By Tim Urness, Alexandria, MN

Death, dying. It is inevitable. At some point we will take our final breath on this earth and move on to the next world. It's unavoidable and not something we can control. It can be an unpleasant subject to speak or write about so most tend to avoid the topic altogether. I am glad our birth certificates don’t come with an “end date” already printed on them. That way we don’t know when our life will end. We just know it will.

When we lose loved ones, the end seems to come with a wide variety of emotions (sadness, hurt, regret, relief, peace, confusion, fear, grief, the list goes on), and everyone's experience is different.

In today’s column, I want to share about two very special people in my life who passed away in recent years and the impact their deaths have had on my family and me. In my perfect world, these two people would be alive and we would’ve just celebrated Easter together with food and laughs. We would be planning upcoming summer vacations and get-togethers for years to come…but that’s no longer possible.

Sam (my nephew and Godson)

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My nephew, Sam, is the son of my sister, Kari, and my brother-in-law, Jason. He was born in Colorado in 2004, and my wife, Carrie, and I were honored to be his baptismal sponsors. Our family was so excited when Sam and his family moved from Colorado to Prior Lake in 2007. They would be closer to family, which allowed us more opportunities to spend time together. Sam is a tall slender kid with a huge smile. (He reminds me of me back in the day.) He is extremely smart (not reminiscent of me...). He loved playing drums in the marching band, participating in all sports, video games, and running around the neighborhood with his pack of buddies. Sam’s family loved to travel, and he was able to visit Mexico six times in his short life.

Sam’s life changed in an instant. On Feb. 3, 2019, Sam and his dad, Jason, were driving to Buck Hill to go skiing, something they'd done numerous times. Sadly, this time a 42-year-old mother was texting and driving. She ran a stop sign and killed my nephew, Sam. My wife, Carrie, and I raced to Minneapolis with our three kids to be with Sam and his family during his final moments. We were in shock. I kept thinking, “This stuff doesn’t happen to my family; this ONLY happens to other families.” This is the stuff you see in the newspaper or TV shows, not in real life. Sadly, this DID happen to us. Sam was 14 years old on his way to do something he loved, and in the saddest split second, his life ended. Two years later, we are all still in shock and learning how to do life without his physical presence.

Sue (my mom)

Many people say, “I have the world’s greatest mom!” but they are all wrong. They couldn’t have because I do. Sue Urness is a loving, caring mom who was open and honest with everyone. She and my dad were married for 52 years and lived their entire lives in Winona. My mom loved her home (she decorated it so perfectly) and enjoyed her many coffee clubs and girlfriend groups. She was a devoted mother and grandma who was always willing to help. (In fact, she always helped me proofread and edit my college papers and these Echo Press columns.)

In August 2020, my mom caught an annoying cough that continued to get worse and worse. She struggled with it for months. This past January, doctors discovered she had a very rare thyroid cancer (anaplastic), and, sadly, it had moved into her bones. She was immediately put on hospice in a place where she wanted to be: in her own home. She was in hospice for five weeks, and during that time we filled her life with love, stories, hugs, laughter and peaceful moments of silence. I wouldn’t call this time frame “fun,” but I cherish the time we had. My mom died March 7, 2021, with her immediate family right by her side. It was amazingly peaceful. Her favorite song, “Here I Am Lord,” was playing at the exact moment she took her last breath.

Both losses had a tremendous impact on my family and me. I'm not usually one to show a lot of emotion. Honestly, I tend to avoid anything sad or uncomfortable. Yet, as I get older and (hopefully) wiser, I feel like a book slowly opening more, sharing more feelings and emotions. Everyone says we should not take life for granted. We should live life to the fullest and live each day as if it's your last. I've always believed that, but I now also know that it's losses like these that really make you reflect on how you really live that life.

It makes me think of the Tim McGraw country song, “I Called Mama," where he sings about trying to not be too busy and taking the time to connect with loved ones. The lyrics reference calling because at some point we won’t be able to. We don't know how long the special people in our lives will be around. I wish I could call my mama now. And Sam too! Please go make some of your calls right now!

Tim Urness is actively involved in service groups in the Alexandria area. “In the Know” is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.