Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My Wife's Summer Journey

Last night, I slept on a stranger's air mattress in an apartment that is not mine, next to my wife while she waited for the hospital across the street to call and tell her that someone had died and their family needed her comforting presence. For the last 10 weeks, my wife has been interning as a hospital chaplain. Every few weeks she is on call during the night shift, offering anyone a listening ear or shoulder to cry on throughout the night and early morning. Since she must be able to respond quickly, the hospital provides an apartment to stay at while she waits. Last night that's where I was too, contemplating death and emotions.

Although I did not go with my wife on her summer journey our strong connection and understanding has giving me a wide window into her experiences. And I think she would tell you that what she has learned most about life this summer is that life is full of many steps, the last of which is natural and necessary. Death is natural and should be accepted not feared when the time is right. I guess too many people in our culture view death as a tragic event to be prevented at all costs. Most people who don't work at a hospital rarely, if ever, encounter deaths other than those of people they know or feel like they know (like celebrities). So most of our encounters with death are highly emotional and turbulent events. But when you see a stranger near the end of their life journey, it is easier to see that what matters most in life is quality not quantity.

One of my favorite pieces of advice comes from a Dylan Thomas poem, "Do not go gentle into that good night./ Rage, rage against the dying of the light." I think this is great advice for most of our journey on this earth. But as it is with all things, there is a time for rage and a time for peace. I think it might be best if we let life end in peace. Death is a difficult thing but we all must face it someday and I'd rather face it peacefully than full of fear and rage. It's been really hard listening to my wife struggle with the pain and suffering of others this summer, but I'm incredibly proud of her and very glad I could be near her on her journey. May all our lives end in peace.

1 comment:

  1. Dying & death are 2 of most missed blessings in many people's lives.

    What a privilege and blessing it is to be part of perfect stranger's final rite of passage in life on this earth! I went to a funeral last week & realized... I appreciate going to a "good" funeral (where people are willing to celebrate the life and/or grieve departure of physical being) just as well as a wedding or a birthday party.

    I think that westerners are beginning to be more open and enlightened about the joy and lessons possible around dying and death. Death is still tough work for the one leaving and those left behind but offers plenty...


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