…a time to heal…

We sat on his back porch, David* and I, thinking and talking about life and death, living and dying, and, without specifically saying the word, healing…  He had always enjoyed being outside, but as his life was slowly ebbing away, he was finding so much more beauty in the creation around him than he had ever noticed before.  He was grasping at life, even as his was being taken from him.

“For the first time,” David said, “I feel as though the cancer really has a hold on me.”

This was not my first visit with David, and I could see, even without his having said so, that his disease process was taking its toll on his body.

David continued to share with me how he had been re-establishing contact with family members, some with whom he had not spoken in years… his mother and his brothers and sisters and his now adult children… Over the past few weeks, they had all been coming to visit.  There was still one sister that he’d spoken with, but who had not yet been able to get down to visit. A time had been set though, and within the next few weeks, she would be coming…

I knew that he had already discussed with his mother his funeral and memorial services… who he wanted to officiate… where the services would be held… what he wanted them to be like… where his remains would go… things of this type. Other things he was getting set up and in place as well…

As our visit ended in prayer, knowing he was dying, and that there wasn’t anything that would change that, he said:

For the first time in a long time, I feel really good on the inside.

Healing, in the midst of encroaching death…

A sacred time…

 

*not his real name

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Not All Christmas Memories are Happy Ones…

Tuesday, 1/25/2011

The Call

Got a call today from University Village…  Dad has been sent to the hospital (UCH)…  “Why?”  “He isn’t real responsive… you know he hasn’t been eating or drinking a lot lately… we think he’s just dehydrated.”

Talked with Joe…  set up paperwork for Family Medical Leave stuff and left work early…  Called Harrell to go sit with Dad in the ER… left work to get ready and go to Tampa…  Something tells me I need to go…

Dropped my cell phone – can’t see anything on the screen… seems to still be working, but can’t really tell cause the screen is black…  of all days for this to happen!!  I need a working cell phone!!  Stopped by a Verizon Wireless place on the way home…  got a brand new cell phone…  they were so nice, just replaced the whole thing…

Continuing home to get packed and leave…  saw (Pastor) Tony’s car at church… stopped to let him know I was leaving and ask for prayer…

Home…  packing…  dogs going with me…  oh yeah, gotta call Penny…  need to arrange to get keys to her house…

Almost packed and on the way…  ER doc calls…  “How aggressive should treatment be for your dad?” (or something like that)…

“How serious is this?”

“He has had a serious heart attack…  his blood count is very low…  I’d give him a transfusion, but I don’t think his heart could handle it…  he almost kicked me when I touched his abdomen…  kidneys are failing…”

Yep, this is serious…  and at University Village they thought dad was just dehydrated??!!

“Dad is a DNR… and he does have an aortic aneurism that they have been watching for years… at this point in time, what do you think, doc?”

“I think the less done the better for him…  let’s see what happens.  Probably won’t explore the aneurism too much.”

“Ok…  and the man that is sitting with dad now is a family friend…  you can tell him anything you’d tell me…”

Ok…  gotta get in to Tampa…  gotta get Mom to the hospital to see dad…  he is probably dying…  car is packed…  on my way…  stop for gas…

Call Iris to go sit with Mom til I get there…  tell Iris what is happening…  called Mom to let her know that Dad has had a heart attack and is being admitted to the hospital and that I am on my way…  she doesn’t understand what I am saying…  I asked the nurse to tell her…

“You want me to tell her THAT??”

“Yes!  And tell her I am on my way.”

Call Penny and let her know what is going on… Penny is still in St. Pete (at work), but will get home about same time I will…

Got to Penny’s…  unloaded stuff and dogs…  I am glad I brought Buster and Nugget…  it almost feels like they are the only constant in my life right now…  I feel as though I will need their physical presence with me…  dogs are good “people” to talk to…

Got to University Village…  Iris and Raul are with mom…  I tell her Dad has had a heart attack and been admitted…  does she want to go to the hospital to see him?

“Yes.”

Get her to car, and on the way, I call Harrell to find out where Dad is…  he has been admitted and is in a room… cardiac progressive unit or something like that…

We get up there and into Dad’s room… and the waiting begins…

Iris and Raul are with us… and Harrell stays with us…  I walk out of the room, and Harrell comes with me…

“You know what you’re looking at, don’t you?” he asks me…    “Yeah, I know…”

I do know…  Dad is dying… don’t know how long it will be…  I call Celeste and Dena to let them know what is happening…  it is hard to tell them that Dad is dying…  they can’t get here, but would want to know…

Call Gerry to let her know what is happening…  Aunt Pina lives with her…  she needs to come see him…  tonight, I think…  I don’t tell Gerry that she has to come tonight, but she understands…  Gerry and Aunt Pina get there in a short time…

Gerry has also called others, and Billy and Sandy come to visit (say good-bye, without saying good-bye)…

By 10pm or so, Billy and Sandy, Harrell and Millie, Gerry and Aunt Pina, Iris and Raul, and Mom and I are there…  Dad is conscious and able to talk…  but not fully…  and as time goes on, he begins to drop off little by little…  well it is getting late at night…  is Dad getting sleepy?  or going into a coma, to then slip away to heaven?

Mom keeps talking with him….

“Honey, honey… do you know who’s here?”

“No… who?”

“There’s Iris and Raul and Harrell and Millie and Gerry and Pina and Billie and Sandy and Jonelle and…”

“Well, I’ll be damned!!!”

