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Living and dying

By Merrill Ogden - | Sep 21, 2022

When someone would say, “I’m going to go take a shower,” my late father in law would often say, “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that.” My wife and I have carried on that tradition. In celebration of “dumb dad jokes,” I suppose.

Anyway, sometime back, I was taking a shower with the radio playing. I had KMTI Country Radio playing. The song “Don’t Die Young, Don’t Get Old” by “Little Big Town” came on.

The chorus is: ” Hey, gonna shine like gold, Take every turn on the winding road; Give me your hand, baby, don’t let go. Don’t die young, don’t get old. Don’t die young, don’t get old.

The song was written shortly after the funeral of the sister of one of the band members. It was released in 2017.

I thought of the song this week. It brought thoughts to me of how short life is for all of us in the grand scheme of things. To me, this is the case, regardless of the age of the person who passes away. In other words, I was thinking about death. (A great way to start the day, right?)

A good friend in my neighborhood, a “Greatest Generation girl” passed away recently. Her memorial services were held last week. She was 97 years old, a year older than Queen Elizabeth. I’ve mentioned her here before as having had an impact on many people, even after she felt useless.

Not too long before she passed away, I assisted her son-in-law with a requested “hands on the head” blessing. She was asked, “Why do you want this blessing?” Her reply was something like, “I want the Lord to know that I’m still here and I don’t want to stay. I’m ready to go!”

It was good news when word came of her passing. There is still some grief to deal with, but the strong feeling was as the old Indian expression goes, “Today is a good day to die.” (Which presumably means that we should always be prepared to die, and have no regrets)

Unfortunately, other deaths are harder to process. This past week people in our circle of friends had a tragic death in their family. It’s a difficult and grief filled time for them.

In all of my thoughts, I was reminded of the sudden death a few years ago of Elder Von G. Keetch, a General Authority Seventy of the LDS Church. He was a renowned attorney and executive director of the church’s public affairs department.

The 57-year-old was thought to be in good health. He died of what were apparently surprise complications from past cancer treatments and a recent respiratory infection. He and his wife were in Sanpete the weekend before his passing on a Friday.

Elder Keetch told several interesting stories and taught good lessons. One lesson he taught, that I continue to remember, was about how easy it is to become distracted in life.

He told of one Saturday morning when he and his wife were to be at a mid-morning event. He told his wife, Bernice, that he had a quick chore to do before he got ready to leave. He needed to spray the fruit trees in the back of their yard.

When he got to the shed where the equipment and supplies for spraying were, he discovered that the shed door was hanging by a single wood screw. He thought that he could hurry to the garage and get some replacement screws. He could quickly take care of the problem, so the door wouldn’t crash down on one of his kids.

Arriving at the garage, he found that his tools, screws, nuts and bolts, etc. were scattered all over the floor. The kids hadn’t put things away after doing something. He figured he could quickly gather things up and put things away. He didn’t want to get a flat tire from an odd nail or screw when he backed out of the garage.

In the process of gathering things up, he spotted the electrical tape. That reminded him that he had seen the insulation coming off of a wire on the hot tub when he had been out there with his sons the previous night. He’d better quickly take care of that before someone got electrocuted.

At the hot tub, he discovered that the boys had left the cover open and a couple of bushels of leaves had blown into the tub. Oh boy! If he didn’t hurry and get those out of there, they’d suck down into the pump and burn it up and ruin it.

The screen net for cleaning the hot tub was back at the shed in the corner of the lot. On his way there, the automatic sprinkling system came on. That was no big deal. He was used to dodging sprinklers. But, the head on one of the sprinklers popped off and there was a 25-foot geyser that needed immediate attention.

He could take care of that in quick order because he had an extra sprinkler head on hand. He shut off the water. He was lying in the mud, after having dug up the sprinkler, struggling with the water pipe when he heard something.

He heard the sound of his wife clearing her throat dramatically from the balcony on the back of the house. He looked up at her from his position sprawled in the mud. She was in her Sunday best clothes and backlit by the sun, which was peeking over the roof of the house.

She asked, in a tone which showed she already knew the answer to the question, “Did we get distracted this morning?” Elder Keetch said that his thoughts went to a hope that this moment wasn’t a foreshadowing of things to come. He hoped that it wasn’t symbolic of him being left behind in the mud while his angel wife moved on to heaven.

As it happened, Bernice had given her husband enough warning that he had time to leave all the distractions behind and get cleaned up in time for the event. He was grateful.

His story taught several lessons, but the most important, I believe, is to not become so distracted with so many things that nothing of importance ever gets done. All of us face those kinds of challenges in our lives.

I like the concept that Pulitzer Prize winning author Willa Cather puts forth in her 1927 novel “Death Comes for the Archbishop.” In the story set in the mid-1800s, Father Latour becomes the archbishop of Santa Fe and dies “of having lived.”

I believe that’s the sentiment of the song, “Don’t Die Young, Don’t Get Old.” Elder Keetch did a lot of living in his relatively short life. It’s a pity for those he left behind that there weren’t more years spent here. — Merrill

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