Build Good Memories Today

Once upon a time, while chatting with a fellow teacher about how to engage our college students in their journey to academic success, we found ourselves in a discussion of the types of assignments that evoked strong student responses.

I asked my friend, who taught health courses, if there was 1 assignment that stood out over time. He thought a few moments... "Yes," he replied. 'Which class?" I asked.

The class was Death and Dying. The assignment was to write your own obituary. I thought that was an interesting task for young, healthy adults.

Celebration of life

I spent many years teaching these students and hiring them for jobs that I supervised on campus. Only once did I have to fill out paperwork to terminate a student’s employment based on death. He was killed on the freeway by a driver who drove up the off-ramp that he was driving down.

My student employees all showed up for a celebration of his life. Several stories began with "remember when" or "my favorite memory is." There were smiles and warm feelings that shifted to more somber topics. One student expressed anger toward the person who drove the wrong way on the ramp and others nodded in agreement.

There was concern for this young man’s family and girlfriend. There were questions about clearing his dorm room and funeral details. Young people are in the midst of living.

We concluded our time together by slowly replacing tears with silly stories and laughter. Our young friend was a lover of life and we vowed not to leave that place in any mood other than grateful.

Remembering a movie scene

As bizarre as this may sound, discussing death and dying brought to mind a scene in the movie Pollyanna. Mrs. Snow was sure she was on the brink of death and spent all of her time in bed, selecting her coffin, and planning her funeral.

Pollyanna brought her some quilted squares to sew together so she would be able to contribute the quilt to an upcoming town event raising money for the children’s home. Mrs. Snow was not impressed that Pollyanna thought she could and would do such a thing.

Pollyanna’s retort was a frustrated outburst that went something like this, "You should stop focusing on dying and be glad you are living. See if I care! I am not going to visit you any more."

What do others think?

My wandering thoughts started with a class assignment about writing an obituary. Then they moved to a student’s death. They finally led me to recall a childhood movie and brought me up short when I pondered Pollyanna’s frustration with Mrs. Snow.

I am not immediately dying, but I have Parkinson’s disease (PD). It is in my daily thoughts because it affects my daily life. Do others think I am too focused on PD? Have I been overly negative like Mrs. Snow? These questions made me think about what others would write in my obituary.

Focus on creating memories

I have heard many persons with Parkinson’s credit the disease with changing their life for the better. Perhaps the diagnosis helps them put things in perspective. In drafting my own obituary, I pondered what would be prominent if nothing changed vs if I focused more on creating special memories.

Stories that begin with "Once upon a time," like I started this article, usually end with "They lived happily ever after." I cannot alter the past, but even with Parkinson’s as an unexpected co-author, I can script as many good memories as possible from this day forward. I plan to make that part of my conscious choice to live "happily ever after."

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