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Posts Tagged ‘death’

I’m not a fan of the unknown.  I like to have a plan, and more of then than not, a back up plan.  Some call that being anal retentive.  Some call that being organised.  I simply call it life.

When my Dad was sick, I tried to get him to talk to me about his Celebration of Life.  He had asked me, once he knew he wasn’t going to get better, to preside his service; not because I am a priest, but because I am a Legion Padre, and would do it “properly”.  It was high praise from my Dad and while it was the most difficult thing I have ever done, nobody would have been able to do it the way I did it.

I am loving the mountain view from where I live.  I get out every single day and walk.  It may be a few blocks or it may be a few kilometers.  And every time I walk its with my head up so I can see the majesty which surrounds me.  Sometimes it’s so beautiful I can barely catch my breath.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my Dad.  I have no idea why he’s on my mind so much but he is.  Today was a very productive and active day.  We had our mid week worship, went to the Seniors Center for lunch (which is often the highlight of my day, if not my week).  I applied for a BC driver’s license.  I did laundry, chatted with a friend and tried to watch a movie.

I can’t settle.  I’m feeling tension in me, not a pain per se, but more of a level of anxiety.  And I’ve no idea why.

So I logged onto this blog and did a search with the tag “dad”.

We had a complicated relationship.  He was my idol and hero for many, many years.  When I was in my late 20’s I made a relationship decision that hurt him badly.  And so we did not speak for close to a decade.  When we began speaking again it was, initially awkward, but eventually we found a more comfortable place to be.

When we learned his anyeurism was not operable I tried to get Dad to plan his service.  It took nearly four years but we finally had the conversation.  And it went something like this…

ME:  So, Dad…

DAD:  What?

ME:  Have you given any thought to what you want for your service?

DAD:  No.

ME:  It’s something we need to discuss.

DAD:  I know.

ME:  When do you think you’ll want to discuss it.

DAD:  Not now.

ME:  Okay.  Maybe next time I’m here.

DAD:  Maybe.

We had this conversation likely a dozen times.  Finally I hit on an idea…

ME: Dad?

DAD: What?

ME:  Have you had a chance to think about what you want?

DAD: No.

ME:  Do you think we need to have this conversation or do you want to leave it with me?

DAD:  What do you mean?

ME:  Well, I’m thinking you can either tell me what you want, or I’ll do what I think you’ll want, which will definitely not be what you want.  Is that what you want?

DAD: No.

ME:  Okay then.  (silence)  Well?

DAD:  Well, what?

ME:  Your service?

DAD:  What about it?

ME:  Readings?  Hymns?  Homily?  Eulogy?  Location?  Party?  Interment?

DAD:  Don’t care.  My Way.  No Way.  Yes, you and David.  Legion.  One round on me.  At the Columbarium, but not the Legion one.

ME:  Thanks Dad.  What that so hard?

DAD:  No.

ME:  Good.

DAD:  So you’ll take care of it then?

ME:  Yes.

DAD:  Good.  (silence)  Don’t you have somewhere else to be?

And just so you know, the readings were carefully chosen by myself and approved by my family.  We played “My Way” when the service ended.  There was no homily.  Both my brother and I provided an eulogy.  The service was at the Legion with his ashes present.  As soon as the service ended, the bar was opened…and we raised a glass to Dad.  We found a niche in the Columbarium that was not visible from the road.  I think he would have liked that.

I was looking at the photograph we chose for his service.  It was taken after my Convocation from Seminary.  He’s sat outside, looking less than impressed, with a cigarette in his hand.  A picture that simply captured the essence of my Dad.  I believe it was my brother who took the photo.  I don’t have much of anything physical as a reminder of my Dad.   I have his university diploma which is framed and hangs proudly on the wall of my office.  I have the cigarette case my Mam gave my Dad when he graduated – the first university graduate in the family.  I have an ornament I gave him for Christmas many years ago that was given back to me.  And a cardigan with a hole in the elbow that he used to wear when he was marking.

But much more importantly than that I have my memories.  His stories, which he captured in words and I now have one of only three copies ever bound.  His story telling mannerisms.  His sense of humour.  His down to earth nature.  His ability to tell it like it is and, as I age, not care what people think…to a certain extent…okay, that one is still in process.

I miss my Dad.  This is one of those moments I often speak of with folks who are bereaved.  Grief will hit like a thief in the night.  And you will be left breathless.  And as suddenly as it came, it will leave.  And you will be alright.

I will be alright.

