My daughter’s grandmother is lying in the hospital – she who was once my mother-in-law. I can tell by the rattle that she will succumb soon to the pneumonia.
Death never relents.
I wear my pastor hat well. I recite the psalm. I say the prayers. I give the blessing. I assure her that Megan is with her in thought and prayer. It is sincere, not rote; heartfelt. There is a lot of history here. My training tells me she is aware of my presence, though I see no certain sign. Perhaps it is better she is not alert. She would not have remembered who I am, but she might recognize the sound of my voice as a voice from somewhere in her life.
I have known Norma since 9th grade when I first began to date her daughter. She drove us on occasion, in those days before I had a license. She bustled in the hallway to give us warning she was about to pass by the entrance to the living room where I visited with her daughter in high school. She flicked the hall lights when she thought it was time for me to go home. They made up the hide-a-bed once when the rest of the family was still in Pasadena after the Rose Bowl and I had come home without a key to the house. We had our wedding reception there. I borrowed her car for our one night honeymoon at the beach.
There are memories of Norma with the girls when they were young, but then our paths diverged. For many years I have known her only through Megan. But now she lies there. And all those years come flooding back. I can hear the sound of her voice. I can hear the bustle of her dress.
And the person slips away.
I know it is a “kind and gentle death,” in the words of Draper’s translation of St. Francis’ famous hymn.
And you most kind and gentle death,
waiting to hush our final breath,
Oh, praise him! Alleluia!
You lead to heav’n the child of God,
Where Christ our Lord the way has trod.
Oh, praise him! Oh, praise him! Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!
I know this death relieves sorrow and suffering. I know this death escorts her into the bright light of recovered memory and joy. But it is still our loss, still our sorrow, still our struggle with death’s relentless assault on the goodness of life.
So once more we turn towards Easter, and to the promise that the grave is empty, and “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)