September has been a very busy month. It started with a head-cold, then a wedding during the cold, than a dear friend passing away, then a conference. I coordinated the wedding with the cold and almost no voice. I was the person in charge of the five meals for about 200 people attending the conference. It was crazy. But what I’m sharing today is about my friend who passed away.
These are notes I took while sitting in the hospice room for the last few days of his life. These are very intimate notes, but I feel it is important to share them. I’m leaving them much as they were when I wrote them, so please excuse the rough draft format.
9/14/13: Early AM
I’ve never been with someone when they died. I’ve been to relatively few funerals. My fear and repulsion for hospitals and any and all things medical coupled with the one too many things I know about crime scenes and thus how the body decays after death has led me to fear the side of a dying friend for many years.
But, I have entered a stage of life where I can no longer avoid hospitals and death. God’s grace is sufficient and like a good hobbit I screw up my courage and visit my friends. I have found love to be a great motivator.
So, here I sit, having been in the hospice room for almost 12 hours and only three of them spent asleep. My brother “breathes” loudly in the hall. My husband is finally lying down covered by my St. John throw, faithful to his friend to the end. Glenn is sleeping for the first time in days and Flo stays by his side, nurse, wife, and friend.
We have kept the night watch. We have been with Harry as he struggles to breath – labors! – and as his body shuts down.
I’m amazed that I have done this. I have visited Harry, my Grandma and spent all day with my father-in-law in the hospital. And while I have not changed my revulsion for them, I am here. I haven’t “felt” the hand of God, but I have thought, “I love these people and I must do my duty.” (Maybe that’s what the hand of God feels like.) It is so ordinary and I am so thankful for it. For the quiet working of God to aid me to be motivated by love.
So, Brother Harry lays dying. Not real quickly I must say. He has no family here, only his church. But as far as I am aware, he has not been alone at all. Men and women have gathered to sit at his side, hold his hand, stroke his brow, pray, read the scripture, sing. We have sung his favorite hymns and the hymns he wrote. We watched him try to sing with us. We felt him squeeze our hands when his favorite passages are read, and like Sam at Gandalf’s death, we have spoken often of his banana pudding.
So, I sit and watch a friend die. A man I love because he encouraged my husband. And you know what I think….Harry’s gonna get to see Glenn Wilkinson before the rest of us.
My facebook post that day: For the believer death is but a door to heaven. It is the ending of one story to begin the real story in the presence of Christ. And dear believer….this story has the best ending through the path to it has been dark.”
A quote sent by a friend: “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.” – JRR Tolkien
9/14/13: 9:00AM while Price reads Revelations out loud to Harry.
Listen for his last breath,
Feel the twist in your gut,
Is this the one?
A moment of bi-polar emotion.
Fight. Fight to stay alive!
Go. Go. Let go. We will soon follow.
So we gather.
We hold tissues tight in our fists.
We sing in broken voices.
We share intimate moments of tears.
We hold his hand unsure of being held.
We talk unsure of hearing.
We read unsure of comprehension.
And we listen
Together, we listen for your last breath.
Even now, when he lies lost in dark halls of his mind laboring to breath, hot with fever, he serves his church. Even as his last few hours slip away, we are encouraged, brought together, given new opportunities to serve, given new love for each other. As you come closer to haven’s door, we, gathered around you, examine our own future deaths and find peace. We see the love of the saints. We see you surrounded by hymns and the Word and by tears and laughter and we know we are not forsaken. Even in death, You are with us, our mighty brother who already conquered death!
(I have, on my next page, the words written out from Before the Throne of God Above and Into the West.) (http://instagram.com/p/eP6SugTFFU/)
Watching Harry, I’m struck by God’s beautiful multi-tasking. I’m beginning to understand joy in the midst of suffering. Our church hurts, yet here we are gathered around Harry with all the members singing, praying, reading the scripture. We are laughing and crying, crying with people who I’ve never cried around, watching people cry who I’ve never seen cry. And we are united. So as the Lord takes Harry home, as he finishes the work which He began, we are made stronger. We are untied and we are challenged. As the Lord takes him home, he is using Harry to help us love each other more. He is using Harry to sanctify us. Harry’s faithful testimony has been mentioned again and again. And the Lord even used that. If Harry hadn’t been faithful, he might have died in his apartment alone, but God used his faithfulness to preserve Harry.
“I have so many friends, and I don’t know why,” is what Harry told his niece before he became mostly unresponsive.
9/18/13: (Harry passed on the morning of the 16th.)
I spent the weekend carefully watching my husband. When did he become the man I always wanted him to be? When did he get so strong? As I watch him hold the hand of a dying friend, as I listen to him sing and read the scripture, I couldn’t be more thankful for this man, my friend. He sacrificed his time, sleep, his work to stay by Harry. The Lord granted his request to be there with his at the end. But the part that I remember and cherish the most is him holding Harry’s hand and reading the book of Revelations barely able to keep his voice steady.
(We were there at the end, when Harry died, along with my parents, our other pastor, Glenn and Flo, and Ben. It was the first time I held someone’s hand as they passed away….I know it will not be the last. But I do know that God is good. He will finish the work. He has conquered death. I hope and pray my death serves my church as well as Harry’s did.)