Deathbed Promises and the Anti-Serenity Prayer

Waiting to hear the vote on our late mother’s petition (on the consent calendar, May 1)

This morning, my brother and I fulfilled a deathbed promise to our dear mother.  This picture was taken right after we voted and as we waited for the results. (Petition text and rationale are below.)


As our mother lay dying a few years ago, she worked relentlessly to wrest a promise from her children to do something with her death.  She went from fabulous health to her deathbed within a few months; holes in our healthcare system were, she was convinced, a contributing factor in the ruin of her health. She wanted us to work for more just provision of healthcare.


She also wanted me to write a book, which I ultimately did – (a book on grief available at the Cokesbury store here for an amazing $6.35.)


In the book, I write about my mother’s insistence that we do something with her death. “On an ordinary day, an argument with my mother was a dicey proposition but, at that point, the odds were, without doubt, against us.  Though weakened in body, she carried enormous negotiating power; deathbeds will do that for you.” (When the One You Love is Gone, Abingdon Press, 2012)


One of the small ways we fulfilled our deathbed promise was to write this General Conference petition with the help of our sister and our three spouses.   Although a small gesture, it felt wonderful and sad to do something for other mother – especially on this the first General Conference since 1968 when our parents, John and JoAnn Miles, have not been in attendance.


I have thought many times this week about the relentless fighting spirit they brought to their work in the general and local church. They were amazing and could love and fight as fiercely as anybody I’ve ever known.  May their tribe increase!


I wrote in my grief book about her relentless deathbed campaign to enlist her children’s help in the healthcare debate.  She embodied a kind of anti-serenity prayer:


“Mom never had the serenity to accept the things she could not change, but she certainly had the courage to change the things she could. And if, lying in her hospital bed, she was in no position to change some things, she could, instead of serenely accepting it, enlist her family and friends to go out and do some changing for her. Mom lived an alternate, not-so-serene, version of the serenity prayer:


“God grant me the courage to change the things I can, the persuasiveness to convince others to change the things I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference. To h_ _ _  with serenity.”

I’ve pasted the text and rationale of our petition below.

Grace and Peace, my friends –




Access to Basic Health Care for All (20765-CB-¶162.V)

Amend ¶162V by addition  
Following the words:  
 “. . .  We believe it is a governmental responsibility to provide all citizens with health care.”
Add the following as a new sub paragraph within ¶162V 
We encourage hospitals, physicians, and medical clinics to provide access to primary healthcare to all people regardless of their healthcare coverage or ability to pay for treatment.


Suggested Title: Access to Basic Care for all Persons – JoAnn’s Petition


The right to basic healthcare is dependent on the cooperation of medical institutions. In the absence of fully-funded government healthcare, many lack access to primary care. Even those with coverage are sometimes denied basic treatment. The death of our mother, JoAnn Miles, was precipitated by the absence of basic care. A United Methodist clergy spouse, she had both medicare and the supplemental insurance provided by our annual conference.  She was a part of a medical system that decided to limit medicare patients and subsequently, she had a very difficult time finding a new physician in that system or another.  A significant delay in basic treatment precipitated a series of healthcare crises that led to her rapid decline, going from excellent health to critical condition and then death in a few months.  Basic primary care early in her illness would likely have saved not only our mother’s life but also well over $300,000 in crisis care after she was hospitalized. This story is far too common.  We should encourage hospitals, physicians, and medical clinics to provide access to primary, basic healthcare to all people regardless of their healthcare coverage or ability to pay for treatment.



Date: September 25, 2011

Rebekah L. Miles, Elder

Arkansas Annual Conference

Perkins School of Theology

John Miles, Elder

Arkansas Annual Conference

First United Methodist Church of Jonesboro . .



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  1. Rebekah_Miles

    Thanks to Church and Society Legislative Committee B for considering this and putting it on the consent calendar.

    1. Susan Miles


  2. Mary Beth Taylor

    Praying the UMC can be a vehicle of change!

  3. Wendy Lynne Efird

    JoAnn lives! Thank you for the sunshine this news brings!

  4. Rebekah_Miles

    Good to hear from you, Mary Beth and Wendy. Thanks for your prayers and encouragement

  5. Mary Balagia

    Thank you so much. What a wonderful legacy and hopefully a lasting tribute to your mom.

  6. Marybeth Sanders

    I am so glad! I purchased the book today.

  7. Twila Gibbens

    Blessings to both you and John. This personal witness by you and your siblings informs and inspires. Well done, good and faithful servants of Jo Ann and Jesus.

  8. Len Delony

    Thanks for posting this! Amen and amen…

  9. Len Delony

    Reinhold Niebuhr is said to have written “Anything worth doing takes more than one lifetime to achieve.” I think we are supposed to let go of our ego and self-righteousness, but there is a place for righteous anger. God doesn’t ask us to fix things, but to persist in our unique calling and be faithful. It seems that dear JoAnn is still doing that….even in and through her dying…

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