The Family of God

Last week when I was visiting my Dad, he started talking about the fact that he “wouldn’t be around much longer.”

“Hey,” I said, attempting some gallows humor. “I’ve seen a lot of people die in the last few years, and you’re not there yet.”

Sadly enough, I have watched a lot of people die in my lifetime, and especially in the last three years – perhaps not a lot by medical standards, but it seems like a lot for a normal middle aged woman. I’ve come to recognize the signs of death all too clearly, the pattern of symptoms that occurs (at least in the elderly) when their bodies stop working bit by bit, the organism shutting down in stages until every last function ceases. Death is on my mind more than it should be these days and I have to admit that it’s  “bumming me out,” as the kids might say. Yesterday was the sixth anniversary date of a young friend’s death. Monday was my late uncle’s birthday.

Fresh reminders of losses that still pang my heart.

My neighbor died yesterday – when I went to see her Monday, she had already slipped into that stage the hospice people call “actively dying.” Nevertheless, I talked to her for a bit, because many people who work with the dying believe that they do hear what’s being said to them, even when they’re halfway over that final precipice. So I told her about my grandson (whose birth pleased her so much because she’s known my son since he was a toddler), and told her what Magic and Molly had been up to. When I left, I touched her hand and said, “Goodbye dear lady and good, good neighbor.”

In an article I read the other day, hospice chaplain Kelly Eagan wrote about her experiences talking to the dying. People who are dying want to talk mostly about their families, Eagan says. They talk about the love they received (or didn’t) and the love they gave in return (or failed to give). They sometimes reach out blindly at the very end and call out – Mama, Daddy. Eagan doesn’t find this at all strange, despite the protestations of her divinity professor who scorned her for failing to use this time to help people define and express their faith in God. Eagan believes that people talk to her about their families because “that is how we talk about God. That is how we talk about the big spiritual questions of human existence.”

“We don’t live our lives in our heads, in theology and theories,” Eagan goes on to say. “We live our lives in our families: the families we are born into, the families we create, the families we make through the people we choose as friends. This is where we create our lives, where we find meaning, where our purpose becomes clear.”

That makes perfect sense to me, as I sit here dwelling (perhaps a bit too much) on the people I’ve lost among my family and friends, and it fits with my experiences of their last days. They all spoke wistfully of parents long gone, remembered happy times with spouses and siblings and friends, talked of children and grandchildren with poignant pride.

It is in the midst of our relationships that God shows His face, where He lives and moves and has His being. Without those people, life is so much less –it’s like stripping the world of color and warmth, like being trapped in an airless room.

Like dying.

If I’ve learned anything from all these deaths, I’ve learned that the most important things in life are not, of course, things at all.

What is important are people and relationships.

The faces around your bed in your last days.

The hands holding yours.

The voice whispering a heartfelt goodbye.

20 thoughts on “The Family of God

  1. I am so sorry for your losses. Your words brought me to tears. Thanks! LOL.. No, it is ok. We all have to deal with grief in one way or the other. It is a stark reminder of our humanity. We have so many minutes, hours or days to live and then we are off to the other side. You are correct, things are not what is important, people are what is important. Thanks for sharing… Hugs

  2. At any age, young or old, relationships with family and friends are the most important. They are important to our own well being and give us the emotional strength to handle the tough things in life. We don’t usually learn this lesson until we move into middle age and start recignizing our own mortality. So, don’t feel bad, just reach out and be there for folks who need you. That’s all we can really do.

    • Today I went to visit a friend in the hospital (she fell on Sunday and broke her hip), but she was in such good spirits that it lifted mine! It was nice to visit someone in the hospital who was actually going to get better!!

  3. Tears here, too…I’m so sorry about your neighbor and your anniversaries of loss. I am feeling a lot the same way myself these days — my younger brother died quite suddenly last year, two close neighbors, my son’s best friend’s dad a week ago…. a lot to take in and think about. And as you said, what it’s taught me is that it really is the relationships … not only with the people I love–makes me love them a little more dearly–but also with every person I come in contact with, every thing I engage in. I want to embrace life and enjoy every moment of this roller coaster ride!

  4. This beautiful Becky and so true. My heart is veryheavy with the two brothers that I love very much dealing with serious illnesses…..With Aram being in Hospice at his home, I feel very blessed to have been to see him a couple of weeks ago and will be going to spend time with my other brother, your dad, very soon. After this is all done….I will only have one brother (out of five) to spend time with….I will be there for him too…..Thanks for sharing this… you, Auntie

    • I’m so sorry about Uncle Aram..that is so sad.

      My dad will love seeing you, I know. He’s hanging in there, as the saying goes, so don’t count him out yet! He’s pretty stubborn!!

  5. This post gives me so much chills running down my spine. What you write does not come as a surprise but I’ll have to let it sink in a bit and ponder what it means specifically for me. You make me think :). Thank you

  6. My Sweetheart died on this New Year’s day. It was quite sudden. It seems this past year, I have thought about death–my death–a lot, but since he’s died, I haven’t. Isn’t that strange?

    • I’m so sorry, Judy. What an awful thing for you.
      Maybe you’re spirit is telling you to embrace your own life now and make the most of it.

      Peace to you…

  7. This was the place for me to come tonight. I guess I was supposed to find this post.

    I’m sleepless because tomorrow I’m going to Dad’s for a couple of days. He has been on my mind more than usual lately. He’s seen a slow decline this year. His mind isn’t as sharp and some bodily functions are diminishing. What can I say? It’s the saddest thing. You know.

    I’ve heard that “Mama, Mother, etc.” is most frequently the “last word” spoken on the battlefield. No surprise. She is usually our greatest source of unconditional love and comfort.

    • Oh, I’m sorry Bella. You’ll be in my thoughts for the next few days.

      Yes, I do know. There are so many of us facing this right now. Keep a photo of those beautiful grandchildren handy..I know that cheers me up.

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