Deathbed Promises and the Anti-Serenity Prayer

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 asfiercely as anybody I’ve ever known. May their tribe increase!

I wrote in my grief book about her relentless deathbed campaign toenlist 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 . .

Sign up for our newsletter!


Latest News

General Church
Delegates attend opening worship at the 2019 United Methodist General Conference in St. Louis in February. Given escalating conflict in the denomination over LGBTQ inclusion, two bishops are pushing a plan to create two or three self-governing church groups, with The United Methodist Church remaining as an umbrella organization. File photo by Kathleen Barry, UM News.

2 bishops offer plan for denomination’s future

To deal with schism-threatening conflict over homosexuality, Bishops Bard and Jones favor making The United Methodist Church an umbrella for self-governing church groups.
Theology and Education
The Rev. Laceye C. Warner is Associate Dean for Wesleyan Engagement and the Royce and Jane Reynolds Associate Professor of the Practice of Evangelism and Methodist Studies at Duke University Divinity School, Durham, North Carolina.  Photo by Les Todd.

John Wesley reminds us that grace is available to all

Seminary professor Laceye C. Warner writes that Wesley’s instructions to modern Methodists would be the same as Methodists of his day: Extend God’s love and grace to others.
Theology and Education
David F. Watson is Academic Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs and Professor of New Testament at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. Photo courtesy of United Theological Seminary.

Wesley would call modern Methodists to return to their roots

Wesley knew that the people called Methodists were themselves liable to spiritual slumber. Seminary professor David F. Watson thinks Wesley would direct today’s church back to the intentional practices of the Methodist societies.