Monday, July 23, 2012

Death and Dying

I missed a day yesterday writing in the blog. It was Sunday and we went to church and then kept the newest grandson so our son and his wife could go to church.The night before we had supper with our friend who is battling pancreatic cancer. Having been with so many folks lately who are in the final drama of life, I've been doing a lot of thinking about death and dying.

These thoughts began several years ago as I sat with my aunt the last 48 hours of her life sleeping on the cot in her room to call the nurses for her when she needed them. Finally the time was near and my sister who is a cardiologist joined me at her bedside. Of course, my sister could read all the monitors around the beds and knew what was happening. I only knew from the expressions on the experts faces.

I looked up at the TV with some inane show filling the air of the room with a scene that would not have been pleasing to the God she would soon face and it suddenly struck me what an awesome moment we were sharing with our dear aunt. I thought back to stories I had heard of her as a little girl and reminded her of the story of the goat cart she, her big sister and brother got for Christmas. Our daddy wound the goat's tail round and round and when he let go, that goat took of "lickety split." She smiled.

I thought of how our grandmother and grandfather had dressed her on Sundays and made sure she made it to the little Methodist church her grandfather had helped build in the small community in Furman, Alabama, where her father was a doctor. They had prepared her for this moment. They had prayed for her all of her life and trusted that those early lessons had "taken."

But they were not there. Our aunt was childless, 79 years old and on her death bed. My sister and I were our grandparents' surrogates in that room to surround her with love and remind her of the love that never lets you go.

I turned the TV off. I'm not a preacher, but I love to sing the songs that make our souls reach out and take us to Heaven's door. And so we sang. We didn't remember all the words or some of the tunes, but we sang.

Death is the last scene on the stage that is our life. It is the last example we have to set for our children and the last gift a child can give to their parent. It is not to be taken lightly. I think the Catholics have it right on that issue. It is a good thing to reflect back on our life and look once more at those we love to make sure we've given them the right directions to meet us where we are going.

I shared this epiphany with a friend. When she knew her life was about to see its final curtain she began calling all of her grandchildren in over the last weeks of her life to make sure where they stood in their spiritual life. When the Hospice nurse told them the end was near, the whole family gathered round sitting on her bed singing the hymns of her childhood, the ones that spoke to her in the church in which her parents had raised her. They comforted her -- and them.

When my own mother died my brother and I were holding her hand, my son was beside her sobbing out his grief at losing the best friend he'd ever had, and I was singing what words I could squeak out of a throat constricted with the pain of losing her.  Daddy sat up on his own hospital bed looking dazed and confused. My two daughters were just coming into the room. "Look to the light, Mother. Do you see Muddin (her mother)?" I asked. She looked beyond me and was gone.

I did not have the privilege of being with my father, his death was so sudden. But I did talk with him a lot about how proud I was of the way he lived his life and that he made us proud even as he suffered through the loss of control of every body function and was left with round the clock sitters to tend him. He handled it with dignity and pride. At this hardest part of his life, I assured him, he was setting an example even then. At Christmas time of his 93rd year, he went quickly with a ruptured aneurism.

I was not wise enough to do for my mother-in-law what I learned nearly thirty years later and I feel badly that I did not appreciate the importance of those moments.

None of us get out of here alive, you know. Death is the final scene on the great drama that is life.

I am reminded that our Will is actually our last opportunity for sharing our testimony and that is why it is traditionally called the LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT. Somehow, I think it helps to realize that death is not a passive thing that happens to us. Death is still an active part of living out the last scene before we are called to a different life behind the curtain of the action on the stage of this world. When writing a play the last act is the culmination of all that came before, a time to tie up the loose ends.

It is this act for which the earlier scenes were played.

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