I’m waiting during this season of Advent.
My grandmother is dying. I received a call from my father on Saturday sharing the news that my grandma’s vital signs were decreasing, her vital organs were slowly shutting down, and she had not eaten in about a week. As someone who has experience visiting with individuals and families during such life stages, I know what this means. In a few days Grandma Mary will pass away.
I’m okay with the dying part. All living creatures die; it’s part of life. What I find most distressing is the waiting.
The dying individual is waiting. I cannot speak to their experience, but I can say that the physical process is simply not enjoyable. The individual is unable to eat and drink regularly, and eventually not at all. She will slip in and out of sleep…or consciousness…or both at times. There will be pain at times, and different drugs will be used to address the pain; the goal is to make her death as painless as possible. Her bodily functions will lose control. Her breathing will become labored and shallow. Her skin will lose its life and become cool. Slowly…usually slowly…her body will stop functioning…as she waits.
There is this initial urgency amongst the family when they find out that their loved one is going to die soon—and appropriately so. But then there is the waiting. I have seen families wait for their loved one to pass away for days…even weeks. The family held in limbo as they want to give their full attention to this most important passage in life, and yet at the same time have the rest of life to deal with. There are other people who need them in their life as well, there is work, school, schedules…all needing their own attention and time…as they wait.
There is a palpable relief for all involved when the dying individual finally passes on. She is finally at rest for eternity. All of her struggles in life, especially the last few moments, can finally come to rest. If you are a person of faith, then you understand that this person will enter into a new reality where there is no pain or waiting, but only life and love. The family and friends will also be relieved after the initial sadness over the realization of their loved one’s death. The process of death will continue for the next few days with funeral arrangements, the wake, the condolences, and the funeral. The pain and heartache is most real for those surviving, but there is also relief in the knowledge that their loved one has passed. She is now at peace. Life continues.
My grandmother is still waiting to die. My family and I are still waiting for her to die. The doctors, priests, and staff…all waiting.
If there is any consolation, any good that comes from the waiting, it is the fact that this is an important and sacred time and space for all involved. The truly amazing thing about death is that it draws attention and shares perspective on life in a most unique way. My grandmother’s death allows us to truly appreciate the courageous life that she has led over the years. Each one of us wakes up each day valuing life a little more than we did just a few days ago when we took each breath for granted. My family is spending more time and talking with one another more than ever before. Life is precious, and to be celebrated.
My grandmother is dying. We will mourn and weep. And then we will continue to live. My hope and prayer is that I have the courage to live as passionately as she has lived for these many years.
We are all waiting for something during this season of Advent. My hope and prayer for you is that you have the courage to live with the same passion as we journey together into the darkness, and ultimately to new life and light.