A few weeks ago, this video came across my news feed and it brought a lot of memories and provided insights. I would like to share my insights with you.
As Naomi Field touched Gladys Wilson's face, I was reminded it is often said in the profession of eldercare that: “We leave as we came in." When we come into this earth, we cannot do much for ourselves and when we leave, we also cannot do much for ourselves. For a moment, imagine that reality. In some future state, you will exist where you can not eat for yourself, clean yourself, go to the bathroom for yourself. You will be totally dependent on another. All that you will do today would have to be done by another or with the aid of another. How does that make you feel? For a moment, stop reading this blog post, look up from the screen and try to imagine that. As you do, note the feelings associated with the thoughts. For most of us is the feeling, "I don’t want that.” Yet if statistics are true, more and more people are going to be similar position.
On Ash Wednesday, we hear the remix of Genesis 18:27 and Job 30:19 in “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” We again begin the season of Lent. A time of discernment seeking of God’s call in our lives. Yet to understand God's call, we must be willing to acknowledge our own mortality. To know at some point our own baptisms will be completed. As I watched the video, I was aware of my own mortality. Awareness is funny thing. It is not knowledge or understanding. We do not know when we will go nor do we understand how we will go. Yet all of us are aware that we will go. It is our uncertainty that drives our fear and then our denial of that which we are already aware. So much of what we do in this life is dependent on us denying our own death.
As I sit here with this knowledge, I find myself living a good life not so much trying to maintain the self delusion that I will live forever but preparing for a good death. A good death might feel like an oxymoron; however, my training and experience says otherwise. In her TED talk, Judy MacDonald Johnston explains the trials and joys of dying in peace and she gives some constructive action and resources to help insure that you have a good death. Granted, we are only aware and do not know or understand what is death. It is challenging. In life, we seek control to make things better. That control comes out of knowledge and understanding. If you want a good job, you gain the knowledge to have a good job. You want to have a good house: you understand what makes a good house and buy it or build it. Yet, our deaths are different. We can only rely on our awareness. As much as politicians and pundits want to champion choice in healthcare, when it really matters you will have no choice when death happens. We will have no choices, not because evil big government will come in and take it away, but while we might have preferences on what will happen next, the reality is that we can not communicate it. It is easy to say, "Talk about your wishes.” Yet that is only in part of it. You have to create trust in two ways with those advocates in your life. First, you have to trust that the advocates will responsibly make decisions . Second communicate that you trust them to make those decisions so that in those times they will have confidence in themselves. Judy MacDonald Johnston developed a set of worksheets to help foster that trust.
In the Song Travelin’ On, Nora Jane Struthers sings:
Now I sit here rocking in my chair,
Grand babies crawling everywhere,
Soon I will be with the angel band,
With wings to fly I won’t need to stand,
I will be travelin on,
I am not afraid of travelin’ on
I am not afraid of,
In this season of Lent, discern in these moments to do the things and have the conversations that we need to have so that we won’t be afraid of travelin’ on.
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