Tuesday, March 29, 2005

DYING, DEATH, and other thoughts
The media feeding frenzy surrounding the Schiavo and Schindler families has evoked all sorts of reactions. Politicians have tried to make political capital out of the case. Various groups have tried to convince the courts and the public of their closeness to God and what God would want. Others align themselves with the husband or with the wife or with the parents. The only thing I can discover in all this is a deep unknowing of motives, reactions, reports and the whole process of dying. We do not really know what Terri Schiavo wanted, what her husband is thinking in his heart of hearts, what the parents really want, or even if anyone is right about anything. Our thoughts are primarily a projection of our own hopes and fears.
Those who have disabilities are alarmed that the case is a sign of what might happen to them if this is just one step on a slippery slope to no medical intervention when people have conditions that are deemed inconvenient. There is good reason to be alarmed given our history as humankind on this earth. Those who have had to face death in their loved ones and the prolonging of life when there is no hope of recovery and nature would take over if it weren't for our medical techniques - fear the consequences of a wrong choice. Who ultimately gets to decide? The spouse, the parents, the courts, the legislature, religious institutions?

Out of all this I have had these thoughts but no conclusions:

1) Get a living will and end of life directives written up NOW!!! Spare your loved ones the agony of not knowing your wishes. There are lots of place to obtain a form - on the web, from hospitals and doctors, from attorneys - many are free.

2) Dying with dignity: guess what - death is not dignified, it is messy and terrible. Sometimes there is pain which one hopes medical care personnel can alleviate - but not always. One's body is taken over by others who must care for one's every need. This is not all bad. In my short time as a priest - I have witnessed amazing times in the process of death. Families are open to healing of relationships that seemed impossible. The power of the Spirit can strengthen the bonds of love and compassion. Not always, but as many times as I have seen it I come to expect it.

3) Judge not lest you be judged - the journey to death for the dying and those surrounding him or her is not an easy path. For those of us outside of the immediate circle - love and support is the best thing that can be offered. For those of us caught up in the whirlwind of last days, however long they last, give each other slack. Many things are said in grief that can cause further pain to one another. Remember the stages of grief are not linear or accomplished once and for all. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance are like the ball in a pinball machine - rocketing back and forth between the posts, getting stuck for a time, sometimes lighting up the whole body and sometimes causing everything to stop with a big TILT! Everyone make his own Tear Soup with her own ingredients and its own cooking time.

4) Live today. Be present with one another. Tell people you love them, you appreciate them. Don't wait. Death can come this moment as well as sometime off in the future. We will die - it is the only way to continue. For me it is a mystery and an adventure. I have written about it before and will probably write about it again.

5) And as Mary Oliver says in The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand …
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,  
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done? …
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

6) Alcoholics Anonymou puts it this way - when will you start showing up for your life?

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