Thursday, June 12, 2008

Death Comes in Whisper

Death comes in a whisper and last night, it called my Aunt Hannah's name.

This beautiful spirit and gracious woman took her last breath surrounded by those who love her. Hands were holding hers and tears streamed down the faces. Words of love and reassurance were uttered to her still listening ears. She was calm and in a twinkling, left a body ravaged with cancer that came on her like a tornado, leaving internal devastation in its wake.

Aunt Hannah didn't want to have a long, lingering illness. God granted her wish. It was only Mother's Day that I came to visit her in the hospital after the final tests revealed C-A-N-C-E-R. It was not to be one that would allow operation or radiation. She came home on hospice care about two weeks later. God was granting her wish.

She had spent her life caring for others as a wife, mother, aunt, sister, grandmother, friend. Her legacy was evident by the myriad of faces that I saw during the times I was at her home. Classmates from 1957 were at her deathbed along with her sister, nieces, nephew,son, and daughter-in-law. Her gracious spirit, organized nature, and gentle heart drew us all in to sit in her presence.

Four weeks is not a lot of time.

She was one of the persons who entered my life for a season and a moment. Her calling me her sweet baby and remembering me after decades of us both living elsewhere still rings in my ears. I thought I'd had more time to get to know my uncle's wife. Even though the two of them had traveled different paths for decades, they remained close. She was still a member of our family with many cousins fondly calling her name. We had just seen her at another aunt's 80th birthday. Hannah was sweet, spry, and loving. No one would've guessed that she would go before my uncle. Yet, God had a different plan.

I sat at her bedside and we talked. Nothing big or life altering, yet it was in ways. I learned her heart for her sisters and her son. She was worried about her baby sister even as her pain was immense. She whispered to me as a tear broke free that she couldn't feel her lower body and was just so tired. I was able to minister to her God's love, peace, and that it was ok for her to go when she was ready. It all came so fast. In response to her telling me she wasn't sure she did all God wanted her to. Again, I told her she had. I was able to look and listen and know, she was faithful in what He set out for her. She was a caregiver, in the way only one with the spiritual gift of mercy can be, in this, we are kindred spirits.

When my cousin, her only child, called us to say her blood pressure dropped, it was a jolt to my heart. It was a week after we were surrounding her bedroom with laughs and cousins who we hadn't seen since little kids on the Funny Farm. Her decline was rapid. I was driving out to Aunt Hannah's with another first cousin, our clan being so large, and I told her I felt cheated. She asked me why and I said because I didn't get to grow up around her. Somehow, she understood.

I have only been home a few months. In life, we sometimes think we have "time." It is easy to think that with a family as large as mine, to believe that we will see them again, in good health, with a beautiful smile, and full of bright spirit. For me, for us, time ran out.

Time did allow some cousins and I to be there in the urgent last days. A couple of us were able to stay at the house and sit at her bedside while another took her son to handle the important legal business he wasn't thinking about. We became his eyes and ears and reminders. Aunt Hannah was meticulous and kept telling him where everything was, I told him weeks ago to write it all down. She had files and labels for her important papers. It was not until this past Saturday that the pain gripped her to the point of inability, until then, she was able to give instructions and reminders.

My cousins and I were also blessed to be vessels of God. We left the family reunion picnic to get our uncle. He was in frail health and winded from the St. Louis heat, yet, he rallied at the call to "come now." We drove him to the house and he was able to visit with Aunt Hannah, his son, and his grandson. For moments as I sat in the living room, we could feel the love and laughter of this small family. I learned a lot watched them.

Love is eternal and unending, even when separated by distance. I know that God in His infinite wisdom gives us signs of life when a pregnant woman is preparing to bring a child into the world. I also know He gives us signs of death when a woman is preparing to leave this world. His ingenious plan allowed us to know how urgent the signs were, when to call in the grandson who lived across state, when to call in the fiance' who lived out East, when to call in the husband who lives across town. God let us know the process of the body shutting down so we would know how much time we had.

We used the time. One cousin cancelled her vacation plans with her daughter to be close. She didn't want to be two hours away at camp. Her presence helped set Aunt Hannah's house in order while her older sister took Thom to finish up the paper work and I sat at her bedside, holding her hand. God ordered our steps. He knew we all would be available to assist our cousin, He knew we didn't have to worry about jobs or bosses or other hindrances that can impact us. God gave Thom time to travel back East to close up his apartment, put his things in storage, finalize FMLA with his job, and pick up his beloved dog Dillon. He ordered our steps and He ordered Aunt Hannah's steps.

Death came in a whisper and we were able to be there when it called Aunt Hannah's name. She was ready, I pray that we will all be ready when God gently calls us home.

"But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words."
I Thessalonians 4:13-18.

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