Now that Mary Ann is enrolled in a Hospice program, there is certainly a vivid awareness of death.  What exactly does that mean about what it is to be alive?  Is Mary Ann as alive as she was before she was enrolled in Hospice?  I will soon be 67 years old.  Statistically, I am closer to death than when I was 27.  Am I less alive now than I was then?

Marilyn, a Lead Staff member at the church I served as Senior Pastor for a dozen or so years has asked me to consider doing a presentation some time on funeral preparation and things that are associated with the process of dealing with a death in the days after it happens.

After forty years in the ministry, I have been through death with numbers of people.  In my job, I simply could not avoid thinking about and talking about death.  I remember when working on my doctorate, for a class on ministering to the older population (of which I am now a proud member), interviewing my Mother, who was in her seventies at the time (sounds young to me now).  I asked what she thought about death.  She said it is just a part of life.  It had been for her, having lost her first two children, one as an infant and the next as at the age of five.  People lay in state at home in the early years (she was born in 1907).

On occasion, when I had a cluster of funerals very close to one another (happened surprisingly often), I would wonder if I ought to find something to do that did not involve being immersed regularly in peoples’ lives at a time of such loss. I am convinced that the truth of the matter is unless and until we come to terms with death, with ours and others’ mortality, we can’t really live life to the full.

Fear of death seems to me to steal the joy from life.  Fear of dying is another thing entirely.  That fear is pretty rational.  None of us longs to have a long protracted process of dying.  Death is just the period at the end of the sentence that is the story of a person’s life.  Every day we are writing that story.  Accepting the reality of death frees us to give our full attention to the story we are writing each day, from the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep.

Making plans for the time when we die is just a normal task each of us needs to do, assuming we care at all about those who will be left behind. There is a peace and freedom that comes when all that is in order.  Today, Hospice Nurse Emily mentioned that her very healthy 87 year old Grandpa asked the Grandkids to go around his place and put their names on things for the time when he was gone.  At first the kids were reluctant, but he insisted.  For him it was comforting to know where his things would go.

The process of funeral preparation can be very life affirming.  While I do not recommend writing your own obituary with the expectation that it is the one that will be published, the exercise itself can be life changing.  Who do you want to have been when the period at the end of the sentence comes?  How do you want the story of your life to read?  Once you have gone through that exercise, it is time to actually do something to make that story a reality.

Mary Ann and I are no more or less alive than we were a month ago, a year ago, a decade ago, a half century ago.  Hospice or not, we are both alive.  There are limits on what we can do now as we continue to write the story of our lives, but there are limits of one sort or another on everyone.  The limits are not so confining as they are simply the setting for the story.  We write the story of our lives using the resources we have, not resources we used to have or wish we had, but the resources we have, thereby avoiding wasting time lamenting that we don’t have.

Mary Ann had a reasonably good day today.  It started with some fainting, but we got through that.  There was more conversation about dreams that seemed real to her.  Later in the morning Hospice Aide Sonya came to do Mary Ann’s shower, etc.  After a pretty full lunch, Nurse Emily came.  Again, it is good to have someone to report to and lean on when trying to determine how Mary Ann is doing medically.   I am happy to report that Mary Ann has gained back a couple of pounds, now at 114.5.

Former parishioners came by for a visit.  Randy and his Mom Leota came by for a while.  She is also suffering from some form of dementia, so her memory is not good.  Her husband was an avid fisherman, whose catch she would sometimes cook for us and call us to come and pick it up.  I did the funerals for one of their adult children, and her husband, as well as a couple of his fishing buddies.

Mary Ann ate a decent amount for supper and is now trying to settle down for the night.  The snow is falling at a rapid rate.  The first day of Spring tomorrow may include as  much as a foot of snow.

Since I seem unable to keep my eyes open, I think I will bring this to a close and head to be.  Here is hoping for a sleep-filled night.

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