One of the women at the Northwest Church is dying. She’s had brain cancer for quite awhile, and for a long time, I’ve been meaning to get over to her house and visit, and for a long time, I haven’t done it. Finally, yesterday, I took the time to go sit with her for awhile. One of the other pastors at Northwest told me Ann liked chocolate and peanut butter milkshakes from Kidd Valley, so I stopped and picked one up on the way over. When I got there, she was sleeping, but it was time for some of her meds anyway, so her dear friends and caretakers woke her up. I hadn’t seen Ann in awhile, and the changes in her appearance were dramatic–swelling, loss of hair, etc.–but the familiar smile was there, and there was a kind of peace behind those eyes, eyes that have been blind from birth. She relished the shake, though it required a fair amount of work for her to get to it just right, and we talked.
Turns out, we talked about what she’s facing in the next few days–she hopes it comes that soon. She’s ready to go on, and the prayer now is that the Lord will allow her that passage “sooner than later.” She told me the story of her grandmother’s last moments, the reports of how her demeanor changed as she slipped into the next world, that there was a kind of “wow” in her eyes as she left. I told her the story of a good friend whose father had looked at the door to his hospital room and rallied with a look of recognition as if unseen people were entering the room, and made the comment, “Now I understand,” and then closed his eyes and died.
I don’t know Ann all that well, frankly. It was always a great pleasure, though, to see her take part in the Christmas Musicals at church, which is where we made our primary contact. She was often in the chorus with someone to help at her side, her bright smile lighting up the stage as she hustled around singing her heart out. Yesterday, she lamented the loss of her singing voice through her ordeal. I figure she’ll get it back.
Whenever I stand at a bedside like that, I’m always back at Dad’s bed, saying goodbye again, and after 20 years, the moment still rocks me. Not so much in that “my father is dead” kind of way, but more of a “I can’t believe death is in the world” kind of way. Silly, I know, but death, though universal, is a kind of aberration. Death is part of life, and a necessary passage, inevitable as sin, I suppose. But still, it feels like a robbery, a theft in plain sight, the handiwork of no creative being, but a last grasping of the enemy to life. Jesus’ talk about life indeed, eternal life, means exactly that. Life, consciousness, memory, renewed and reborn physicality in some way that in inexplicable, the oak to the acorn.
The Apostle Paul wishes so much we could understand “the hope to which we have been called.” Yeah…I wish I understood it, too.
We prayed, and I wondered, like we all do, how to end the time. Most likely, Ann and I will not see each other again on this side of things. Then I thought of how I end many of my “partings,” including the one I have with the congregation each Sunday. It is the meaning of my name, and I hope, in some measure, what God uses me to bring.
“Go in peace….”
As I was leaving, she was fussing a bit over her milkshake. As we talked, she had been sipping at it, and now, as she approached the bottom of the cup, she realized there was a bit more to get, but the angle at which she was lying in bed was making the last bit of chocolaty goodness hard to get to. But she was determined to drink it down to the last drop.
Fitting, seems to me…