Thursday, September 17, 2009

On Mortality

Events of the last couple of days here -and actually, in retrospect, of the last so many years too I suppose -are leading me to writing this post tonight on this topic.

However, it would appear from reading some of the posts today from some of my favorite bloggers that I am not alone today with having this subject on my mind.

Terri wrote about the sudden passing of her neighbor of twenty years last night and Suldog reposted what he wrote three years ago about the sudden death of his cousin. Kind of strange that tonight as I sat down to catch up on my blog readings that this topic should surface -and then resurface further on down the reading line isn't it?

Especially so since I spent the afternoon out at our church, helping to serve a funeral dinner to the family and friends of a member of our congregation who passed away last Friday.

Dotti was only 59 years old. Definitely still a spring chicken by my age standards. An old lady I suppose to those youngsters in attendance at her funeral today though. I'd know her since she was probably about 18 months old or so. She began her journey in our church parish when she came to the home of a couple from church who already had two children of their own but they opened their home and hearts to the needs of this little girl as her foster parents. That same couple also had two more children and took in countless other foster children over the years with one other little girl ending up making her home with them on a permanent basis too.

And in my teen years, I used to babysit this lady who was buried today.

I didn't know until about two weeks or so ago that Dotti was ill until a message came through on our prayer chain that she was being admitted to a large hospital in the eastern part of the state for a possible lung transplant. Then Sunday -at the church picnic for Rally Day, I heard the news that she had died Friday after having been transferred to Temple Hospital in Philadelphia where it was determined that she could not possibly survive the aspect of a lung transplant.

Knowing the size of her foster family and the various relatives therein, I figured in advance it would be a pretty good-sized funeral but I was no where prepared for the number of people standing outside the church and in the narthex for the viewing. When I arrived and went to sign the book and view Dotti, there were people milling all around the narthex and it was, I have to say, the first time I have gone to a viewing in our parish where I didn't recognize a single person in the mix!

When I got up to the kitchen and we began getting things set up for the meal, the lady in charge of funeral dinners remarked to me about the number of people present and wondering if all of them would be staying for the dinner. If they all stayd for the dinner, she continued to muse, she was beginning to worry that we might not have enough food.

She hadn't yet picked up the meat and cheese tray she'd ordered from the deli at the local store so after a little thought and a conversation with our Pastor and a cousin of Dotti's, she decided to call the deli and see if they could add on to the meat/cheese platter -upping it from enough to serve 50 to 70. When she went to pick that up, she also purchased ALL the dinner rolls the had in the bakery then too!

Shortly before the service started, I noticed a gentleman who had just come into the kitchen carrying a very large container which he left on the counter there. It turned out to be a huge disposable cooking dish filled with sauerkraut, roast pork, sausage and hot dogs! What a blessing that delivery turned out to be too!

Shortly before he showed up, Florence -the crew chief in the kitchen -had remarked to me that we might be well-advised to send up a prayer for something along the lines of Christ feeding the multitude with a few bread loaves and fish and it was about ten minutes later that this delivery took place. As it turned out, if we hadn't received that pork and sauerkraut, we would definitely have run out of food.

You see, she had been told to prepare a meal for about 50 and we ended up serving 102!

I had a chance to visit with three of Dotti's four foster brothers as well as her younger foster sister too. The younger girl was a toddler back when I used to babysit those kids and she was my "pet" I suppose you could say. There was something about her that I was drawn to her from the first time I saw her and everytime I saw her at church or at their home, she always reached out for me to hold her. Just a very sweet, loving and oh, so cute, little one she was.

I had heard a few months back that the younger of the sisters was ill -cancer of the lung as a matter of fact and that she was beginning treatments -chemo and such. I'd heard a few reports here and there that she was dealing with the disease but that the treatments were really harsh and hard on her. I'm not really sure when I'd last seen Renee -the younger sister -(it may have been at their Dad's funeral, just not sure even how many years back that was right now either) but I asked the oldest of the brothers if Renee had made it up for the funeral today and he pointed her out to me.

I never would have recognized her! Of course, with the mask on her face to prevent her picking up any more germs than need be and the ball cap on her head to cover that she had lost all her hair, it is kind of hard to tell who a person is, you know -under neath all of those trappings.

But when I knew that was Renee, I had to go speak to her. It had been so many years that initially, she didn't even recognize me until I told her my first name and then, she knew right away who I was -who I am. We hugged -long and hard. Talked briefly about the meds, how she's handling things and above all, how we both believe that attitude -having the most positive attitude possible while dealing with an illness like cancer -is not just half but rather more like 75-90, even in many instances, a full 100 percent of the battle there.