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Just over a year ago two baby boys were born in the same day.  Chances are many more than two babies were born, but these two babies were born to people I knew.  One baby, E, was born to two loving parents.  Over the first year of his life he flourished as he learned to smile, to roll over, to pull himself up and to walk.  Seeing pictures of him on Facebook made me incredibly happy. In comparison, H was born to a loving mother and community.  His father had chosen not to be in his life; but I don’t believe that he wanted for love.  Shortly after H’s birth he developed a fever and infection but it was too difficult to diagnose.  At two weeks old he was transferred from the city hospital to the children’s hospital in another city.  He was attached to machines that flushed his kidneys and fed him.  At three weeks I baptised him in one of the isolation rooms at this hospital.  And at 28 days he died.

Throughout the first year of E’s life I so badly wanted to meet him, but I was afraid.  When the community gathered for H’s Celebration of Life I wasn’t sure how to navigate the waters before me.  It was uncharted territory.  But through the grace of God and love from many people, we gathered to remember a young life that was once vibrant.  Last Saturday E and H turned a year old.  For E it was a celebration with family, food and love.  For H it was an Anniversary Celebrating his first birthday.

In my homily at H’s celebration I mentioned E and his family.  I bought a gift for E’s birthday many months ago and have still not given it to him.  Yes, I have been busy, but the reality is that I’ve been scared.  So very scared that I may, in some way, harm E.

When I held H in my arms I whispered to him that I would love him always and teach him of my friend Jesus.  The same holds true now.  I do so very much love him and instead of teaching, I am learning about Jesus through H.

In the midst of planning H’s service my friend and parishioner B left this life.  His last two weeks were very difficult.  He was ready, in every way, to die.  But his body wasn’t ready to let go.  Eventually he did slip away peacefully and while we celebrated that he was free from the agonizing pain that had racked his body for months; he was now free.

I met with the family and discussed details that B had shared with me.  We filled in a few spaces and decided what it was that needed to be done.  On the day of his service I took a deep breath and realised that I was not alone.  I remembered that this service was for B.  I knew what needed to be done.  HIs family spoke affectionately about him.  We told stories, we laughed and we cried.  And we gathered to say goodbye (for now) to one we love dearly.

It is my hope that B and H have met.  It is also my hope that H and E have met.  I am going to write E’s mother a letter to explain why I have been such a negligent friend.  And I will gather all my strength and set a time to go and meet young Master E.  Who’s life has been everything that a young life should be.

Perhaps we can chat about our friend Jesus.

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I recently celebrated my 7th anniversary with my current congregation.  As I look back I am surprised that I am celebrating such a milestone, while at the same time it doesn’t feel quite that long…strange.

Just after my arrival I met a man who was diagnosed with cancer.  We have shared quite a journey together over the past seven years.  He is back in hospital and learned recently that his cancer has spread to muscle.  For the past few years he, his wife and I have fallen into specific roles…his wife cries, I get angry and he accepts whatever is thrown at him.

A bit more than a year ago I asked if he wanted to discuss his celebration of life.  He politely but firmly told me that he wasn’t ready.  And I accepted that, telling him I would be ready whenever he is.  Last Sunday when he was readmitted to hospital he told his family that he wanted to talk to me, that it was time to have this conversation.  So I headed up, notebook in hand, to have, what we both knew, would be a difficult conversation.

He is a father and grandfather.  He is a devoted member of a local service club.  He is a tireless worker for the Church and is more on fire for the Lord than anyone I have ever seen.  Whenever I am shaking my fist in anger he takes my hand and tells me, “it is what it is”.  such wise words.

Today we celebrated communion around his hospital bed, with each of his daughters and his beloved wife.  It was a very emotional experience, as this is the first time we have all shared communion.  I was taken aback at the sacredness of this hospital room.  Portable xray machines and staff coming in and out of the room did not deter what we were gathering to do. There was a tremendous respect from the medical personnel who were tending to his room-mate.

We joined hands in prayer, offering prayers and praises to God, giving thanks for the joys and bounty of this life and asking for peace as my friend and parishioner reaches the end of his life.  I found myself saying words that we were all thinking but otherwise afraid to say aloud.  A sacred hush filled the room as we finished the Lord’s prayer, and each one of us had tears in our eyes.

At times like this I am reminded of the sacred journeys that we take as members of the body of Christ.  I am always astounded at the weight of the sacred when we stand together in the presence of our Creator.  We have shared so many moments of joy together, and many moments of loss.  Eventually we will have these moments only as memories, but I suspect these memories will be sacred.

