Today we got the sad news that the ailing husband of a coworker/friend of mine, who’d spent much of the last two months at the Cleveland Clinic, died yesterday. She’d been at work on Friday, the first day in a long time, and had told us how happy she was that her husband was home and feeling much better, seemingly on his way to a “maintenance” stage of his heart problem.
Yesterday our friend G’s mother – a vigorous lady in a family without a history of serious disease -- was operated on for a suspicious mass in her abdomen, and the doctors found tumors in multiple places. Last month another fellow parishioner lost both parents within the span of about a month.
And of course my aunt is unwillingly clinging to life on a day-to-day basis. I visited her yesterday during lunchtime in the Restorative Dining Room where aides spoonfeed patients who cannot eat on their own; she kept falling asleep between spoonfuls of food, and I could tell that every interruption was wearing on her. When I asked her how she was doing she frowned and murmured, “Not well at all.” And of course there was nothing I could do to change that.
It seems lately we’ve been buffeted by this type of thing, nearly every single day.
My pastor was recently asked how he copes with the constant burden of bad news he’s asked to bear. His response was that he sometimes has to take a time-out and remind himself, “How are you, right now, at this very second? You’re breathing in and out. You’re alive. And that’s enough, right now.”
Sometimes I need to remind myself of that. And sometimes I need to remind myself that it is, in its own way, a privilege to be invited into a family circle that is suffering. Fellow Traveler and I have been in regular contact with our friend G, who traveled out of state to be with her mom and dad, and through her we’ve become a part of her ext ended family circle. When I called her the other night she announced to the others, “It’s the E’s.”(Our first names.)
I also need to remind myself that these experiences are the real, important stuff of life – so much more so than the petty office machinations and interpersonal frictions that tend to preoccupy my consciousness. And this nexus of life and death is where most of the suffering world lives, day to day.