Every Gift But Length of Years

An untimely death has the author rethinking the meaning of life.

Mood music for this post: “Alive” by P.O.D.:

After JFK Jr., his wife and sister-in-law were killed when the plane they were in hit the ocean in the summer of 1999, the late Sen. Edward “Uncle Teddy” Kennedy said at the memorial service that his nephew had “every gift but length of years.”

It reminds me of an interview done years ago with Rose Kennedy in which the matriarch was asked if she would have preferred more normal lives for her dead children had it meant a longer life. Here answer was no. The lives her children had were full and left a mark on history, even if they didn’t make it to old age. She also noted that there’s no messing with God’s plan.

I’ve been thinking about these things since having coffee with my dear friend Penny Richards this morning.

Her only child died in a motorcycle accident late last year, and it has made a lot of us think about the fragility of life and how every moment we’re here counts. As Henry Rollins sang, “There’s no such thing as downtime. All there is is lifetime.” [I’m not sure I got the lyric down perfectly, but that’s the essence of it.]

My friend’s daughter, 25-year-old P.J., had been working at Mass. General Hospital and was well on her way to a career in the medical field when the end came. She was there about four months, but made a huge impression on those she worked with. The proof is in the tree that’s been planted in her honor there.

I read Penny’s blog every day, and let me tell you: The stuff she’s writing is going to help a lot of grieving people get through their melancholy in years to come. I so wish she didn’t have to be the one to set the example because she has to carry around deep pain. But for those who suffer from depression or go through any brand of adversity, her experiences must be shared.

Do yourself a favor and read her blog.

Also, take some time to learn about her daughter. I never really knew P.J., though I remember her hanging around the Eagle-Tribune newsroom all the time when her mother was a lifestyles writer and I was night editor.

I’ve since been inspired by her life story, as told my many people. She died too soon, but when she lived, she really lived, and brightened the lives of everyone around her in the process.

It’s a story that really helps us understand how to spend the time God gives us, whether its 100 years or just 25.

Which brings me back to that Kennedy quote: “Every gift but length of years.”

This in turn makes me think of some words of wisdom often repeated by Father Michael Harvey at my parish, All Saints in Haverhill, Mass. [Funny I should mention Father Mike and Kennedy in the same entry. Father Mike is not a Kennedy fan.]

Father Mike often tells us that our job as parents is to get our children into Heaven, whether the child lives to old age or dies young.

By that measuring stick, Penny and Dave Richards did their job and then some.

And their “pretty girl,” as Penny calls her in her own blog, rubbed off on enough people in her short life that the world in general has been left a better place than what she was born into.

That’s how I feel, anyway.

Our instinct as parents is to shield our children from danger. But sometimes a long, safe life isn’t in God’s plan. Since that’s the case, we need to instill in them the goodness they need for whatever may come.

This might sound weird, even preachy, to some of you. But it’s what I believe and where my head and gut have taken me today.

Thanks for indulging me.


2 thoughts on “Every Gift But Length of Years

  1. There is no greater grief than that for the loss of a child, regardless of how little or how long they were among us. Your friend Penny is indeed helping a lot of others come to terms with a wound that does not heal.

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