When I was posted to this parish I was given only one instruction:  love them.  And I have.  This family has taken me into their own and welcomed me.  My parishioner was particularly wonderful when my father was dying and I was so very angry.  He sat and listened to me as I ranted and raved that it “wasn’t fair” that my father should have to suffer.  He gently and lovingly took my hand and said “it is what it is” with a shrug and a smile.  He wasn’t ignoring my feelings, rather he was reminding me that there are many things over which we have no control.  And he was right.

I shared with him today that he has taught me so much about patience and grace.  He has taught me about understanding and acceptance, whether I like the outcome or not.  As he begins his sacred journey back to his Creator, I am reminded of the incredible gift we are given as clergy.  We are taken into people’s homes, their lives and their souls, as members of the family.

I expect to have many more hospital visits with my parishioner.  Each and every one will be treated as a sacred moment in time, as it will never be repeated.  And eventually the visits will end.  My heart will break when the time comes that he returns home to God.  It will hurt as much as it did when my own Dad died.  And I know that God will give me the strength and the Holy Spirit will give me the peace I will need to say what needs to be said.  And to comfort those who need comfort.

When we can silence ourselves, in the midst of crazy busy-ness, then and only then can we turn to hear, to truly hear the voice of the one who loves us the most.  It is only when we truly surrender our power that we  can feel God’s love surrounding us.  There are some things that we are not meant to know.  We may not like it; I know I surely don’t; but we must learn to live in that tension.

Another lesson I learned from my parishioner.  In his wise words “it is what it is”.  Thanks be to God.

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As a depressive I was shocked and saddened at the death of Robin Williams.  I was disgusted with a lot of the media coverage and especially of the term “commit suicide”.  To use the phrase “commit suicide” is to incur that a crime was committed.  He didn’t break the law.  Robin Williams died from side effects of deep depression.  I read a great deal of articles that talked about how “selfish” he was, because he took his own life.

There is no doubt in my mind that Robin Williams was loved.  He was loved by his wife and family, his co-workers and his fans. The fact that he struggled with depression and addiction all of his adult life meant that he found it difficult to love himself.

What most people don’t understand is that depressives are often great actors.  We force ourselves to clean ourselves up, pull ourselves together and face the world with a smile.  The saddest part of Robin Williams suicide is that he is, in some cases, being vilified after his death.  And that is repugnant.

He suicided, because he could no longer find the strength to pretend.  Chances are, when he made the decision to suicide his behaviour changed.  He appeared to be “better”.  He appeared happier, more like his “old self”.  This happens when someone who has been in such pain for so long has decided how they will escape that pain.  A great burden is released, a weight lifted and there is finally relief.

Some articles suggested that he had it all.  While that may be true, he, most likely, did not feel deserving.  He had an incredible gift; the gift to help people escape the misery of everyday life and laugh.  He knew he was loved by so many people but he could not love himself.

When depression appears it is usually unexpected, and it can feel like staring into a deep, dark precipice.  It can feel like a dark cloud descending, smothering the light and all air.  It can start slowly, like a long, slow dive.  It can be a sudden shock, like a trip, stumble and fall.  Regardless, depression is not something that you can “snap out of” or “think happy thoughts” and be instantly better.

You don’t have to go far to hear platitudes that all we need to do is to love one another.  I am a big believer that love can change the world.  In my heart, I believe that if we each did our part and started from a place of love we would solve many of the world’s conflicts.  Robin Williams was loved.  He loved many people.  Just not himself.

In his case, and in the case of many depressives, when things are bad, at their darkest, it is then that hopelessness takes over.  How can I love my neighbour as myself, when I don’t love myself?  How can I be a Christian when I cannot follow the basic tenet of Jesus?  Sometimes we cannot love ourselves.  And the worst part is, no-one can do it for us.

We do the best we can with the gifts that God has given us.  And occasionally we stumble and fall.  Sometimes we need to stay down for awhile, but we cannot unpack and take up residence there.  At times like this it is imperative to seek help, and yet, it is counterintuitive to reach out because every ounce of energy is being used up staying upright and breathing.

There are days when it feels like the sun will never shine again.  There are times when it feels like you will never smile again.  These are the times when we should reach out and trust, but the disease can be so crippling that it renders us completely immobile.

I believe, in my heart, that Robin Williams is now in paradise.  He is in a place where there is no such thing as depression. He is free of the demons that haunted him and ultimately led him to die.

