Tuesday, November 23, 2010

2010.11.25 Thanksgiving for Life

When I think of the end of my life tears immediately spring to my eyes. I am completely in love with life and the thought of leaving it behind with all its glories and all its pains is sorrowful.I would have it no other way for I have learned that each pain and each joy provides us opportunity for love and connection.

This blog is a repeat of one I posted on Thanksgiving, 2008 about the Engage with Grace (www.engagewithgrace.org) project.

The project invites us all to begin conversations with friends, family, at a book club or online about how to end your life with the same purpose and love with which you have lived it.

The Boston Globe front page story, "Talking Turkey about Death" November 26.2008 was about Rosaria who at 32 was dying of a malignant brain tumor. As she lay motionless, unconscious in her hospital bed, at home her beloved two year old daughter languished without Mommy. The child was afraid to touch her mother in the hospital setting, so the family went against medical advice about better more comfortable care in the hospital and took Rosaria home.

For the first time in a week Rosaria opened her eyes as her daughter snuggled in beside her mother. She died the next night at home.

Did this courageous family make the right decision? It seems so but they had to do it by guesswork. They had never talked about dying wishes. Have you?

I have a living will, health care proxy and other written directives, but at 72 I have never talked face to face with myself, my children or even my spouse about my feelings.Or if I have attempted it the topic has been evaded, changed or openly rejected.

It's not time? When is it time? When I am too ill or weak or disabled to talk intelligently and with grace about what I want? Everyone knows or can guess what I don't want. Its what everyone doesn't want, extreme measures, machines that keep me alive but not living.

What makes each of us unique is what we do want. Often these are very simple things. I want to be able to pray receive Eucharist and a blessing, or hear the Psalms, behold and touch the faces of my loved ones, hear them laugh, eat peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies, hold my tiny puff of a stuffed owl, listen to The Moonlght Sonata,and see the moon. Not all at once but at least once.

As a priest I have sat with many a family engaged in agony and argument over what a loved one would want. They care but they're not sure. Believe me the discomfort of that struggle is far worse than any discomfort one may feel talking about all this NOW.

And this isn't a one way conversation: from the old to the young. We all need to think, talk, and love each other into and out of ignorance.

Rosaria was only 32! Her sister-in-law Alexandra Drane started the Engage with Grace initiative and the word has spread throughout the healthcare community and beyond thanks to the internet. The website suggests ways to engage yourself and others in such conversations.

Begin by asking yourself: On a scale of 1 to 5 where do you fall on this continuum, 1 being let me die in my own bed without medical intervention and 5:Don't give up on me no matter what. Try any proven or unproven intervention possible. I'm on the cusp of 2.5/3. (Other questions, links, resources and more information can be found on the site.)

But after that keep it simple and positive and you will get better responses when you introduce the topic.

Spiritually, is this taking your life in your own hands? Playing god? Of course not.

A loving creator has given us minds, hearts, bodies and souls with which to discern how best to love ourselves and others right up to the final intake of breath. This effort is all about fulfilling the essential word of all the world's major religions: do to and for others what you would want done to and for yourself.

I love life enough to talk about its end with gratitude, grace and tears. Death may just be one of those spiritual lemons that you think is too sour to taste, but it could deepen your relationships right NOW, as well as in your last hours.

And I'll bet the youngest child among you will have very clear ideas about what she or he would want for ever and no matter what.

I know one boy who would want Teddy, his best friend, much more and no matter what than the latest Wii game.