I’ve been thinking about death a lot lately. Most people don’t think about it – or rather what I mean is they don’t have to think about it. I’ve had to think about it since the day Catherine was born. I especially remember thinking about it in the context of whether I would have to make a horrifying decision to allow her to die. God’s grace spared me that actual decision though I did ponder it in the stillness of long, lonely nights spent waiting.
Years ago, we had a transitional priest at my church while we were waiting for a new priest to be called. He was great. Full of energy. Really inspirational. And I found myself wanting to hear what he had to say rather than just sitting through it (come on, we all do that at times!). He led a Sunday School session where we studied the funeral service of the Episcopal Church in the Book of Common Prayer. I remember wondering if I was put in that class because I was going to have to plan a funeral service soon. I nearly quit going because of that thought figuring if I didn’t attend, maybe no one close to me would die. The obvious fear was Catherine. Though I let it extend to others in my life in my absurd worrying.
Thankfully, no one died. And I didn’t quit. I stuck with it and eventually encountered a challenging part of the service. While earth is cast upon the coffin (it’s actually written that way, you can look it up on p 485, 501 BCP), the Celebrant says, “In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to the Almighty God, our brother N; and we commit his body to the gound; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
What? What is certain hope? That is a definite oxymoron. And what’s up with hope for resurrection to eternal life anyway? I thought part of the deal was that as Christians, we believe it is going to happen. If someone dies, and he or she believes the Gospel, then that person would have eternal life. So, I asked about that and encountered a discussion I barely remember. It kept nagging at me though, so I did a little research, and I definitely remember the following Sunday.
Walking into church that next Sunday after struggling with my question during the week and not being satisfied, I saw the priest stereotypically on the front steps of the church. I shared a bit of my research and he asked me to share it with the Sunday School class in a couple of weeks. I accepted that invitation on faith, hoping I’d find something to say. It resulted in a pretty powerful presentation that I went on to share with a crowd at my home church in NC as well. And I concluded that hope is emotional, belief is mental and faith is active – faith enables our actions.
Now, I’m thinking about death again in the face of Catherine’s surgery. Some of that is around logistics such as where do I want Sarah if it happens and how will we tell her. Most of the thinking though is about what I want to do with Catherine over the next two weeks before she goes in for surgery.
I just had a chat with someone about what happens when you face near-death and whether the changes everyone swears they’ll make are actually sustained. Many people post quotes on places like my Pinterest board that encourage readers to live life like they were dying. I’ve actually thought about that a lot. “What would I do if I were going to die tomorrow?” kind of thing. The reality is that you can’t live life that way – at least not all of it. Because, let’s be honest. If any of you reading this blog knew you were going to die tomorrow, you probably wouldn’t take time to read this blog. Don’t worry – I’m not offended. I might make a final blog entry, but I certainly wouldn’t run around reading others people’s blogs. And I’d not pay the bills, nor do any laundry. And I’d not go to work. And if I lived every day “like I were dying” my life would collapse because I do have to go to work, and I do have to pay bills. (Regardless of what’s happening in life or death – laundry, however, can wait!)
So, these two weeks prior to surgery are an amazing gift. They are a wonderful window of time where it’s short enough that I can actually do some special things that I’ll want to make sure I did if Catherine does die. And it’s long enough that I can continue paying bills and going to work and doing all the stuff we have to do in reality. I can take care of the responsibilities AND treasure the moments with Catherine. And I think that’s really how we’re supposed to live life. Not as if this were our last day. Rather as if we might lose everything in the next couple of weeks or so. We need to continue to meet our responsibilities, AND we need to make sure we both create and treasure special moments.
These next two weeks, I want to live life as if these are her last few weeks. We’ll hope that they won’t be for sure! And I’ll act on faith that they won’t be as well. However it turns out, I will know I had no regrets. And after all of this deep thinking for a summer Saturday, this weekend, I’m taking her swimming.