Loving Extravagantly – A Glimpse of Forever
Posted on June 20, 2009
8-10Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled. The Bible – 1 Corinthians 13:8-9
Having been brought up as a protestant Christian, I learned this scripture verse – the entire chapter when I was about eleven years old. I always thought it beautiful, but I don’t think I fully understood the significance of it until many years later.
My Pa had gotten cancer of the prostate. It had started with skin cancers and then progressed internally. The treatments were really tough – both chemotherapy and radiation – but he was a tough old bird and if some gamma rays and poison chemicals thought they would get him without a fight, they were so, so wrong. He defied the odds over and over again – stretching his fight well past ten years and finally died at the age of 76.
We all knew that he was terminal. The doctors had offered him the option of kidney dialysis when his kidneys stopped working in the hospital, but he refused. He did not want to say in the hospital – he wanted to go home – but even then, just four days before he died, I cannot tell you he was ready to let go. I knew in my heart he held on for us – the ones who would be left. He knew how hard it was going to be, and being his usual self, he desired to spare us as long as he could hold on – no matter how it made him suffer.
At the same time, I knew that – that he would go to hell and back to spare us and I was resolved to summon every ounce of strength in me to buck up and make his death a decent and peaceful one where he wanted to be – in his home.
They brought him home on a Friday and the hospice hadn’t even really had time to line up aides to come and go to help us – no matter, I said – we will do this. The nurses showed me how to give him the morphine – under his tongue for the pain. The showed me how to use swabs to soothe his dry mouth if he could not swallow. They told me to keep using washcloths to wipe down his arms and legs to make him more comfortable as the fluids from his body began to seep out of his pores. Looking back, I can almost laugh now – he took delight in pointing out spots on his legs that he said had sprung ‘geysers’. I imagine he was just beyond letting things like that worry him.
It’s funny how people get all worried about what to do with a dying person. I think it is because we are all so frightened of dying ourselves – we don’t want to see it and we don’t know how to talk about it with the person dying because it evokes too many thoughts of our own immortality. But once you know that is what is coming – there is no turning back, nothing to save the person – that they are surely going to die – somehow, if you love them, you just reach inside yourself and grab every ounce of strength you have and go forward. I can tell you now that once I had become committed to doing it, I never shed a tear – never had a moment of feeling anything about myself, or my own grief. All I could see was helping my Pa to go home in the manner he wanted to go there. It is almost as if something takes over your senses and sensibilities….like you are on some ‘autopilot’ that a power greater than you set. Only one time did I falter – I was giving the morphine and still seeing him in such agony – I didn’t know that I could bear it any more and I called the hospice nurse to tell her I had to have help. She calmly talked me down and told me to increase the dose of morphine – that would not be what was killing him now. Okay – yes, I can do this.
So we sat by his side, and talked to him while we still could. Before he had come home, I had written a letter to him to thank him for being my Pa – for everything he had done for me. I gave it to him and let him read it in front of me – I did it that way because I did not think I could keep from crying and tell him everything – and I did not want to leave anything out. I was at peace with him knowing what I felt I needed to tell him. The last hours we spent together were just in ‘being’…holding hands, doing something to try to soothe him, to ease his pain. My daughter and my son were my partners in this. The three of us pretty well went around the clock with him. My mother and sister were not very comfortable in the situation and we just let that be. It wasn’t about any one or two of us – it was about him.
The night before he died, he had gone into a coma because his kidneys had shut down. I kept talking to him, playing his favorite tunes, showing him pictures, even though his eyes weren’t open as did my daughter and my son. Probably a little after one in the morning, my daughter and I walked outside. My son was with my Pa. We were sitting outside, breathing in the cool spring air and trying to wake up. I was telling her how I was praying, trying to will it with all my energy, for my grandmother to come to my Pa and tell him it was time to go home. I knew that even though he felt strongly about staying to spare us, that if his Mother told him it was time, he would listen. He was an only child, he had loved his mother and cared for her after his father’s death and I just knew she would get him to go. Now, I never had any fears about being outside of my house at night – not right there next to the back door with a light on. Nonetheless, I had a vague sense of uneasiness. My daughter finally asked to go inside and confided to me that she felt like someone was watching her or watching us. I told her there was no one there – although I had the same feeling. I continued to feel that way when we got back into the house. The drapes were drawn, the doors locked, the lights on – but still I felt we were not alone. The three of us were the only ones left awake in the living room where my Pa was – the others were asleep.
