I visited 93 year old Bob at the hospital last week. I sat holding his hand for about ten minutes. Then he spoke. He told me he didn’t want to keep me from my afternoon plans and would I please leave. Since it was hard to understand him, I reiterated what I thought he had told me and he said, “Yes, it’s time for you to go.” I told him I loved him, and left. He died twenty-four hours later. I wasn’t surprised.
At the moment I have several friends who are very ill, either in the hospital or in hospice. What’s going on here? It goes with having friends and with belonging to a church. If it weren’t for church, my list would be shorter, and my life less rich. By rich, I mean filled with deep meaning and compassion.
I consider it a privilege to be present to people who are ill or dying. Hospice is one way I learn that dying is part of living.
“The dying process is a process created by God to release the forces of divine energy within the soul that have always been there.” Thomas Keating, a faithful Christian monk who has spent his 93 years discerning such things, offers this wisdom. My hospice experience opened me to the truth that God embraces the dying and takes them to Himself, and, that in some mysterious way they know God is with them.
As I sit in my sunny back yard, how easy it is to resonate with Keating’s profound understanding. Dietrich Bonhoeffer might warn me of ‘cheap grace’. And yet, when I turn on the news, I am confronted with the ‘costly grace’ experienced by those shot down or run down. My faith must remain bold and courageous, so I can continue to believe that God is with those who have been given only an instant to be embrace by God before the divine energies are released. In some mysterious way, perhaps because they are so horrendous, these atrocities affirm my faith.
Here is today’s cottage-by-the-sea blog.
Four years ago my mom took her final breath, died, passed away. There are myriad ways of saying it. Died feels final and clinical; final breathe softens it. For me, however, passing away feels more like what my mom did, but I want to add ‘to a better place’, whatever that means? I don’t know, no one knows, but many of us believe that something beyond this earthly exist, and that it is good. Christianity declares it, and those of other faiths, as well as agnostics and atheists, have a sense that death is not final. For many believing that death is a big black hole is too frightening. For everyone, there are the memories.
As a Christian I want to add that I definitely believe that physical death is not the end. I have no idea what this means or what it is like, other than to say that it is of the spirit, not of the mind/body. Afterlife is not for the living to know, understand or experience. Having hope and faith is enough. It is the peace of God that passes all understanding.
“What is your favorite project?” was today’s question posed by Br. Curtis Almquist from the Society of St. John the Evangelist’s Lenten on-line series. Fine, I think, I have projects, in fact I’m a project person. But Br. Curtis went on to express the value of projects with closure, such as bread making, versus on-going projects such as relationships. This idea of projects with closure startled me because one of the things I like to do, one of my projects shall I say, is to visit the elderly and the dying. I find deep satisfaction when I sit with someone during their last days of life. Our relationship has unique, immediate closure.
Soon I will be off to be with two friends: my friend age 96 who is dying, and my friend, her daughter who is keeping watch. It will be a poignant yet peaceful time.
Once someone has decided to let go and go to God, a canopy of calm surrounds the room. The struggle is over and the peace of God that passes all understanding floods every nook and cranny and embraces every soul.
For whom are memorial services? I know that’s an awkward sentence, but I trust that you know what I mean. More awkward, however, is the answer to that question. Sometimes we want to respect the wishes of the deceased. I have a friend who, in honoring her mother’s desire, didn’t attend her funeral. And yet, she accepted that we had one at church.
Yesterday I attended a service for Doris at the assisted living facility where she had lived. Many of her friends, who can’t get to the church service on Saturday, wanted to remember Doris and say good-bye. Although we might say that both of these services are for Doris’ friends and family, I believe that she would be pleased as well.
I’ve been praying for a long-time friend who has been diagnosed with cancer. At this point the prognosis isn’t clear, but with a cancer diagnosis there is always concern, life changes. Although we can’t be precise about how it will go, we know how important a positive attitude is. This friend has always been a church goer, and so I am praying that her faith will help her settle into a peace that passes all understanding.
One of the reasons I was drawn to hospice work was my interest in how Christians deal with impending death as they walk into the valley of the shadow of death. Does their belief in an afterlife give them peace as they face death? Can they arrive at a conscious state where they feel no evil? Do they keep believing in heaven? Although each person’s answers and particularities are unique, one thing is constant. People facing death or difficult situations invariable say that the prayers of others help them know that they are not alone
I’ve agreed to set up one of the Stations of the Cross for the Good Friday service at my church. Focusing on Stations of the Cross is not particularly common to Protestant churches, and certainly to the UCC, but the incidents they represent aren’t. After all, they are in Scripture.
I have chosen station # 1 (according to the form my church is using): “Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.” Matthew 26: 36-46; Mark 14: 32-42; Luke 22:40-46. In the story Jesus asks his disciples to sit with him in his time of trial and to pray. But each time they fall asleep, and each time Jesus admonishes them.
In my station I am going to concentrate on Jesus’ words in Matthew 14:38:
Then he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.’
How does this apply to my life? Is there someone I know that I can sit with, someone who is dying, or grieving deeply, or both? How can I stay awake with them? Can I be with them as a listener? Can I keep quiet and listen when they want to talk, and when they are silent?
I’m going to suggest that each visitor to the station think of a person they know, and in the week after Easter go sit with them and do their best to stay awake and listen.
My dad would have been 109 on February 20th; he left us in 1984 but the memories are palpable. The last thing he said to me was, “Oh, Bobbi, I’m so glad you’re here. You’re my spiritual director.” I had come to visit, which I did every few weeks toward the end, and he was still up and about and very cognizant of what was happening to him (prostrate cancer). I don’t know which memory is more vivid, his words or his smile and welcoming outstretched arms as he walked across the yard to greet me. Blessings, for sure.