One of the ways I processed being beside my mother as she passed from cancer, was to write notes, some of which I shared and some I have yet to share. I think sharing some of these notes may help others process their own grief at losses they face.
I hope they bless you!
Your progressive redneck preacher,
Family and friends,
I have a book by Father Henri Nouwen I have been reading, which talks about seeing ourselves as worthy of love, joy, a full life out of God’s words at baptism — “this is my beloved child, in whom I delight” (Luke 4). I came to a great quote about death and dying, which though it connects pretty clear with some of his Catholic beliefs I don’t know if we all share, seems so close to some of the lessons about death and dying I’ve learned in my work with the dying in hospice.
With death and illness so close at hand to each of us right now, I thought it might be worth a share to everybody.
“… we are called to give ourselves, not only in life, but in death as well. As the Beloved Children of God, we are called to make our death the greatest gift. Since it is true that we are broken so as to be given, then our final brokenness, death, is to become the means to our final gift of self. How can that be true? It seems that death is the great enemy to be evaded for as long as possible. Dying is not something we like to think about our talk about. Still, one of the very few things we can be sure of is that we will die. I am constantly amazed by the lengths to which our society goes to prevent us from preparing ourselves for death.
“For the Beloved Sons and Daughters of God, dying is the gateway to the complete experience of being the Beloved. For those who know they are chosen, blessed, and broke to be given, dying is the way to becoming pure gift.
“… Even though the media confronts us daily with the tragic reality of countless people dying through violence, war, starvation and neglect, and even though we hear regularly that people our own circle of family and friends have died, we pay very little attention to our own approaching death. IN our society we barely take the time to mourn when a friend or family member dies. Everything around us encourages us to keep going ‘as if nothing has happened.’ But then we never come in touch with our mortality, and when, finally, we have to face our own approaching death, we try to deny it as long as possible and are perplexed, yes even angry, when we cannot escape it.
“Still, as the Beloved, I am called to trust that life is a preparation for death as a final act of giving…
“The deaths of those whom we love and who love us open to the possibility of a new, more radical communion, a new intimacy, a new belonging to each other. If love is, indeed, stronger than death, then death has the potential to deepen and strengthen the bonds of love. It was only after Jesus had left his disciples that they were able to grasp what he truly meant to them.
“It is only when we have died that our true spirits can completely reveal themselves. [Those who have passed] were … beautiful people, but they were also people whose ability to love was limited by their many needs and wounds. Now, after their deaths, the needs and wounds that kept their spirits captive no longer inhibit them from giving their full selves to us. Now they can send us their spirits, and we can live in a new communion with them…
“The death of the Beloved bears fruit in many lives. You and I have to trust that our short little lives can bear fruit far beyond the boundaries of our chronologies. But we have to choose this and trust deeply that we have a spirit to send that will bring joy, peace, and life to those who remember us. Francis of Assis died in 1226, but he is still very much alive! His death was a true gift, and today, nearly eight centuries later, he continues to fill his brothers and sisters, within and outside the Fransiscan orders, with great energy and life. He died, but never died. His life goes on bearing new fruit around the world. His spirit keeps descending up on us. More than ever I am convinced that death can, indeed, be chosen as our final gift of life.
“You and I have only a short time left to live. The twenty, thirty, forty, or fifty years that are still ahead of us will go by very quickly. We can act as if we are to live forever and be surprised when we don’t, but we can also live with the joyful anticipation that our greatest desire to live our lives for others can be fulfilled in the way we choose to die. When it is a death in which we lay down our life in freedom, we and all we love will discover how much we have to give.” – Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World