I had been awake for about four or five days at that point. I sat down in a chair near my Pa – my daughter and son – for whom he had been like a father – were on either side of him. Several hours passed while we waited. Again, my children expressed feeling like there was someone watching us. About four thirty in the morning, I leaned back in the chair and closed my eyes – again, I was trying to pray – to invoke my grandmother’s spirit – to call out to God – anything – that might work to have him hear his mother’s voice call him and allow him to let go. I think I drifted off for just a second and then I felt my daughter’s hand on my arm. She said “Mom, I think Pa is about to die”. As I sat up, I remember thinking how in the world a teenager could know that. I looked at him. Something was different – there was like an aura or something about him; he was breathing much easier than before and I told them that we must not touch him – I didn’t want us doing anything to cause him to respond to us and come back. I don’t know why I said that – it was like someone else in me was giving directions – not me. Within minutes, my poor Pa, who had been in a coma for more than twelve hours, and was slumped forward in his reclining chair, opened his eyes. He sat up straighter and looked right past us in amazement – like we weren’t even there. Then, across his face unfolded the biggest, most wonderful smile – like he was about the ask a question. I knew in my heart at that moment that he was seeing my grandma and all the others who went before him and I knew he was going. The smile lasted less than a minute – but I will never forget that look on his face. It was a kids face on the best Christmas morning they ever had – the look of a mother or father when they see their first baby – the sweet smile of grace – all rolled into one. Just as quickly as it came, it was gone and he let out his last breath. We felt a rustle of the air in the room – sort of like when someone opens and closes a door and there is a little gust of air. That little wind – it just passed right through us – not over or around – but right through us – kind of tingling like. Then, he was still. That aura was gone from around him. My daughter said ‘ Mama, is he dead?’ and I told her ‘yes’ – just to let him be for a minute. I was still afraid that we might interrupt the process, although I have no idea why I said that. We waited a couple of minutes to check his pulse. Of course, it was gone. We turned off the oxygen and just looked at each other. What all of us thought was going to be so hard – we were actually afraid that we might chicken out and try CPR on him – fears we would all fall apart – it was none of that. It was beautiful – it was beyond that – supernal. It was a glimpse into all that there is – into the great ‘I am’ – and even though we could only see it reflected in his beautiful ice blue eyes for a second – we were all certain of what we saw. The most remarkable thing was when we got up and walked outside for a minute after waking the others to give them the news. The sun was coming up in the sky – it was one of those beautiful spring mornings and the three of us just knew my Pa was looking at us standing outside his front door – dry-eyed, relieved for him, but still changed by what we just experienced. We just knew he was looking at us and he was smiling. Everything was as it was meant to be. It was right in that moment that we realized it. You know how everyone has their own unique scent? Whatever soap they use, mixed with after – shave or cologne, hair spray, etc. – but still uniquely ‘them’. We could smell my Pa just as strong as can be on our persons. We picked up our hands and started sniffing them – thinking it was just from touching him, then we smelled our clothes, our hair – everything. And then we realized – it was when we felt that little gust of wind pass through us – that is when it happened. That did not come off of me despite that I went home and showered and changed – until sometime the next day. I know I did not hallucinate or imagine it – we all had the same experience.
Those last hours with him – I would not trade for anything in this world. Do you realize how precious it is to share that – when life comes into this world and when it leaves? I count myself as a lucky woman – I’ve been there for both. I know now that nothing can ever make me fear death – nor believe that it is an ‘end’. It’s not even a door – more like a thin veil from which all those on the other side can also see and commune with us – if we allow it – if we can be still enough to let it happen. I know there are many written accounts of experiences with the dying – all of them talk about this kind of thing. I don’t know of anyone who was there for someone in this way who can detail a bad experience, say they regret it, or that it made them fearful. Everyone speaks of the same peace – that sense of grace we seek our whole life – that glimpse of eternity. I did it another time when my mother died and it was just the same. There is no greater gift you can give to one who is dying, nor they to you, than to share this experience – this love between each other, between whoever you perceive God to be and all of us.
“We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
13But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. “The Bible, 1 Corinthians 13:12-13
Last edited by katie on June 20, 2009, 9:21 pm