It was a greedy, aggressive cancer.
Not content to feast on his lungs, it metastasized, seeking total conquest of his body.
It seemed to win. We had his funeral yesterday: a royal farewell with prayer, song, tears and memories.
But this once-vibrant, caring man was now cold, still and silent.
We try to deny death its victory, claiming the grave a portal to a world in which it has no place.
I want that to be true, but the afterlife is above my pay grade and beyond my vision.
Yet, when I reflect on his suffering, I find a reason to hope.
His was hard but relatively fast. He went from cane to coffin in a matter of months.
He told me early on that dying is a humbling experience. It had to be humbling for someone so independent to find himself totally reliant on others.
But I learned that accompanying someone down that one-way path is humbling, as well.
When he could still get out, we’d go down to his farm and, for a while, pretend nothing had changed, sitting on the porch, sipping and reweaving our stories.
Soon, though, the memories began to wander, and the words fail. We both pretended to understand, hiding our frustration.
What do you do when there is little more to say, when what we do clumsily utter is lost in the maze of a confused mind?
We do the only things you can do.
We help him sit up in bed or move him to his chair.
We get him water and encourage him to drink.
We rub lotion on his dry and irritated skin.
We read him cards and help him recall the friends who write.
We feed him ice cream because the sweet tooth is the last to leave.
And we cherish the times he smiles, says our name or whispers his ‘Thank you.”
Dying removed all the masks, leaving him with only his needs and us with only the simplest acts to respond.
There is a sadness, a helplessness, but there is also something profoundly meaningful and intimate to be together in this. Humbled by death, we encounter something beyond it.
There is a Hasidic story about a rabbi who is asked by a disciple, “In the old days, there were those who saw the face of God. Why don’t they anymore?”
The rabbi responded, “Because nowadays, no one can stoop low enough.”
If we allow it, dying will get us there.