Dramatic Life-moment

The Communion of the Apostles

The Communion of the Apostles (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today I am following up on my last post, “The Drama of the Call.”  For the nonagenarian friend, the parishioner whose leg was amputated–well, she died on Saturday morning.

Now I’m not a medical professional.  In fact, I’m totally ignorant about most things requiring medical attention.  “Make it up as you go” has always been my medical m. o.  So, for instance, when I stuck my finger in a squirrel-cage fan as a boy and came running home with blood splattered everywhere, a little Neosporin and a butterfly bandage sufficed.  And, amazingly, it healed fairly well, no stitches needed, thank you very much.  And I’ve got the scar to prove it!  Point is, my medical ignorance–and improvisation–has proven blissful again and again; and so I’ve had enough positive reinforcement in my life to continue shunning medical experts and making it up as I go.  I remain medically ignorant.  I question no one’s medical judgment.  Still, was amputating a ninety-three year-old’s leg really necessary for a blood clot?  She didn’t recover from the surgery apparently, for she died three days later.

In that last post I said I would take her communion on Sunday.  Sadly, she died on Saturday.  But happily and providentially I ended up taking her communion on Friday.

It happened like this.  By noon Friday I was at a good breaking point from the week’s activities.  So my mind turned to visitations.  I would go and see her now, I decided, especially since doing so would free up my Sunday afternoon to spend with my own family.  Utilitarian, I know, but it is what it is.  So I called the assisted living home where she should have been.  But the nurse on the line said, no, my friend hadn’t been re-admitted.  I then called the hospital where the surgery had been performed, only to hear that she had been discharged yesterday, i. e., Thursday.  A little annoyed, I grabbed my communion kit and Prayer Book and headed for said retirement home hoping for the best.

My hunch proved correct.  My aged friend was in her room, eyes opening and closing slowly, almost lazily, barely cognizant.  There with her sat her daughter, her eyes puffy.

“So good to see you, Father Tim,” the daughter said, rising from her seat to greet me.

“I’ve brought communion,” I smiled.

“Wonderful!” she smiled back.

Without further conversation, I opened my Prayer Book and led the three of us through a brief service.  I partook of the bread and wine then gave the elements to the daughter saying the familiar phrases, “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven”; and “The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.”  I then turned to her mother.

“I have some bread and wine for you,” I said.

Her eyes, now closed, stayed closed.

“Tim,” the daughter offered, “I’ve seen another priest dip his finger in the wine and touch her tongue with it.”

Brilliant idea, I thought, for there’s no need to take the elements in both kinds, as our theology states; meaning only bread or only wine is sufficiently sacramental.  And I acted upon it.

As my fingertip touched her tongue, I realized how dried up it was.  It felt something like the corner of a small stack of paper, fifty sheets or so thick.  She’d been breathing through her mouth for days, since the sedation for the surgery probably.  At any rate, she visibly responded to the drop of wine on her tongue.  It must have brought physical relief along with spiritual.

As I departed, the daughter walked me to the door of the room.  “We’re not sure how much longer she’s got,” she related tearfully.

“I understand.  Call us when you need anything.”

Her mother died something like twelve hours later.

Today funeral plans are being made.  “Can Father Tim do the funeral,” the four siblings asked?  “It means a lot to us that he was there in her last hours of life.”

And so, yes, I will be officiating at a funeral on Friday.  And though I barely knew her, it’s going to be difficult not to cry.

She was ninety-three.  It seems normal to expect that she would have passed on any given day.  But following such a severe surgery, an amputation!  Somehow this makes her passing seem not normal–makes it frustrating.  And in my frustration I want to shed tears with and for the family.  It’s part of the liminality, I suppose.

But the Episcopal funeral service is about resurrection–both Christ’s resurrection and the resurrection of all believers in the last day.  So I am reminded that beyond this dramatic life-moment my nonagenarian friend is being restored to new life, to full life, to life without blood clots, to life with complete limbs, to life without doctors, where the m. o. is “make it up as you go.”

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