April 7, 2010

Post Easter Meditation II: "The Good and Restful Night"

Eight years ago, this week, my father passed away. I always remember him more closely during spring, and during the time of Easter.

It's common for children of all ages to say our parents' lives have inspired us. Now that both of my parents have passed, I can say it's also useful to see how the deaths of those we love inspire us as well.

As much as I would like to doubt it, I realize I didn't know my parents as well as I imagined. So much of their lives were lived in places I didn't go, or couldn't see. Decisions were made in contexts and perspectives I didn't fully understand or appreciate. Outcomes were often misunderstood, or my perception of those outcomes was limited, skewed, or even absent.

There is, however, something about watching someone die that gives you a deep insight into who they are. In the face of death, it's difficult (and some might say, needless) to put on and keep up the appearances we often feel are necessary when we are concerned about what will happen next, or what someone may think of us next week or next month or next year. Everything is bared and laid open in the face of imminent and certain death. Hiding from self or others is no longer an option, and perhaps no longer even desirable. Why would one hide anything at this time? If you can't say and share what you think in the face of your own death, then you truly are an empty person.

When my father was dying in the spring of 2002, friends and colleagues helped me walk through that passage by sharing their experiences of parental death. Angry resignation was a common response to the message that life (as it was known) was about to end. Accusations, railings, and criticisms of doctors, other health care personnel, family members (living and dead), long lost lovers, etc. was another common happening. Why hold back any and everything you have ever had to say in the face of your life seeping away?

I was totally impressed and forever changed by watching my father die. Yes, he was medicated, but he was also fully awake and aware of what was happening. Short conversations were all he could manage, and at times he was too tired to open his eyes as he spoke. He had life-changing words of blessing for me, and his deathbed statements inspired me in the months and years after his death. I am grateful for them.

Whatever regrets he may have had at the end of his life, he found a way to leave his family with encouragement and faith in God. Getting older is a constant reminder we will probably never do everything we want to do in this world. We can't live forever, and though we can have surgery and drugs to make us look younger, the clock continues to tick.

The "good and restful night" is not something to be feared for the soul that looks forward to entering the unquestionable presence of God. How we make that transition says everything about who we are and how we wish to be remembered by those who will carry our energy with them after we are gone.

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