Tuesday, March 15, 2005
The Pain of a Death With Dignity
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear . . . —Psalm 46:1–2
My mother died from cancer on a beautiful fall day nearly twenty years ago. During the five months from the diagnosis of “terminal cancer” until her death, I learned a great deal abut my fear of death and how my own Christian faith helps me to confront death – my own and those whom I love dearly. Initially I was confused as to what my role should be in the midst of my mother’s dying. I lived in upstate New York with my family, and my mother and most of my siblings lived in Saint Louis. I had just returned from a year’s sabbatical in England when I received the phone call from my oldest brother about my mother’s poor prognosis and her need for an immediate operation to unblock her intestine.
Phone calls to various other siblings convinced me that I was needed in Saint Louis. And so, I – my mother’s ninth child – went to a devotional service in my mother’s hospital room led by the minister from my mother’s church the evening before her operation. My two oldest siblings, a nephew, a niece, and my mother’s first cousin, a woman in her eighties like my mother, were all present. We joined hands as the minister began to read from the 46th Psalm. At that moment, I felt my heart swell with tears of thanksgiving for allowing me the privilege of being a part of my family, for allowing me to share with others the journey of life – one that must necessarily end in death for all of us. It was an experience of God’s grace beyond words. It was also when I realized that my mother was not dying of terminal cancer: she was living with a terminal illness surrounded by love.
God, help us to have the courage to reach out to those among us who are living with terminal illness or the grief of death, so that we may experience in their living the Grace of your strength and love. Amen.
Larry I. Palmer