The End of Life: Sacred and Awful

Life is a sacred gift.
But, some seasons are more sacred than others.

Two years ago, my Mother lived on her own, in her own house, driving her own car. Two weeks ago, she entered hospice care.

My Mom, Fran, with her dog, Rigby. (9/25)
My Mom, Fran, with her dog, Rigby. (9/25)

This is my fourth lap with the hospice-farewell process: my father, my father-in law, and my Uncle. And I have decided that the best words to describe the experience of this season in life are sacred and awful.

To stand at the end of life with someone you love and recall the stories of their life is a sacred place. To reflect on their moments of courage and vitality is to embrace the depth of who they were. To look ahead with them to the promise of eternity, to the place where pain and suffering evaporate in the presence of Jesus is to touch what is truly holy.

However, the moments that litter the pathway of this journey through the breakdown of the human body can be gut-wrenchingly awful. Our bodies were not created for death. We were created for life. Death entered the scene as part of the fall—the curse of Adam and all of us who’ve continued in his rebellious footsteps. We were never intended to experience dementia, debilitating loss of strength, or the demise of any other bodily function. We weren’t designed to feed our parents when they can’t feed themselves.

Watching my Mom wilt into a smaller and smaller version of who she used to be, I have to remind myself that she lived 87 years of healthy independence. Until two years ago, she was able to live in her own house, drive her own car, and engage in the activities she enjoyed. But, things have changed. I now need to choose to embrace the sacred transition that is taking place in right front of my eyes—a transition from this life into the next. I have to start saying goodbye while she is still here.

I am not a fan of those endless (and expensive) attempts to squeeze another short delay of the inevitable for a body that is saying, “I have had enough.” Desperate attempts to postpone death only serve to increase everyone’s sorrow and suffering.

I think we need to learn to acknowledge that it is right and good and holy to arrive at end of this life and declare “it is finished.” It is a holy thing to say like David, “I have completed God’s purpose in my own generation.” (Acts 13.36) We need to remember and declare God’s perspective: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants.” (Ps 116.15)

We don’t know how long my Mom has nor how things will play out at the end. Last week was a good week. The past couple days have been bad days. But, I do know that as I enter another farewell season, I choose to embrace it as a sacred moment, awful at points, but holy and good and right. It is a time to say goodbye. It is a time to bless her transition into the next life as it becomes ever closer.

 

When you have the chance to walk the same road with the people you love, I invite you to embrace this holy tension with me.

 

Your thoughts?
Your experience?

 

Kerry’s House of Pain

This afternoon I will willingly walk in the doors of what I have started calling, “Kerry’s House of Pain.” I know that the front of the building reads “physical therapy,” but honestly I think that is Latin-based code for “place of torture.”

I wish I had a glorious reason for needing PT, something that would sound good like, I was playing Rugby or crashed while mountain biking down half-dome. Nope, it’s embarrassing. I sprained a ligament in my knee doing a simple domestic chore and that’s all I will admit to. Either way, my doc wanted me to do PT as a way to guard the healing and strengthen or retrain whatever was the mitigating cause.

So, twice a week for a month now, my therapist engages in polite conversation as she simultaneously uses her fist or elbow to plow furrows in my thigh where my IT band used to be. Then her assistant smiles as she assigns me one exercise after another that is designed to stretch or strengthen some obscure muscle group no one knew they had. Translation, “feel the burn.”

And, twice a week I find myself thinking about how growth and character development really happens. Sure, I could sit with Kerry and share the same personal stories over a latte, but it would do nothing for the healing and long term health of my knee. It might even position me for greater long term pain and trouble.

I can see multiple parallels to personal growth from this experience.

  1. There is no comfort based alternative to personal growth. I cannot simultaneously pursue comfort and take new ground in the formation of my character.
  2. When I lean into pain and difficulty, by being attentive to the internal conversations and observations of my soul, I sow the seeds of real character formation.
  3. There is no magic pill. The attitudes and perspectives that still lurk in the dark recesses of my heart are stubborn and will not be dealt with through some simplistic approach.
  4. I cannot get there in a day. Personal growth and transformation happens much like the healing process in my knee. Even as the initial pain in my knee begins to subside, I know that the work is not done. I have to embrace the reality that repair and retraining of all the muscles, ligaments, and tendons connected to this injury takes time.

So, what difficulty or challenge are you facing these days? What would you like to avoid or dismiss?  Is it possible that your “house of pain” could be a place of rehab or retraining that will serve you in a deep way?

Life is Fragile…and Sacred

When you are a child, you are typically oblivious to the dangers that surround you. When you are a teenager, you feel downright indestructible. As a young adult, it seems we are just too busy with a million irons in the fire to notice our own mortality. But somehow, as you get older you come to realize that life is fragile. This incredible bio-machine called the human body can be taken down in hundreds of ways.

Yet, when I recognize how fragile life is, I wake up to the fact that every day of life is a gift.

These days I find myself surrounded by people whom I love that are facing significant health battles. My Father-in-law is now under hospice care as his heart loses strength. My Uncle’s health has degenerated so he can no longer live on his own. My good friend and ministry partner with CRM recently discovered a cluster of tumors that will require extensive surgery. And, in less than a week, my son will have heart surgery to repair a condition that has had him on disability for six months.

My point in all this is not “woe-is-me.” Instead, it is champion the profound realization that at the core, our lives are truly fragile. We are miraculously fragile. And there is something about that fragile reality which makes today, which makes everyday, a sacred gift.

Unfortunately, I easily forget that day-to-day life is a gift. I get busy driving here, flying there, meeting with people, managing projects, working on some new scheme that is going to transform the world… and in the midst of it all I forget that I have no guarantees. I take my health, my strength, my life for granted.

So, today I want to say thank you to Jesse, Ken, Steve and Ryan. You are exceptional men whom God has used to shape my life. Today you remind me to hold my own life as a sacred trust. To take nothing for granted. To live boldly and with passionate focus.

In you I am reminded all over again that life is fragile, powerful, and mysterious. Today is a sacred trust to be held lightly and lived fully. It is a gift.

Kite Runner

Kite Runner (Book Cover)

Beautifully painful. Harsh. Irresistable. Honest. A rare look into the complexity and tensions of hope and suffering. And, simultaneously, a frank reminder that the results of many choices can never be undone. I found myself moved by the images of sacrifice by parents for their children. I am moved by the work ethic of immigrant families who do everything within their power to build a life. In the anesthetic world of suburban comfort and western affluence Kite Runner is a compelling reminder of what real life tastes like for the two-thirds world.