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Again, they were there: Four ducks—two with long necks, one white and the other black, and two squat mallards whose emerald–green heads glinted in the January sun—dimpled the surface of the partially frozen pond; it was enclosed by simple homes that an extended family had built decades ago.

Unlike other times when I used to pause during walks, I noted many Suzys, females with speckled brown feathers, preening beneath the January sun, occasionally circling one of the males, then turning away. From the grassy bank, two Canadian geese strutted like self-important butlers intent that everything should be in order.

Indeed, it was—the selection process was underway. Once accomplished, the pairs of mallards will remain together, build nests obscured by long grasses along the bank, mate, guard the eggs until their May hatching, then feed and teach the ducklings over the summer. Their molting and growth and water-antics often had brightened my mood in past summers. Nearby, little children squealed with delight, jumped up and down. At times, cars also stopped.

Yesterday’s simple experience gave me pause; its joy of cyclical creation suggests an Unseen Presence at work in our lives, as well. Beauty abounds … It’s always close by.

One year has passed since signing up for hospice for which I am still eligible, per Medicare’s guidelines for participation. Aside from my lung issues, my advanced age also qualifies me.

That first week of hospice was overwhelming. In and out of my front door streamed hospice staff, each with their expertise: the nurse’s explanation of hospice with its multiple forms requiring my signature, the social worker’s information about burial plans and agencies with paid caregivers, and the chaplain with spiritual balm for my frazzled spirit. In and out of my front door also streamed deliveries of a concentrator, six tanks of oxygen, and a portable oxygen tank, followed by Mucinex from hospice’s pharmacy. My lawyer, funeral director, and Pastor also visited and received the final touches for my burial plans. Then, my phone kept ringing with teary-eyed friends.

Admittedly, that week of high drama felt like forced feeding, all the more painful because of flying high on an inappropriate dose of Dexamethasone, “the little blue pill,” mentioned in my early blogs.

Then, days, weeks, months passed, with ninety-day visits from the nurse practioner to evaluate my decline that warranted the continuation of hospice. Last spring’s additional helpers for personal care firmed my case.

Blogging this process has left a trail of new learning: books reviewed, seasonal changes outside my study window, significant dreams, vignettes of helpers, emerging sense of my mortality, prayers, together with my recovery work in Chronic Pain Anonymous.

The fact remains—I’ve not died! And there appears little clinical evidence that this will happen soon. 

So I’ve re-framed my sense of dying to that of living in the body of an old woman, a time of low drama with languorous phases of soul-looking at the significant. Such surrender will inform my blogs with content larger in scope than what I’ve produced. That’s my hope.

Thanks for your continuing interest.

Warm breezes tinged the glistening grass near the parking lot around St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church in Brentwood, MO. Clusters of mourners shifted feet, gawked. Some smoked.

In the distance a fire truck glinted in the sun; behind it, the slow moving cortege inched its way toward the porte-cochere, then stopped. Uniformed firemen stood at attention as attendants guided the coffined remains of one of theirs onto a gurney. Inside the great oak doors three vested priests welcomed the recently deceased into his church-home with prayers and incensing and sprinkling with holy water, reminiscent of his baptism.

Noted for his soulful dark eyes, his forehead crinkling in mirth, his brogue, he taught others wherever he went: as a firefighter, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a neighbor. Forty-two years of practicing the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous also ennobled his character.

Stage IV leukemia, diagnosed in the spring of 2014, paradoxically, enlivened his willingness to undergo painful clinical trials at Siteman Center, knowing they would enable oncologists to help others suffering with his disease. Never did he complain. His frequent phone contacts with his network in the ICU, in the Leukemia Unit, or at home always ended with “Talk at cha later!”

But the fire of his disease eventually cleansed his soul for eternal life.

 At the conclusion of the Mass of Resurrection, the honor guard again stepped into the main aisle and snapped to attention. It was time for the Last Call. A crisp radio voice sounded throughout the church announcing the deceased’s name and passing, the same message broadcasted to all receivers on fire trucks, police cars, and emergency vehicles in the St. Louis Metro area. Then three gongs sounded on the portable fire bell. Silence hallowed the emptiness.

His name was Joe Bratcher.


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