And everyone in the room cracks up laughing… mom is scandalized…

“Have you ever heard him talk like that??!!”

And we laugh…

People have to leave…  it is late…  Harrell will stay with Mom and me…

the waiting continues…

 

Wednesday, 1/26/2011

Dad is in Heaven

Mom has been awake all night…  and except for when she needed to go to the bathroom, she has sat by his side, holding his hand and looking into his face…  she has not slept…

Dad finally dropped off to sleep last night…  I don’t think he will wake up on this earth again…

Harrell has slept off and on, and I have dozed off for very short times…  but not really gone to sleep…

Eight in the morning and both Harrell and I try to get Mom to go back to University Village to change clothes or get her meds…  she won’t go…

“I am not leaving his side!”

So that’s that…   we continue to wait…  Harrell goes home and tells me to call…  he needs to sleep a little, shower and change clothes…

Gerry and Aunt Pina come back…

We continue to wait…  Mom sits by his side, and continues to look lovingly into his face…  Dad’s breathing is calm…  Dad is peaceful… I know Dad will not wake up again…  I just don’t know how long it will be before he takes his last breath…

At around 11:25am, Dad takes his last breath…  I did not look at the clock to be sure of the time…  but I know it was about that time based on the time of the phone calls I made…  to Harrell, to Celeste, a text (“Dad is in heaven”) to Pastor Tony, to Dena (did I call Dena, or did Celeste?  Not sure), to Iris, to “Pastor” Michael (he shows up, has a prayer with us, sits for a short while and leaves… he has never really been a pastor to my parents), to Adolpho (funeral guy)…

Mom is glad that Dad is at peace…  Aunt Pina says that she did not expect to outlive her little brother… I am sad… have cried some… know that more tears will come over time…

Mom is not ready to leave the room… the hospital personnel tell us we can have as much time as we want…  others besides Michael (who did not stay for too long), have come, but I don’t remember who now…  I think Harrell came back…  maybe Iris…  Gerry and Aunt Pina are there…

Dad is in heaven…

And in an instant, a person becomes a memory…

The Gifts of Grief…

During the summer of 2011, I participated in a unit of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education).  Each week our small group would gather together to explore different concepts that were a part of our learning.  Grief was one of the topics that we explored, and grief was something that I was also personally struggling with… something I’d been struggling with for many years.  I wrote the following short reflection after watching a video entitled “The Gifts of Grief”… and after I wrote it, I realized that I had found an image I could use that would help me in my struggle with grief… not only past grief, but that which would come in the future.  I share this reflection with you… it is part of the story of my life:

Grief brings gifts?  I am not sure that I have found any specific gifts coming from my grief…as the people in the video have.

At this point I know that my deepest grief comes from Lemmy’s death.  It is a deep, deep well, full of pure sadness and loss.  It cannot be analyzed, evaluated or explained away…it just is.

The grief of other losses add to it…they add to this “well”…they broaden it and deepen it even more…until all losses, all griefs merge together and overflow the boundaries of the “well”.

I find myself approaching the edge slowly, especially as I am now dealing with events happening in my mother’s life.  Where is she on her journey through life?  Is she getting close to final, physical death…or just getting closer to losing one thing at a time…to dying “little by little”?

And I am not really sure if I want to approach this “well”.  I get close to the ever changing edge…I back away…maybe I should want to dive in and swim deep, but all I want to do is to escape…

And I wonder, because I am not sure if I can dive in and swim deep until my mom does finally die…

The Gift of Presence…

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”  He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”        ~Mark 14:32-34

Some thoughts:

1. Jesus knew he was about to die…

2. Jesus asked his closest companions to “keep watch with [him]”…

a. Jesus was not asking them to be his bodyguards, to protect him…

b. He did not want them to watch so they could warn him to make an escape…

c. It seems Jesus only wanted his companions to be “present” with him…

What did their “presence” give to Jesus?  Why did he want or need it?  Perhaps an aspect of his humanity is showing itself as he faces the death he knows is coming…

What does our “presence” give to those with whom we wait and watch?

A seventeen year old, wanting his mother’s “presence” as the time of his death approaches says, “Mom, I know I’m dying.  Just wait with me.”   And then over the next few days, he gradually slips into a coma…  but there are family members and friends near… waiting.

How many others want the presence of someone else with them as their time of death draws near?  What does the presence of other people bring or give to those who know they are dying?  And how hard it must be to be that other person, that witness, who can do nothing to stop the inevitable…  Who can only wait and watch, with no power to change the coming events.

Why is this important for the one dying?  Maybe because the one dying knows that he or she does not face death alone if someone else is waiting and watching with them… The dying walk through death’s door, letting go of one hand to reach out and grasp another…  Love takes them to the door, gives them strength as they pass through it, and meets them again on the other side…

The night before he dies, the seventeen year old briefly wakes from his coma…  Family and friends are gathered around.  Perhaps for him it is one last time that he can look on those he loves and see that they love him.  He slips back into his coma, continuing his journey…  knowing he is not alone.

His younger sister is asked if she wants to sleep in his room, with him, that night.  She says yes, and so a cot is set up.  That night, as she sleeps, she is given the privilege of being the one who is “present” with her brother…  But she does not know this…  She only knows that she is receiving the gift of his presence with her, a presence that she knows she is losing to death…