". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

With Boots and Singing

My husband visited a dying woman this week. She was a long-time member of our church, having belonged to our congregation for many years before we ever came. She loved music and encouraged my husband in his role as Cantor many times over the years. He relates her telling him on more than one occasion that one or more of her friends was complaining about some aspect of worship or music. She would smile at my husband, pat him on the arm, and say, "But don't worry; I set them straight."

A few days ago this saint of God went to meet her Maker. My husband was blessed to be the last visitor she had. He spent about 45 minutes with her in the nursing facility, talking to her and singing hymns ("Now Rest Beneath Night's Shadow" and "Abide With Me"), liturgy (the Nunc Dimittis), and psalmody (Psalm 121). He told me she was basically unconscious but at several times during his visit seemed to be struggling to say something and that when it came to the Doxology in the Nunc Dimittis she seemed to start singing, matching pitch a few times. Afterwards, she made a grand effort and briefly opened her eyes. Phillip got in front of her where she could see him and she tried valiantly for about half a minute to say something, whereupon she closed her eyes and then lay back very peacefully. My husband later found out that she died within 15 minutes of his departure.

This lady had struggled with her health and chronic pain for many years and her eyesight was failing (she had to use a magnifying glass with the large-print hymnal). She survived an MSRA infection about 10 years ago. She had lung cancer but she was in church as recently as two weeks ago. Her photo in the most recent church directory shows an impeccably groomed lady with a vibrant, clear-eyed, cheerful expression, tall posture, and elbows bent with chin elegantly balanced on the back of her gently folded hands. You would not know from her photo that she had been through so much.

My husband and I have seen a lot of people die or come close to death in the last few years. This is purely anecdotal, but we have been struck by a pattern in which it seems that those who continue to live to their fullest capacity, doing as much as their bodies allow them to do, are in the end taken from this world with a merciful quickness, whereas those who decide to quit this life early, in spirit at least, waiting for death to come, seem to linger on in their misery for a very long time. Last week my family and I watched a movie called Secondhand Lions. I bet many of you have seen it (we tend to be always behind the times in the movie department). It depicts two men who lived life to the full and who, when they died, died with their "boots on." They didn't stop. They didn't surrender. They went out still embracing all that life has to offer.

So did Marg. Oh, to leave this world as she did! She lived up until the very end, until she was absolutely made to stop. And then she ascended to the Father with His Word ringing in her ears. May each of us be likewise thankful for the days our Creator grants upon this earth and fortunate to depart those days in such a beautiful and blessed way.


Susan said...

Cheryl, my first reaction to your post was "pretty cool." But then I started thinking about some of the people I know who've died, some who linger, and some who leave life having lived it to the full right up to the end.

And at the moment, I'm suspecting that this is not unlike wondering why that lost item is finally found in the very last place you look for it. (Of course it's in the very last place you look; you don't keep looking after you find it!)

Some people are slowly sapped of life and energy. They cannot continue living life fully. They are weakened and struggling, so that getting dressed each day and digesting their food and coping with their pain takes everything they can expend. There's nothing left.

Those who die with merciful quickness are the ones who weren't worn down, and could keep living life fully.

Yes, I think sometimes it does go the other way. People certainly can give up and waste away slowly. But in many cases I've seen, it's the creeping onset of death that causes the person to slow down in activities, and not the slowing down in activities that causes the lingering death.

Cheryl said...

Susan, I think you are right and we should not overgeneralize. It's an individual thing, and it's very hard to know what is going on with another person. What I do know is that I am inspired by some of the old (or sick) people I know (and have known) that seek to the very end to get what they can out of life. I am reminded of our former pastor who when he had his bladder removed due to cancer celebrated that he could now drink beer again. :-) I just pray that when I am facing the pain of illness and/or aging that I will be blessed as some I have known to be able to continue embracing the joys of doing things like going to church and enjoying the company of others and that the time I am unable to do such things will be mercifully short, not only for my sake but for that of my loved ones.

Susan said...

I hear ya! And I want the same thing!

But I also want to point out something my pastor says a lot. Sometimes people linger, sometimes the suffering & incapacity is drawn out ... for the sake of loved ones. What is convenient for our loved ones, what is easy, what is comfortable, is not always what best serves faith. Sometimes love and Christianity is best seen when a person is forced into receiving instead of doing. And IN the cross, IN the suffering, IN the pain.

(Now, that does not mean I'm disagreeing with you about finding whatever joy and life can be found in the midst of the suffering. On the contrary -- quite agreeing with you on that one!)

Cheryl said...

"Sometimes people linger, sometimes the suffering & incapacity is drawn out ... for the sake of loved ones. What is convenient for our loved ones, what is easy, what is comfortable, is not always what best serves faith."

Yes. Yes, indeed. And no matter how many times He does it, it seems I'm always still surprised at God's ability to turn burdens into blessings. And dubious that he will be able to yet again. Thank goodness He never stops trying to teach me otherwise!