Reflections on Life and Death

My interest in life and death started when I was a teenager and my grandmother moved in with us.[1] My mother took care of her for two years before she died of cancer. I watched as my mother balanced her career managing a medical lab with continuing to run a busy house with three of her seven children still at home, all while she took on the difficult job of helping her own mother pass through this the final stage of life. I watched my mother’s acts of kindness and selflessness. I saw, in real life, what the Bible means when it says, “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee”.[2]

Thirty five years later it was our turn. My siblings and I had the honor of caring for our 86 year old mother suffering from significant dementia in her final years, just as she had cared for her mother. Just as I had noticed my mother’s actions, my children noticed ours. Our actions speak louder than our words, and they last longer in our hearts. My hope is that when I get older they will care for me.

There are many good organizations to help those who are in the final stages of life. Hospice was helpful for both of my parents, and so I have chosen to “pay that forward” by becoming a Hospice volunteer. It brings me joy to play my guitar and sing for the elderly patients to whom I am assigned in the Tri-Valley area, and I always hope that I helped make that day brighter and more joyful for them.

Before my parents passed away they took the time to have their affairs put in order to make it easier on their children. They updated their wills and they purchased a cemetery plot. They also left us with a Medical Directive. They even gave us some ideas on what to do for their funerals. It was a great gift to us during very difficult times, and as they did in life, they helped us in their death and made things easier for us.

When they passed away we each inherited a small amount of money. Just as my mother had taught me by her actions how to care for a dying parent, so they also taught me by their actions how to ease the pain and burden for my children when it is my time to go. I used some of the money I inherited to hire a capable member of the CCCBA to update my wife’s and my will, trust and Medical Directives. We even bought burial plots. It may seem irrelevant, but the view from our plots looking over the Orinda/Lafayette Valley is spectacular. It is my hope that this is one more thing my children will not have to do while they are grieving. It is our last gift to them.

In summary, let’s learn from the elderly. They have much to teach us about life, joy and preparing for our next journey. Let’s serve them and by so doing maybe our days will be longer– and if not longer, at least more fulfilled as we prepare for that inevitable day when we each must pass.


Philip M. Andersen is the Managing Attorney of the State Farm Insurance Company In-House Litigation Department in Pleasanton (Philip M. Andersen & Associates). He has extensive litigation and trial experience defending policy holders in personal injury lawsuits. He has been managing in-house insurance litigation offices since 1994. Contact Phil at (925) 225-6838 or philip.andersen.nx3z@statefarm.com.


[1] The views expressed in this article are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer State Farm.
[2] Exodus 20:12

Filed Under: President's MessageSpotlight

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