So, last week I walked into this room to talk to Carole. I had been there with her a few days before when she said it simply and clearly, “I am ready.” I’ve come to believe that those who have suffered much physically have a very good idea of when enough is enough. And although it is important in this modern age to be sure we have explored options, there are other times when it is important to step back and allow courage and grace to come forward. Often the healing that is going on in a room where someone is preparing to die is being done not by doctors, nurses or those visiting, but by the one doing the dying.
I’ve known Carole as very soft spoken. However, I suspect that was a recent development of her physical struggles. Carole’s wit and wisdom was so sharp that I learned early on to put my good ear a little closer to her when she was speaking. She often surprised me with a quick and delightful word. She found ways to say things in the turn of a phrase that would take up pages. I’m coming to believe – at least about Carole, that this was less about always having something to say and more about how well she listened to what I had to say, to what life was saying to her. I wanted to pay attention to what Carol had to say about preparing to die.
So, I walk into this small room and Carol is lying there surrounded by her women friends and her daughters. The room is very pleasant and Carol is covered in blankets but on the top of the blankets covering her shoulders is what looks like a grey sweatshirt with a word in white letters across the front. When I walk into a room I almost automatically take in details like; who is there, is this a pleasant setting, does it smell like a bedroom or a bathroom, how many IV’s are hanging from the pole, is the person lying there up to a chat….. I’d never seen a sweatshirt covering someone before.
The day before Carole had the prayer shawl I had given her from the church ladies, who knit prayer shawls for those who are in need of an extra prayer. It’s a way of trying to remind them that they are held, wrapped in prayer by our congregation and others. These ladies call themselves, “The Interknits.” I love that name. The prayer shawl was dark purple maybe magenta and looked great against Carole’s fair skin and her dark hair. The sweatshirt was grey and the lettering was white. It was pale and well did not look as good on her, so I suspected that whatever that sweatshirt said or stood for was very important to her.
Do any of you have a t-shirt or sweatshirt like that? A piece of clothing you choose carefully to wear on a certain day to a certain place. Maybe it’s the shirt you got at the cancer awareness walk, which you wear on the anniversary of your surgery. Or maybe it’s an old college sweatshirt that you wear on days when you need to remember that you were young once. Or maybe it’s your Vikings (or Packers) apparel you wear to watch the game. I think you get my drift. Whatever that sweatshirt said had to be pretty important to someone lying on a bed upon which she was preparing to die.
I sat down next to Carole the way I often sit next to folks. I was a little closer because of course I wanted to hear what she had to say. As I did I leaned over and asked, “What does this sweatshirt say?” She told me to read it for myself. It took me a moment to make out the white letters on the grey sweatshirt but do you know what it said, it said…..Obama……
I couldn’t help it, it surprised me so much that despite my experience and training I said something like, “What is this?” Carol just smiled and said something like, “I wanted to live long enough to vote, but I guess I’m not going to make it, so this is the next best thing.”
Now, I’m not trying to make a political statement although maybe Carole was; I hope you can trust this. I have been asking myself, “What is that?” what is it that compels someone who is preparing to die to of all things make a statement about what she sees as a need for our future.
Whether you are a Democrat or Republican I hope you call that HOPE. And I mean hope with a capital H-O-P-E! Hope not in the outcome of the upcoming election, although it is that, but HOPE, in the upcoming life she was preparing to enter. HOPE that there is something of a connection, something of a participation, something of a contribution to do good in the world, that we who are left here, might still be able receive with the same courage and grace that this very moment imparted. HOPE that who we are is something more, something deeper than Republican or Democrat even United Methodist or Roman Catholic but as scripture says in our living and in our dying, we are the body of Christ, witnessing to the love and acceptance of Jesus. It is a HOPE that ou r ordinary living and dying has some eternal significance.
Carole died the next afternoon. Her funeral is 11 AM this Saturday at our church. I don’t know if she had the sweatshirt on but I do know she died in the arms of her loving family and in the HOPE of what awaits us all. I needed to say all this just to say, “Thank You, Carol, I hope I heard you right.”
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4: 16-18.
Keep the Faith,