How We Die (part 2)

I was going to write about wakes and funerals today but instead I was moved by NC Sue’s response so deeply that I thought I’d give it special attention:

She writes:

I’ve worked as a nurse for 35+ years, and I’ve been at the bedside of the dying more times than I can count. I am not afraid of being dead, but after years of experience caring for the living… and the dying… I’m afraid of what I might have to go through between now and then.

There comes a time when it may be appropriate to embrace death – NOT out of depression or desperation, but out of a recognition that our earthly life IS finite, and rightly so.

There are times when the greatest gift we can give to those we love is permission to die in comfort surrounded by those we love. Read my earlier post at to see what I mean.

“Eternal life” doesn’t mean that our current bodies continue forever. It means that our souls continue after the death of our earthly bodies. I pray that the transition I make… and that YOU make… will be gentle and surrounded by love.

For those of you who didn’t follow her link in the post above. Here’s a brief tease snippet:

Matt was reluctant to talk about it at first, but I think he knew that Janice was dying. We all did. And there were tears shed by all of us, especially on the day that Matt brought their little baby in and laid her on the bed beside a mom she would never know.

After seeing the extent of Janice ‘s suffering and after numerous heart-breaking conversations with the staff, Matt decided that the time had come for us to remove the breathing tube and to allow Janice the opportunity to die if, indeed, it was her time. I was working with Janice that day.

After the decision was made, I talked with Matt about what to expect. I told him that the ventilator would be turned off, the breathing tube would be removed, and that Janice probably wouldn’t live long after that. I told him that she might have some noisy and irregular breaths and that her color would change. I told him that he could remain in the room if he wished but that I would stay with Janice and be sure she wasn’t in pain. Matt decided to stay.

Go read the whole post, get a hanky but also be sure to notice how beautifully this man loved his wife.

A huge h/t to NC Sue over at her fine blog, In Him We Live And Move And Have Our Being

Remembering Rhythms

I posted this on Amy Welborn’s blog today after reading about her own struggle with her husband’s recent unexpected death, but thought I’d re-post it.

Amy spoke of the following:

It is surreal and odd. Here one minute, gone the next, without a chance to say goodbye. Sunday’s experience did not really help in that regard for as fearful as I was, anticipating, when the moment came, without getting too specific, the line from the gospel flashed through my soul, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” I could not connect that experience with the smiling face in the pictures surrounding us and the voice still echoing in my ears and memory. And the fear was gone. But the dissonance remained. And does.

To use the old phrase: It does not compute.

There is a mystery, as I was telling Dorothy, and what I feel driven to do is not “understand” it, really. It is not even to “accept” it. It is something different, and I don’t get what that is – where that space is and what it looks like.

I am opening comments on this post, but with a specific purpose. If you have had similar experiences, or any experiences with loss and grieving that you would like to share, please do. It will be helpful to me and to others.

I have had three of these, as you say, strange deaths in my own life. They never get easy:

As a young man 2 fellow altar boy friends of mine died much to young. The first died at a summer camp. Friends had received a call from him just days before telling them how awful his camp experience was. Days later reports came back that he vomited in his sleep and choked to death. All kinds of stories followed and all of them speculative at best. Was he drunk, was he high, or just sick? His brother was devastated, his mother even worse.

It wasn’t until a year later when a simple weekday mass was said in his memory that I began to feel any comfort. Mass was the rhythm in which I came to know James. We served mass reverently and easily knowing cold what we were supposed to do and our motions moved without much thought around them until the odd thing would happen. A friend tripped and fell into the aisle once. A large candle fell and hit a priest nearly burning him another time. We would react and then move back into reverence once the issue died down and probably we would laugh about it later over dinner. It was all about presence. Being present to one another without thought, with ease, with the rhythm of the mass parts–sometimes mundane, but mostly joyful.

I think much of our lives are indeed like that. And even when those lives are taken unexpectedly, disrupting that rhythm, it is the rhythms in which we knew them that keeps them in relationship to us, praying with us, living with us. It is a different experience for us Eucharistic people who need the tangible and visible sometimes to make sense of the mystical. But the mystical is no less present even without those “accidents”. These rhythms to me are indeed communion, and they are always revealing God to us in some way–the God who always lurks where we least expect to find Him.

The last of these strange deaths was my college roommate, who was always a sick young man and who many of us expected that he would die young. He had a heart condition and even had a defibrillator attached to his heart our senior year. That machine gave him and extra 3 years or so. He had been doing so well and so, when he told us that he was simply having his defibrillator replaced we all relaxed and thought it was rather routine.

Surgery is often tough to recover from and in this one, Dave, my friend, just didn’t have the fight. Without any warning one of our other roommates called and gave me the news straight. Dave was dead. I beat up a studio pretty good that day at the radio station–angry wasn’t the word for the emotion that poured out of me–it was more like frustration. I hadn’t had the chance to say goodbye. I didn’t feel like it was his time yet–although I knew it probably wasn’t far off. His parents lost their only child and had given their very lives over to his care for over 25 years and now he was just…gone. Unfair. Even the dog was upset at it.

But what happened next reminded me a lot of this friend, who was possibly the most unselfish person I had ever met. Everyone rallied around each other that week. We made sure people stuck together, got the things done that needed to be done. We shopped for Dave’s family and made sure people had rides to all the week’s events. We laughed a lot (he was a stand up comic), cried a lot and prayed together. In short, we lived very full days noticing all the small stuff. It was how Dave, full of illness and pain for most of his life, lived each day and taught us how to live. Dave often healed broken relationships between people by simply making fun of how ridiculous arguments could be–so even now, one of us often plays that role when others are fighting or simply acting stupid.

Timing, rhythm, the adding up of time shared, it is often is like a dance and that all gets lost when the music abruptly stops. But the best dancers don’t even need to hear the music. They know the rhythm intimately –and for me it has been remembering the rhythms of the shared experiences where I find that we all almost always find comfort and where we will always dance with joy.