Yesterday I again found myself in the sacred space of sitting with a dying woman. Death and I have sat together alot in the last eight weeks. Each time I am with a saint laboring toward peace there are themes that emerge. Some are looking for resolution, others are longing for reunion. There are often things they say that reveal the core of their being.
Over the last weeks of visiting this particular saint she has been most concerned that she has not been able to be in church to bring her offering envelopes.
She is a person of few means who literally puts a couple quarters in each envelope. She does not drive and had been dependent upon a ride to get to church
but whenever she came, there were enough envelopes for the number of weeks since the last time.
She would toddle in to "her" pew and would be there early. I always knew she was in church because the fluffy white wig that was outsized in proportion to the rest of her was usually the first thing that would catch my eye.
Over my time here as the pastor, I came to know that she had been married and then after her husband died, had found love again, but for an elderly woman on Social Security with no pension and an elderly veteran, marriage was unaffordable. It was hard enough.
I had visited and provided food, and fuel assistance. And communion and anointing.
I was told by many that the old vet was gruff and hard to like.
Little by little I learned that while the old veteran was still a curmudgeonly guy who was never going to come to church, but in his way he did what he could for her and for her faith life.
Even calling a few months ago to tell me she was pretty sick, and on a hot day I made the trek out.
She was in bed with a fan blowing, not dressed like church, but in pajamas and sans wig. But her three wigs were all resting on the dresser on their hairdresser heads. She was very worried about those envelopes of quarters and out of the corner of my eye I saw the old vet shaking his head "no." He did not share and I left wondering. But before I did, we had shared communion. He joined us and owned that it was the first time he had been offered communion in years. It changed things
In these last weeks, after trips back and forth between the hospital and the extended care facility, and the decision to simply provide palliative care, it has become clear. What she had been too proud to share was that she has an inoperable tumor. What is now taking her life is the onset of pneumonia and I watch each day as she becomes more and more a shell of her former physical self. Her jawline and collarbone more pronounced. Now the old vet and I have talked out in the hall about what is to come. Where it is clear that the reason he shakes his head "no" about those quarters is that with the cost of her care, there are no quarters.
And yet this has been her fixation.
As though as she ponders it all she worries that in the absence of being caught up with her offering the holy gates will be locked and she will be lost.
And so we collaborated in a holy fib.
It reminded me of years ago on the medical drama "House" where a woman had been driving her family in a car and made an error in driving that resulted in a terrible accident that took the lives of her husband and family. As she lay dying in a hospital bed a couple years later, still punishing herself for the accident, she was calling for her husband. The normally curmudgeonly doctor who had unearthed both her story and her husband's wedding band, put the ring on and held her hand. She stroked the hand with the wedding band, and a tear rolled down her face. She believed her husband was there and she could have peace. Though no one would consider a "House" character and holy in the same sentence, it was a holy fib.
So here the old vet and I found ourselves. Confronted with this fixation that left no peace. And in the face of the repeating theme of the offering envelopes we knowingly colluded. As she worried about the envelopes I assured her that he and I had taken care of things and everything was caught up. She looked at him and he nodded his head and assured her that was right. It took two times but she eventually accepted the holy fib and could lay to rest the issue of the envelopes. That was a couple days ago.
Yesterday when I came to sit with her the mere opening of eyes was a struggle as was speaking. I just sat and held her hand and offered a prayer. At the end of the prayer, she became very alert and very concerned.
Will God REALLY take care of me?
I need to confess because I have done things wrong
Will I be in trouble?
She was not able to speak about what the wrong things might be about
But it was kind of like the back story of what the envelopes represented-
what if I am not "caught up" with God?
I spoke God's forgiveness and reminded her of God's promises
and made the sign of the cross on her forehead to remind her
this is how much God loves you
God is here with you
and will be there to greet you where you are going
Replacing the holy fib with words of holy truth
She looked up at the ceiling and said
God if you love me just take me
take away this pain
My prayer for her is that this indeed what happens for her soon
Rest in God's everlasting arms
I held her hand til she fell asleep and hope perhaps there will soon be a good and peaceful transition to the world where there is no catching up to do.