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Your word is a lamp for my feet, so prayed the Psalmist who sought to know and follow God’s will, within the specificities of his time and place. This spiritual practice, for centuries internalized by others, has opened onto ultimate joy, but not without sacrifice.

This prayer first became mine during formation as a novice in 1958, easily practiced among others brimming with youth and enthusiasm. Then, the will of God was spelled out in the Order of Day posted outside the office of the Mistress of Novices. Over time, I learned to hear God’s will sounded by the clapper of the hand bell marshaling everyone to the next activity. Only thundering footsteps along terrazzo corridors marred the silence, observed by everyone. Somehow, it worked very well, within the quiet of our hearts.

Despite leaving the convent years later, I still carry this imprinting; it serves me well, especially with the eruption of new limits impinging upon my former independence. No longer do I go outside. No longer do I prepare my own food. No longer do I scrub my back. No longer do I speak for long intervals without oxygen. No longer can I spend long hours at my word processor. And so many more No longer cans … At times, these bristle with wintershock.

Were it not for my compassionate family, friends, and spirited caregivers I would have lost track of the light’s lamp and fallen off the path. This work is too onerous to attempt alone.

So with the Psalmist, I renew the prayer, Your word is a lamp for my feet, and surrender to the Unknown, awaiting all of us, on the other side of time.

 

At 7:15 A.M., I awoke with this dream:

A very old nun is dying in her infirmary cell, its door closed until this morning when I noticed it.

This dream recalled my experience as a young nun with first vows, newly assigned to the community’s 12-grade Academy in New Orleans. It was August 1963. I was asked to take my turn praying by the bedside of a comatose old nun. The sister infirmarian saw my distress and explained features of the dying process, underway: irregular breathing, death rattle, sunken cheeks, blue feet, mottled arms resting atop the thin bed sheet. But there was no prayer that afternoon; instead I watched the oscillating fan wrap humid sighs around the old nun’s nightcap, tied under her chin.

Long years passed before squeamishness around the dying lessened, but that that would happen to me was kept at bay, even while working with hospice patients.

However, this morning’s dream appears to be another invitation to explore death, up close—my own. Weakness, difficulty formulating words, shortness of breath, need for oxygen, nightly cocktails of morphine and Lorazapan, Miralax for my bowels, decreased appetite—all speak of what’s coming. No longer can the death of my body be denied through the maintenance of my daily routine, the last vestige of control. I’m still supported by spirited caregivers, my new coaches into the unknown, one day a time.

It’s about letting go, about falling into the arms of God as others have done before me.

 

 

Grief, reflected in the last blog, weighed my spirit for the remainder of the day. My brush with mortality still rankled. My body had been and still is the carrier of my spirit. Without my body, how would I interact with the world around me? It’s all I’ve ever known. And the months of new learning living with a terminal illness—How would that continue? Or would it? I felt like a helium balloon, hovering over the sidewalk, swayed by lackluster breezes.

Last evening’s phone meeting with my CPA buddies just happened to focus upon grief with its emotional and intellectual implications. I was still socked within its strictures; its snug fit rendered me powerless. How I welcomed the oblivion of sleep, if sleep would come

But it did, immediately, and without medication.

From my psyche, emerged the feathery outline of this dream:

A nearby funeral home was waking a friend, whose loss attracted numerous mourners, I among them. While I stood in line to offer condolences to her family, I noticed a silver-haired neighbor listening to a couple, his soft gray eyes following each word, his clean-shaven jaw slack. His contemplative manner had drawn my attraction in the past, but no opportunity for our meeting had ever occurred. I was content to let him find me if we were supposed to meet.

 It seemed like delicious hours passed in his presence. Eventually the lounge of the funeral home faded—only this loving man remained, though distant from me. When I awoke ten hours later, gone was the heaviness that had snagged me in bondage. I was free again, and would be, until next shocked by my body’s certain demise.

Only Precious God knows when.

 

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