Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Dying with Grace and Dignity

There are days when one feels particularly alive -- I hope you know what I mean.

Strange that today was one of those days for me, since I've been down, down with acute bronchitis and some asthma.

M called me Sunday to let me know that J was near death. M and J are two older women from my previous church, two older women who 'adopted' me, mentored me, loved me. Toward the end of my time at this previous church, when things were extremely stressful and it seemed that mean-spirited people might prevail, M and J and I began meeting every week for prayer. Prayer. Prayer. Prayer. Those meetings sustained me, nourished me, gave me strength to carry on for what I believed was right.

Today I decided to visit J before I went to work, to tell her goodbye. (Such a blessing that she is able to die in her own home, on hospice. ) I entered her room. She lay there on the hospital bed they'd brought in for her, her face turned toward the door. She's somewhere in that netherland between life and death, unconscious -- or perhaps not completely. I don't know. Her mouth open, the death rattle reminded me of other losses, other deaths.

The nurse came in, so S (the lovely woman, also from my previous church, who is staying there in JC's house during this time) and I went to the living room to talk. When J arranged for S to stay there, knowing she was dying, she told her several times, "S, I want to die with grace and dignity. That's all I ask of you."

And S is exactly the kind of person to help her do that. She is guardian of JC's grace and dignity during these last hours.

I wish I had made more time to visit with JC. I know she wanted me to. She visited me at my current church a couple of times, just to "see your face, Katherine. I just want to see your face," she said. She loved me so much.

Damn this busyness. Oh, dear God. I should've made more time for dear, dear J.

She was a poet, you know. Beautiful poetry that she would type out for me on an old typewriter and give me a copy. Poetry about life and God and love, but also about troublesome bunny rabbits in her backyard garden. Hilarious, rich, earthy poetry.

When S and I went back to J's room again, I said a prayer, thanking God for this angel on earth, thanking God for allowing me to know her, for the way her heart yearned for God and for the example that was for me. I held her, and I kissed her sweet face one last time.

I don't know. I have carried this early-morning experience with me all day, perhaps made more powerful by this pervading sickness in my lungs through which I have to push through just to draw a breath of any depth. JC's breath is leaving her body. I am working to breath this day. Somehow, the symmetry there seems ... helpful to me in some way I can't quite articulate. I have felt so open this day.


Gannet Girl said...

And you sound - open. Dignified. Graceful. She is leaving you a great legacy.

Jennifer said...

Oh, Katherine! Sharing life is a great blessing.

Mompriest said...

Seems as though she was a blessing to you and you were a blessing to her. That's standing on sacred ground...in the best of ways.

Jan said...

Thank you for writing. Blessings abound amid the tears.

Jan said...

Hey, somehow I reconnected with a a post from 2007 where we shared beautifully about our friendship in the comments. Miss you and love you.