My prayer is that we who are depressives find the strength, somehow, to reach out when we are hurting.  My prayer is that those who know a depressive will recognise the signs when they are on a downward slope, and reach out.  You don’t have to say anything.  Advice will likely not be heard.  All you can do is be present, listen and remain in the silence.  Words won’t fix depression.  There are treatments, but there is no cure.

If you are reading this and feeling the darkness descend, take a moment and reach out.  Text, email or call a friend.  Tell them you need them.  And they will come.  

If someone reads this and reaches out to you because they are frightened and vulnerable, go to them.  Be calm, be non-anxious, and non-judgmental.  It took an inordinate amount of energy to reach out.  Respect the incredible gift of trust that has been bestowed upon you.  Be prepared for silence…for anger…for frustration.

When someone is hurting, sometimes love does not seem to be enough.  Robin Williams could not love himself enough to stay.  He suicided because he felt there was no point in continuing.  He was not selfish or self-centred.  He was not seeking attention.  He could no longer handle the pain of the disease.  And so he ended it.  The world mourns the loss of a comedic legend.  Please do not let his death be in vain.

If you are someone who struggles with depression, find a person who you trust, that can support you.  When things start to get bad, reach out.  Be open and honest.  And receive the love they will give you with grace.

If you know or love someone who is depressive, learn their cycles and emotional swings.  If you see them struggling, reach out to them.  Be reassuring.  Remind them you love them.  Ask nothing in return.  Sit in silence, become comfortable in that silence.  And know you are not alone in supporting them.  Know that you are loved.  And so are they.  By the one who created us, died for us and loves us unconditionally. God. 

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For the most part I am a fairly laid back individual. One of the realities of my vocation is facing death within the Congregation and with members of the community itself. Something that has bothered me for a very long time is the infuriating necessity people have to use any word, other than death.

Flowers die, plants die; they don’t take a dirt nap. Although that pun is pretty funny.

Pets die, or they are euthanized. It drives me batty when I hear someone say that their beloved pet was “put to sleep”.

A friend of mine spoke of just this thing as she eulogized her father. When my dad died a few years later I heard her words coming out of my mouth. A paraphrase of what I said went something like this…

My father died and it hurts.
He is not “resting in the arms of Jesus”. If you knew my Dad you’d know that he and Jesus weren’t on a first name basis.
We did not “lose him”. He is not wandering around the Wal-Mart parking lot looking for us.
He did not “pass away”. He did not “shuffle off this mortal coil”.
He did not “kick the bucket”. He could not lift his leg that high.
He did not “expire”. He’s not a parking meter.

I think you understand what I am saying.

My dad died. It hurt. And trying to soften what happened did not make it any better.

Why are we so afraid of saying “death” or “died”? A quick internet search turned up over 100 euphemisms for dead, some of which are absolutely hilarious. Some of which are entertaining, and some are just plain weird.

When I meet with a family whose loved one has just died, my first words are “I’m so sorry” and I wait for them to speak next. If they don’t, we sit in silence, or, if appropriate, give them a hug.

So many well-meaning people said completely useless and even insulting things to me, thinking they were being helpful. I am a person of faith. A religious person. My father was not. So attempting to be “helpful” with phrases like “he is now at rest”, or “in the arms of his Saviour” were not helpful.

My dad believed in something greater than himself, and I believe he was at peace with God, but he did not get into specifics. I don’t think he prayed on a regular basis. Because that was my dad. He appreciated being on the parish’s prayers list. “If it doesn’t do any good, it won’t do any harm” was his thinking.

I love my dad and I miss him. We’re having a provincial election on the anniversary of his death. Kind of ironic, given how he felt about politics. He didn’t like euphemisms about things like death and yet he would often cope with the death of his friend by writing down as many euphemisms as he could think. “Taking the great dirt nap”, “shuffled off his mortal coil”, “six feet under”, “croaked”, “snuffed it”, etc.

I think “popped his clogs” was one of his personal favourites, and this exercise helped him come to terms. But when he saw the family he would say “I’m sorry” and nothing more. because truly, there isn’t anything else that is helpful to say.

So on the 12th of June I will cast my vote, as my dad always said “if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain”. I love my dad. I miss him. One day I hope to see him again.

He didn’t “slip away peacefully’, although he had a peaceful death. He didn’t “pass”, he’s not an exam or an abandoned vehicle. He died. It hurts. But it’s supposed to.

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