Tag Archives: Death

Unwished-for inevitabilities

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I don’t like it, I don’t want to concede to its reality. But there it is, the rough beast slouching, crouching, armored with the manifest covenant threat.

My precious cat’s survival has been pulled out of so many hats, and now symptoms of mortality leech through some imaginary vanguard.

He’s had lungworm, a broken hock, diabetes, hepatic lipidosis, hyperthyroid–and our tough cat brawls his way to his 17th miraculous year. He’s tired. He isn’t hungry. He throws up clear liquid and white foam. I hand feed him half a bag of treats. Blast the torpedoes; I can chase his glucose with insulin, at least to a point. There’s no way to chase starvation except with something he’ll eat.

When Coolidge was eight, he nearly martyred himself when we had to convert him from high-carb kibbles to wet food. That’s how he got hepatic lipidosis, and its resolution was a feeding tube. Six belly snacks a day, ground in a food processor and hand syringed into the tube. Coolidge yanked his tube out so many times, and my husband, a former farmer/rancher, stitched it back in each time so we could quit going to the veterinary ER.

sewingcoo

Now he wants his kibbles back, and he’s right to. He’s been losing three to four ounces a week. The dry, higher-carb food that once conspired to join forces with probably genetic factors and precipitate his diabetes, should now help him regain some safety-margin weight. And the tasty food should also help our pessimistic vet reverse her countdown mentality, and recall that our cat is a fighter. Her life-expectancy algorithm can jolly apply elsewhere.

I’m really not given over to magical thinking. I know the hairs, scales, skin cells, or whatever covers the heads of the creatures of God’s wondrous creation, are numbered, as are our days. But I don’t know how much knowing this reduces the other inevitability of life: grief.

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As Fall blusters gently in

An hour after posting my cheery bird-and-bug piece yesterday, I witnessed a magpie flying by with a small grey furry creature in its mouth. I knew magpies ate carrion, but usually on site; this appeared to be the possibility of an actual catch. Apparently magpies do kill birds and small animals, a behavior evidently unpopular with British gardeners.

Resembling something somewhere between a flurry of tiny snowflakes and a faint meteor shower, the white gnats are back. Thankfully, the wind has dispersed them for now, but if I go outside when they’re out in force, they can make my tee-shirt look like a windshield within a few seconds.

One of our neighbors, a very pleasant, good-natured man, is dying of mesothelioma. He is receiving hospice care at home. I have noted no evidence that the dear man, who is just in his early 70s, has secure provision for his soul’s future. He has demonstrated great care and regard for his wife, and their home, and their boat, and their beautiful yard and garden, in which are placed three pairs of comfortable-looking chairs, one within an attractive gazebo. I have never seen anyone sit in any of the the chairs, though I have often seen the man or his wife planting and weeding around the inviting chairs. Much work seems to be done, but the elusive promise of contentment appears always belayed. When I drive by his house, I find myself praying for, not wishful, but true contentment for his soul. . .Take him captive into that captivity outside which there is no freedom. . . .

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aftermath

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A few weeks ago, in the course of my so-called routine annual physical–though nothing about my health has ever been routine–my doctor detected a bruit–a too-loud perfusion of blood coursing through my abdominal artery. I asked why; there could be an aneurism, he said. So? I can be fairly phlegmatic about these things. It could hemorrhage, he said a bit impatiently. Would there be help? I asked. There wouldn’t be time! he said. He was becoming quite emphatic; I was becoming a little defensive.

It was hardly my fault, after all. I eat inordinately sensibly, weigh under 110 at 5′-nearly 6″; okay, my cholesterol is 300 but lots of that is HDL, the good kind–and I have, notwithstanding a newly noisy artery, a healthy heart–which, incidentally, according to my doctor, is the typical profile among his hyperlipidemia patients: petite, thin women with low-to-normal blood pressure, and no cardiovascular disease. I try to grin like a typecast super-model for perfect coronary health.

So what do we do now? I ask. He calls to make my appointment for an abdominal ultrasound. I eat a few licorice jelly beans from a bowl at his desk while he is on the phone; his nurse packs the rest up for me to take home. No one in the office likes licorice.

I really wasn’t worried about this, and there was, as I somehow knew, no reason to be. The ultrasound was perfectly normal. Sometimes a thundering artery is just a thundering artery. I thanked God for his mercy; I have known so much of it. So very much.

But while I didn’t actually worry, I did reflect on the possibility of a condition that could actually mean sudden death. (In common parlance, of course, it’s called “life;” but I was thinking about whether it was responsible to drive with a known any-minute condition.) It seemed a peaceful prospect, really. I have no entitlement, after all, to any certain number of years of earthly life. Then I remembered there was arterial surgery for these things and I stopped worrying about the potential inconvenience to the public a spontaneous arterial blow-out might cause.

Instead, I was given a much lovelier thought: one to reserve for an unknown time. Perhaps the difference between life and death is really just a change in the light. . . like the rainbow, that symbolizes our ultimate reconciliation. . . .

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memorial harvest

The memorial service for my friend was yesterday. (The possessive pronoun is unjustified, my own possessory interest being one of so many, but I use it anyway.) Our pastor hit a few balls out of the park: the inevitability of death, the substantive reality of sin, and the necessity of salvation from our sin through Christ alone. I so hope his words penetrated the sound barriers on some deaf ears there; the Lord calls, when he will, those who will savingly hear. I believe no death goes unused.

Normally I’m small to gaunt on testimonials, but this time I was grateful to hear from others who knew her. I learned new things about this wonderful woman, that she was even more wonderful a servant than I knew. I knew her for less than three years. She vastly loved and served the Lord and his people, and she loved the wonders of his creation. One of her friends told of her own enhanced appreciation of the scenery on the road to Boise, through our exuberant friend’s eyes.

