Saturday, May 19, 2007


Death is a violent visitor.

We've seen its aggressive behavior in the movies and far-away, foreign places like Virginia Tech.

Yesterday I saw death in a passive-aggressive disguise. I'm wondering which is the more evil.

All day I sat on the sidelines of this contest between breathing and not breathing, pain and medicated calm, consciousness and incohorence. The dying man was not the only player in this match. The family, too, veered between tears and laughter, polite conversation and grieving embrace, anger and love. And what I saw left no doubt that death is an evil visitor in any state.

"This is not how its supposed to be!"

I wanted to shout that into the hospital hallway and into the face of the tottering, placating priest.

People aren't supposed to die in this indignity of scrambled speech and ugly gowns that don't cover the bruised flesh.

Hospitals are abusive to my senses anyway. There is not one single beautiful thing to look at when you are trying not to notice the scars and nakedness of the sick and dying. There is not one lovely aroma to cover the furious battle between industrial disinfectant and the atrophy of bodily function. The only sounds that attempt to mask the groaning and babbling of illness and death come out as perfunctory -- anochronistic attempts at masking the fact that suffering exists and is waiting for each one of us.

"This is not how it's supposed to be!"

I wanted to whisper into the ears of each of the grown-up children who stood by the bedside of a man whom their intellect instructed them to love and their experience scoffed that was a fool's errand.

When a son holds his dying father's hand he is supposed to be washed in memories of playing catch and throwing out fishing line and getting homework signed. He is supposed to be able to remember the firm grip of those hands telling the boy he is a man at important events like graduation and marriage and the birth of his own children.

When a son holds down the flailing, bruised arm of his dying father he is supposed to be able to remember times those arms were muscled and warm in late-night lifts into bed and early Saturday -morning pancake flipping. He is supposed to be able to remember those arms bulging under the weight of vacation-packed-suitcases and wood for the backyard bonfire. He is supposed to recall a crushing embrace after injury or discipline.

When a daughter lifts the head of her dying father and arranges his pillow and smooths the blankets that he has kicked off in a fit of painful agitation, she is supposed to recall the times that he did the same for her when she was 5 and he was singing her to sleep and when she was 10 and had a nightmare and when she was 15 and was sleepless in hormonal angst.

When children of a dying man gather around his bed to comfort him and say good-bye they are supposed to be able to remember all of the similar words of comfort and care and guidance and blessing and love that he had spoken to them hundreds of times. They are supposed to be able to reflect his life back to him. To return to him what he has invested in the sweat and blood and prayer and love for them and their mother over a lifetime. Thy are not supposed to have to look at each other and wonder if it is OK to cry...wonder if they are doing this -- this being sons and daughter to a dying man -- right.

"This is not how it's supposed to be."

I did not have the privilege to speak it yesterday as I watched death steal life-giving oxygen from a man. I say it to my husband's true Father now.

"Thank you for being a father to the fatherless. Thank you for sparing the sins of the father on his children and his children's children. Thank you for giving him a taste of how it is supposed to be. Please show him how to grieve now."

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