Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Spring is not the time to die

I was watching the bird bath in our back yard today. A Cowbird was taking a long bath while a Cardinal waited patiently. But after it became obvious the Cowbird was not going to surrender the bird bath, the Cardinal flew off. The Cowbird finally seemed to finish, but when a Sparrow flew down to take him place he jumped back in and drove away the Sparrow. The he bathed some more. When he finally got out he was so wet it seemed difficult for him to fly.

Little dramas like that happen every day in our back yard in Spring.

Spring, when Life is surging back in profusion and abundance, is not the time to die.

But my friend Alice is dying, perhaps even dead now since I saw her early this afternoon and the hospice nurse told me she was only breathing every thirty seconds or so. St. John's Priest-in-charge, Amy was there with the family. They were in good hands. I just wanted to sit with Alice for a spell and tell her good-bye and how much I appreciated how gracious and generous and hospitable and kind and supportive she'd been to me in the 21 years I was her priest.

Her family called me this morning to tell me the end was near and they wanted me to see her. I am so aware of trying to be an ex-Rector that I called Amy to ask if I could go see Alice. She told me it was fine and she was on her way there as we spoke. (I didn't even tell Amy she shouldn't be driving and talking on a cell phone because I was so glad I'd get to see Alice before she died.)

So I sat with her and told her what I needed to thank her for and told her I'd miss her and kissed her forehead (normally I would have made the sign of the cross there, but I'm not her priest any more, Amy is, so I kissed her as my friend.)

Driving home I marveled at the number of deathbeds I've sat by. The first was my mother a few days after I turned 25. My father and I were with her when she died. But, besides hospice nurses, priests probably sit by more deathbeds than anyone. How many, I wondered, knowing fair well I could never remember them all.

This blog is called "Under the Castor Oil Tree" because most biblical scholars think the tree God causes to grow for Jonah at the end of that book was a Castor Oil tree. Then God sends a worm to kill the tree and Jonah sits under the dead tree pondering the meaning of it all.

Sitting by deathbeds is a good place to ponder the meaning of it all.

I certainly have no answers to all the questions the deathbed Castor Oil Tree raises. No answers at all. In fact, I think the reason I am good to have around at the time of death is that I don't have anything to tell you about that awful and holy mystery. I certainly won't say anything stupid or silly or falsely pious. In fact, I normally say nothing at all. I'm just there as what psychologists call a "non-anxious presence", just part of the decor of whatever room the deathbed is in. I'm sad and pained and not a little angry, but I'm just there like a blank piece of paper for people to write on.

I don't fear Death, but I hate the thought of people dying...especially in Spring when Cowbirds and Cardinals and Robins galore and Swifts and Sparrows are entertaining me in the back yard. And especially Alice--such a dear, wondrous, loving woman--on this oh-so-perfect Spring day.

Lots to ponder there....

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.