The thing with this particular family -and I've known more than a few of them over my lifetime -is that they all, every last one of them -have always exhibited in more ways than I could possible count much less relate here -an extremely strong faith. As one of the ladies in the kitchen remarked today that she and her husband had gone to the nursing home where the mother of this family is now a resident on Sunday evening with the thought in mind that they would be there to console Betty -the mother. But they returned home having had Betty console them.

Now that is not something that surprised me -not in the least! That is how Betty has always been and I'm quite sure, it is how she will always be. It is what I will remember the most about her -and her sister -and their mother too, for that matter -as they have always had that inner strength to see through the sadness, the pains of life and grief, to find the best in what has been brought their way.

Today brought back memories to me -as often happens on the occasion of a funeral -of other deaths. When we, the help, got a chance to sit down and grab a bite to eat, I sat across the table from a lady who grew up five doors down the street from me and I remembered when her brother was killed in a car accident on Election Night of 1964. And thoughts of Billy -who was a year older than me -came back to me.

As I saw and spoke to my friends, Kate and Shirley -I remembered then three other funerals -their parents as well as the sudden and very shocking passing of their brother -who had commited suicide -and the grief and tears that had poured from people in attendance at his viewing as well as the funeral. And I remembered too a very dear friend who died 21 years ago this month at the age of almost 44, from cancer too. Many others also came to mind but those were the ones that entered and stayed for more than a fleeting thought today.

As we ate our late lunch this afternoon, seated across from my former neighbor from my childhood, sitting alongside Pastor Carrie and across from her, the gentleman who used to be our organist and often fills in for funerals or other special services during the weekdays, the discussion was centered for a while on whether or not we should grieve or rejoice at a funeral.

While it is sad to lose someone -be it a family member, a very close friend or just an acquaintance through work or some other activity -and it is often difficult to try to fathom why this person was taken now, it is also very comforting to think of it as not the end of a life but rather a new beginning.

And I chose to believe too that someday we will all be reunited with those we've known and loved so this is not the end, not the last time we will connect. Just the last time in this particular place and the next one will have us free from all the trappings of life, all the sorrows and pain.

Not that I am anticipating something -or hopefully not in the very near future you know but still, it is, for me, something I do look forward to someday.


Anonymous said...

So weird that I'm reading this post tonight when just earlier this evening my best girlfriend from h.s. and I were chatting on the phone about one of our classmate's who's Dad had just passed away. I didn't know Tony's Dad but my girlfriend did and as she talked on and on about how wonderful he was I had to make her stop and realize that the person she was describing was our friend Tony and I thought what a great reflection he is of his Dad..
I too believe that this life is just one leg of our journey and I too believe that we will one day be reunited with those who shared our journey's of love, not sure in what capacity but I'm sure our paths will cross again..
Having cancer myself I can tell you, dying is not in the forefront of my mind all the time. Of course I have all of my affairs in order, to the extent that I am able but dying to me is just something I'll do later because I don't have time right now. Haha and truly that's how I feel. I've got 4 kids and 2 grandbabies and I signed onto this whole Motherhood thing and all the titles that come with it, for life and I'm not nearly done helping these kiddies along, as long as they need me, I will be here and yes, your outlook is 110% the factor when you have cancer but we all come into this world dying, I'm no different than anyone else. I may die from this disease or I mail get run over by the mailman, who knows. I have no time to worry about it, all I have, all any of us have is this moment, not 2 minutes from now, not 1 minute from now, just this moment..

Anonymous said...

Your friend sounds like an amazing woman.. Kudos to her..

Sandee said...

This week one of my workmates died. She and I are the same age. It really set me back.

Have a terrific day. :)

Travis said...

I'm sorry for the loss of your friend. I agree that this summer has prompted quite a bit of reflection...

...of my own mortality.

...of behavior I see all around me.

...of how I want to address both my own mortality and the behavior I see all around me.

terri said...

Death definitely brings with it a big dose of perspective, doesn't it? I myself am guilty of getting bogged down with worries and fears that may or may not ever come to pass. But when someone close to me dies, it serves as a reminder to take things as they come and enjoy the blessings we are given. We can't waste time worrying about all the bad things that might happen.

Berni said...

Good post Jeni. Living in a place where many folks are retired and therefore over 65 we hear of a death quite often. This week a woman we know of dropped dead just as she got up for the day. She was my age.

I find it a bit depressing but death comes to all of us sooner or later. I guess it is no good worrying about what one could have done in the past, that can't be changed. Or worrying about the future, something I do all the time, because I might not even be here. Live in the present is what the Bible told us to do. Take each day as it comes and be grateful for it.