In life beyond death, we are not alone...

Well, my father finally returned home in the Lord yesterday. And while I am just starting to take the finality of his death to heart, I am glad that for him the struggle is finished. He was a hard-living man who by the end of his 83 years had totally destroyed his lungs. When he said to me last week in a moment of quiet reflection, "I can't believe it has come down to this!" I was incredulous - but that has been part of our personal dance since I was 15 (and now I am 62.) As I have said to others professionally - and have now had to embrace on a personal level - most of us die as we have lived.
I suspect this had something to do with why I felt like I needed to return home at the close of last week. Over and over these words from St. Matthew kept repeating in my head: A disciple once said to Jesus, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father and then I will follow you.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.’ My dad wasn't ready to let go but there was nothing left for me to do to help him - except leave. Some people, for whatever reason, need to be surrounded by everyone in the family before they feel ready to embrace death. Others must first hold court one last time before they can accept the truth. And still others, like I suspect was true for my father, need more solitude and space before they can enter a good death. Not that he wanted to be left alone when death arrived; rather he just wanted to exercise one last bit of control when it happened and shroud himself in the privacy that was so important to him in life. Again, we often die as we have lived. 

On Saturday there had already been a steady stream of family since early morning. I don't think it was coincidental, therefore, that he died while just one my sisters and her family kept watch with love and prayers. My father was an emotionally private man. He was passionately loving, too but in a well-guarded and proud way. So after his hospice aide had finished washing him and giving him a shave, my hunch is that he felt able to let go. Not only was he now clean-shaven - something he insisted upon throughout his 83 years - but he wasn't saturated with the feelings, anxieties, presence and needs of the crowd that had previously gathered around his bedside in love. For very different reasons, most of us had to be away, some for just a short time - but I think he used that break to give us all one last gift in the only way he could: he accepted reality and entered into his death with a quiet dignity - and a fresh shave. 

When I left on Thursday, I told him that it was time for me to get back to my community of faith: there were weddings to honor and worship to celebrate. At the time, he waved his hands in a manner I first considered dismissive. Given the growth in his throat and increasing congestion, he had limited his words and taken-up Marlon Brando-esque hand motions a la "The Godfather." When I said "good bye" it appeared he was saying, "Ok, ok, hurry up and be gone." I knew he was angry with death - and the fact that I had helped him confront the fact that his was imminent - so I kissed his head and headed back home. I was sad but that too has been part of our dance for decades.

But upon further prayer and consideration I choose to believe that what my father was saying to me wasn't dismissive but: "Please, hurry up and be gone so that I can get on with this! You've done your work, now let me do mine!" Like the quote from Matthew's gospel, I choose to believe that he knew it was time to let the dead bury their own dead so that the living could continue the feast. And that's exactly what we did: I had the privilege of offering the blessing at the wedding feast for Carlton and Rebecca's last night and then celebrating worship this morning before kicking off a truly successful CROP Walk (our best ever!) My dad's parting was very much in keeping with how he lived: he was a sweet man who found it hard to always show his sweet side. So in death as in life, he shared it with us quietly. 

I am grateful - and look forward to celebrating his life sometime next week when the wider family gathers for his memorial service. The United Church of Canada's "new creed" closes like this:  in life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God." 


ddl said…
Thinking of you and Di and your extended family at this time. May God soften your grief, deepen the joy for those moments well-lived and well-loved, and hold all of you in safety in the coming days and weeks. Peace to you.
Peter said…
Requiescat in pacem Dominum. Amen and amen, good brother.
RJ said…
Gratitude and love... thanks dear brother. And thank you, too Dee.

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