Rambling on Dying

When someone is about to croak, that is die, habits and issues of loved ones are hard to break.  One elderly lady was close to her last breath a few years ago and I was there to administer the “last rites” of the Church.  A well meaning daughter was distressed because mom had received a call to jury duty for the next day.  The loving offspring was making plans to transport the 90 year old to the courthouse the next day.  Less grief stricken heads prevailed and, later that day, her mom went to meet the Just Judge whose preemptory summons admits of no dilatory subterfuge (In memory of Rev William Schumacher).  A merciful God’s call trumps any force a mortal court may exert.

Many years ago a close friend and parishioner was given but a few short weeks to live from an especially aggressive form of cancer.  His son called me not long after and was concerned that his dad was drinking a beer; something he had given up years before.  The progeny was worried that the old man was slipping back into his alcoholic ways.  How do you tell a person that their concern might be slightly misplaced?  The cancer was unrelated to alcoholism and would kill him long before beer could destroy his life and relationships.  How many times have clergy and medical professionals seen people in the last stages of lung cancer smoking a cigarette?  Lots.  It’s typical to hear the family say, “I wish dad would quit smoking.”  The horse is already out of the barn, and dear old dad is going to quit smoking very, very, very soon whether he wants to or not.

A personal favorite was another advanced age matron whose heart was giving out.  She had a few days at best but wanted the solace of the sacraments of the Church.  As I was about to give her Holy Communion in the form of Viaticum (for non-Catholics, this is your last Communion as opposed to your first Holy Communion.  The word Viaticum freely translated means “one for the road”) the family stopped me, “Father, she has celiac disease and cannot have gluten.”  Through experience you learn not to argue with grief, inanity and non-sequiturs while attending the dying.  I went to the Church and retrieved from the tabernacle a low gluten host, trusting the lady would hold on to life while her family refused to kneel to the gods of gluten.

God bless the families of the dying; grief can cause confusion.  However faith in God, faith in His love for the loved parent, grandparent, spouse or friend brings hope and clarity.  Death is the passage to eternal life for those of us who believe and trust in Jesus.  While it is painful to be parted from them, we take hope in the world to come where every tear will be wiped away and we will be together forever.

I’d say more but the cemetery is calling; they’re removing a cedar tree from near my gravesite.  It was at my request, I’m allergic to cedar.

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