Thursday, February 26, 2009
Requiem in Pace, Marian
Those of you who are Facebook friends know this already: My Aunt Marian, a long-time resident in a local nursing home, died yesterday at 1:30 pm. (Strangely enough, right at the moment our midday Ash Wednesday service began.)
Fellow Traveler and I were with her during the last three hours of her life. This was my first real deathbed experience. It was not by any means easy, but I feel bery privileged to have been a part of the process.
We got the call to come to the nursing home around 11:30 and rushed there immediately. Marian was unable to speak, and could only respond in limited ways to questions. So...we talked. Or I talked, while FT and Marian's roommate Dottie listened. I talked about some of the special times I had at her house, and about her favorite things -- her gardening and quilting. I talked about how my life was going, what I was doing, and that everything was very okay with me. I said a very brief prayer -- Marian was not one to wear her spirituality on her sleeve -- thanking God for Marian and asking that God be with each of us in the room in whatever way we needed God to be there right now. Nurses and aides came in and out. "Jeopardy!" -- Marian's favorite program -- came on the TV and we thought we saw a flicker of interest as we played along.
At times Marian seemed to be aware of what was going on in the room, but toward the end I saw her eyes rolling upward; her breathing became irregular and labored. The pause between each inhalation increased...and increased...and then she was gone.
We comforted Dottie, who was in tears -- "She was my sweetheart; I'll never have a better roommate" -- and exchanged hugs with the weeping nurses and aides. We left the room while the staff got Marian ready for the funeral home and spent some quiet time in the empty cafeteria, then followed the funeral home director and his gurney back to her room.
There is a protocol in nursing homes that when a resident dies, staff closes off that wing and closes the doors of the other residents until the funeral-home people have left. In Marian's case, though, it seemed as if all activity in all the halls stopped; staffpeople all the way down the main hall stopped what they were doing. When the funeral-home director came back down the hallway with the body, everyone stood silently, many with tears in their eyes. Both FT and I remarked afterward that it reminded us of a state funeral with a coffin on a caisson rolling down a street lined with solemn mourners all paying their respects. It was an incredibly moving and dignified moment for a woman who had lived a very difficult life during which her dignity was repeatedly taken away -- by poverty; by unloving, unkind words and actions on the part of "good church people"; by mental and physical illness; by the daily, unavoidable indignities of institutional living.
I wanted to post an obituary for Marian that would paint a more developed portrait of who she was. And I will, later. But not today. Today we're just winding down and preparing for the funeral on Saturday. It's a sad time, but it's a glad time, as we think of her now dwelling in light eternal.
Posted by LutheranChik at 3:04 PM