it sure makes the other person, as well as you, feel better. You’ll know when this is necessary. Just listen to your heart.
4. Do your personal best…In school, in sports and in life. And do it for you, not to impress anyone else. Impressing others is a waste of energy. It misdirects your efforts away from focusing on your own goals. As for school, work hard, but don’t drive yourself crazy. Society, especially in our environment, puts too much pressure on us about getting into college and stuff. But education is really important. So, just keep plugging away and do your best.
5. Ask for help when you need it. Kids have a lot of stress in their lives today- schoolwork, activities to keep up with, social pressures; not to mention the pressures of the world we live in. You don’t have to solve every problem yourself. Go to a friend, a teacher, a sibling…and of course, to your parents. Yeah, sometimes the last people you’ll go to are your parents. But there are many adults around you, especially here at LFA, who are eager to help you get through rough times.
6. Be honest. That doesn’t mean you have to tell everyone everything you think and feel. But when words do come out of your mouth, do your best to let them be words of truth…unless, of course, you would be hurting someone’s feelings. In the long run, and even in the short run, honesty is the best policy.
7. Drive safely. Believe me, it may feel cool to drive like you own the road, but a car can become a lethal instrument…I certainly know this fact. And follow road signs. They are there for a reason. If one more sign had been obeyed, I would be alive today. But it wasn’t and I’m not. So guys, drive safely and follow the rules. You may save a life.
8. Pursue a passion or many. And make sure it’s something you really like to do. Mine was sports and doing business on EBay and other trading sites. It wasn’t about the money…although that was a nice benefit…It was about the challenge and the fun. I learned about business, people (both honest and dishonest ones) and about life.
9. So, how can you remember me and celebrate my life? Have fun. Hopefully, your lives will be long, productive and happy. Sure, there will be struggles and hurdles along the way. But if you’re honest, kind, eat healthy at least sometimes, get some sleep, do your best, give love and are charitable…you should have a pretty good life. And be sure to listen to music. I can’t explain why now, but someday you’ll understand. Enjoy your family and friends. I know that I did.
10. Where I am is peaceful. I know I missed out on my future. It was getting really exciting. Oh, will you do me a favor? Root for the Suns and pray for the Bulls. So, thanks for being my friends. You are all awesome! And thanks to my advisor Grace Brown and to my teachers. And thanks to everyone at LFA for making my time here so great. And a special thanks to Mrs. Lindstrom and her staff for being so helpful about my allergies and making me so comfortable when it came to food. I want all of you to know that I was really happy at LFA. It is a very special place.
When you remember me, I hope that my smile brings a smile to you. Some of you are sad and I understand. I miss being with you. We had great times together. But, please continue where I left off…all too soon….and make the “life in your years” the happiest and most productive that you can.
…And as I closed my tribute and opportunity to speak with Josh’s school community, I suggested they speak to Josh, that he would be listening…just a breath away.