It is not how you start out in life that counts most, but how you finish. MANY do not finish life well. ALL of us live imperfect lives. There is much to deal with, much to process. We ALL make mistakes. ALL have regrets.
My father, Donald Drury, (1930 – 2015) has set me an excellent example of how to finish life well. He started as a shy bush kid from Lansdowne, near Taree. He studied by candlelight and did well enough to be allowed to attend and then complete secondary school in Taree (travelling by bicycle and train after he had helped milk the cows each morning). He then won a scholarship to Balmain Teachers’ College. His life journey included teaching, becoming a Methodist and Uniting Church minister, marrying Audrey Kendall and having 5 children, and then at age 59 having open heart surgery to repair his inefficient heart, and then a very active 25 year ‘retirement’. Dad loved people, and was a gifted pastor. He was patient and a good listener, and really felt for people going through difficult times. He was not a good organisational leader, and the politics and personalities of church life nearly killed him. Growing up, I struggled to respect dad because of his anxiety around taking tough leadership decisions. He spent way too much time on church matters and not enough with his children. He was often stressed and angry in private and then polite in public.
Released by medical retirement from the leadership role, Dad’s life opened up. He served as a fill in pastor for 3 months here and there all over Australia. He was perfect for this role and flourished. He and mum moved to Port Macquarie, bought a nice house a few streets from the ocean, and enjoyed 10 very happy years. He then seemed to know when it was time to move back closer to family in Sydney. Mum and dad loved the retirement village social life and the opportunity to be more involved in the day to day lives of children and grandchildren. He worked at mending relationships with his children, and making sure he was personally connected and involved with each of his 12 grandchildren. When scans revealed cancer in his bones, we had 6 very precious weeks of being close, sharing his decline and saying goodbye. He truly finished life well.
10 essential things you can do to make sure you finish life well
- Make every effort to do all that you can to mend and heal close relationships – he humbly rebuilt strong relationships with each of his 5 adult children
- Live proactively, ahead of the game – e.g. Dad signed Power of Attorney and Enduring Guardian papers at least 3 years before he took ill with cancer. So many families struggle with this.
- Learn to be content in your own skin – dad learned what he was good at, and then found a way to be released from work that screwed him up emotionally. In latter years, when asked to join the Residents’ Board at their retirement village in the midst of some contentious matters, he was wise enough to decline because he knew that kind of role was not good for him.
- Make time for people – dad enjoyed people. He would engage and listened intently to people. He would then remember the stories of their lives. He and mum had so many friends all over Australia that they rarely needed to hire a motel on their many travels. From Narrabri, NSW to to Weipa and Mt Isa in Qld, to Humpty Doo in N.T. to Carnarvon and Albany in W.A. they would arrange their itinerary around where they could stay with friends. Dad seemed to value people and see the best in them. He knew how to forgive people. Everyone was a friend. Even people who hurt him in the politics of church life he treated as life long friends.
- Enjoy simple pleasures – Dad loved to sit and do a jigsaw, or a Sudoku puzzle. He loved to play snooker, and indoor bowls. He loved to tend a garden, and always had a patch of ground somewhere growing beautiful flowers and produce. He would take a long walk every day. He followed sports and current affairs.
- Establish routines that suit your personality and your life – he loved his morning cuppa in the sun with mum almost as much as his afternoon nap. If he had a lot to do, he would still try to squeeze in a short nap before dinner. He and mum had routines around meal times, watching the NEWS, checking their diaries for family events.
- Be generous to people – Dad was always giving, by listening to people, by smiling and waving hello, by helping with activities and serving. As Executor of his estate, I had to write to or call over 20 organisations to which he had been giving significant donations every quarter. He never talked about it, he just gave when people asked or where he saw a need.
- Prioritise family – Dad would often say, “Family is everything.” He did not live as though this was true when we were young, but he certainly lived it for the last 25 years of his life. He and mum would check their calendar and purchase birthday cards each month for children, grandchildren and great grandchildren and all those who had married into the family. No-one ever missed out on getting their card in the mail before their birthday. He learned to listen and love each of us according to our personality. After his death we compared stories and found out all the different ways dad had loved us uniquely. He taught us all how to make sure we finish life well.
- Stick to your values – As he aged, Dad became more and more confident to be himself and to live out his values – faith, family, generosity, and caring for people.
- Keep your mind active – Dad was doing Sudoku puzzles in hospital up to the last 2 weeks of his life. He liked to update his journal a few times each week. He read newspapers, and followed current affairs and had a well considered opinion about most things. He loved to have free ranging conversations about all kinds of issues.
These 10 things are written as they came to mind rather than in order of priority. I am proud of my dad and how he worked hard to finish life well. He has set a great example for me and our family to follow. I have written this piece because I realise many do not have good role models in their life. I was extremely blessed, and it is my privilege to share that blessing with you today.