For me, the most instructive memory shared came from a good mutual friend. She said that she never once heard our friend complain. Neither did I. I don’t know whether anyone did. She certainly had challenges in her life that would have given me to gripe and moan. Her forbearance was remarkable.

Our mutual good friend’s observation gave me a much-needed shove. When my turn comes, how much do I want it said, “As all of you well know, Lauren had her troubles. . . .”? But that’s exactly the groove in which I’ve placed myself, and I so much want out of it, now.

It’s too late for anyone who’s known me for more than six hours to say “never.” But I see anew how ungrateful it is to complain, what a terrible thing it is to dispute God’s providence—as if I knew better than my very creator how best to effect my sanctification!

It’s getting late in life, but I aspire to trust and accept, instead of complaining. In other words, I desire to see the beautiful pools and the rugged breakwaters of life a little more through my friend’s eyes.

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Another unlike another

I think of it as “death creep,” the point in life at which I lose one to two friends in my age cohort a year. I learned this morning that the Lord harvested one of my friends last night, by means of a heart attack, quite unexpectedly. I think she had the most perfect heart I’ve ever known.

I say “unexpectedly” because I think most of us are too stupid to expect death. We fear it superstitiously, thinking somehow the fear will repel its advance. It’s only by the mercy of memory that we are able to forget about death for any time at all.

But my deceased friend knows more than I, because she sees, first hand, the reign of grace through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:21, ESV). What happiness! And providentially, another friend, Heidi, remarked just the other day that a view of a cemetery reminds one to think with some constancy of the resurrection. How sad for someone who would instead find the view “creepy.”

I find the loss of each friend unlike any other. But very slowly, I am beginning to find more joy in loss. The joy does not lessen the sense of loss, or not very much; nor does it fully displace the shock and sorrow. But joy comes alongside these other sensibilities, like the dawn, that so inevitably displaces the darkness.

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the killer dignity cult

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Judith Ellen

Like Christ, you were a better friend
to me than I to you;
you knew
this and endured the defects of my amity:
What else could you?

From my comfortable vantage I could call
your episodes dramatic;
Was my heart toward you at all —
was it fictive, or pragmatic?

How could I know your life so soon would
find a portal to its egress?
My unbelief could count you frail,
but mortal not confess.
Death brings us hard things to address;
and time, so little progress.

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The eleventh virgin

Our Lord’s parable of the ten virgins at Matthew 25:1-13 instructs us that preparation to meet our Lord is necessary; we may not simply sleep through life inattentive to God and expect to receive His salvation and blessings if we have made no effort to know who our Lord is and what He requires of us. The five foolish virgins of the parable lacked oil for their lamps — the anointing of the Spirit — to meet their bridegroom, and their five prudent counterparts brought oil for their lamps, and entered into the wedding feast with their bridegroom before he closed the door on the foolish virgins.

I just had a brush with the mortality of one of my closest friends. By God’s preserving grace, she pulled through, and the problem has been diagnosed and brought under control. But my initial response was to join the ranks of the foolish virgins, stubbornly determining to refuse to prepare for something God could conceivably require of me. I intended to refuse to prepare myself to be able to say, “…and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job could say such a thing, but I cannot, because I refuse to prepare myself to say such a thing, and I could never say such a thing without being prepared.

I know obstinance is very sinful, but I prefer to think that I am simply deficient. But of course I am not deficient at all. Christ’s sacrifice has healed my chronic deficiency and brought about everlasting sufficiency on my behalf. And because I have been given the gift of the oil for my lamp, and prudence comes with that oil, I will be prepared to say what I must say and do what I must do: a promise I easily forget I have received, when my thoughts turn to my own capacities.

There is no question that I have no desire ever to join in Job’s righteous resignation. I hate death — death is an outrage, and I look forward to seeing it cast into hell at the end of time. I hate pain, hospitals, and medical help gone bad. I despise my own insecurity at the very thought of such things impacting me or anyone I care about. But the illusion that I can do anything about any of it doesn’t stick, either.

Nobody wants to recite Job 1:21 in a moment of sorrowful loss because no one wants that moment ever to come; and no one theologically competent wants to recite anything else when the time does inevitably come. I have already experienced too recently how death exposes my own failure, my failure at being a sufficient friend. Not again, not now, please.

Jesus laid down His life for His friends. I couldn’t even lay down my routine for my friends. Lord have mercy on me, the sinner.

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Such a friend

When our pastor let us know Tuesday that Mark had died earlier that very morning, I knew that none of the multitude of lives he had touched would ever be the same. Particularly in his home church–our former home church–his absence would leave a crater. And that is because every single person Mark loved — and I think this was nearly everyone he knew — Mark prayed for. And Mark’s prayers, we can all be certain, brought grace to our lives.

Mark was a far, far better friend to me than I was to him. And I’m not the only one: I think every single person who was blessed to know Mark was Mark’s friend, and Mark was a better friend to all of them than any could be to him. His wife Sharon told me yesterday she thought this was true too, even for herself. How could anyone be as good friend to Mark as he was to them? Mark had a very special gift this way. I have never known anyone who could confront with love the way Mark did. The Word of God was his breath. The church of God was his life. His family was his reward. I think this lovely descriptor that J. I. Packer applies to John Owen applies to Mark as well: “a traveler on earth who grasped God like one in heaven.”

And so, as my husband noted, now Mark, my brother, my first friend in heaven, knows who really wrote Hebrews. Worthy is the Lamb. . . .

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