Sunday, 23 January 2011

Dying Well

During my last trip home I had the privilege and honor of visiting my Aunt Judie one last time. We drove up to Big Bear and back in the same day, traveling behind way too many people who have no understanding of mountain driving etiquette and an apparent belief that the posted speed limit was 10 miles too high despite the clear weather. I really shouldn't complain though, since my mom drove the whole way and brought good snacks and Emily brought good tunes. But, it was a stressful drive. We were worried about making it up the mountain quickly (we left a little later than we wanted to), we didn't want to arrive at a bad time and miss out on the visit, and we all knew that this was a final visit.

Aunt Judie and Uncle Bill have been married fifty years. They are a very tight-knit couple - the kind of couple that you know enjoys each other's company, and whose love for each other is apparent to everyone around them. I know there is no person in the world my Uncle Bill would rather be with than Aunt Judie, and vice versa. Not just "suspect," or "think," I know. When I spoke to Uncle Bill on the phone before the trip he described a few of his caregiving duties to me, and I responded, "That sounds like a lot of work, Uncle Bill." He answered, "No, it's my pleasure." And I know it is. I know he loves to serve her. He loves to care for her, and to dress her, and to feed her, and bathe her, and wipe her nose, and dry her tears. I know he really loves her because he loves to serve her.

About two years ago my Aunt and Uncle retired and were adrift and looking for a place to settle. First they traveled the country, then they went to Big Bear, which was a very special place in their history as a couple - because they honeymooned there. In Big Bear they stayed in a hotel while looking into some senior housing. They went and met with the manager of the complex and were placed on the waitlist, somewhere in the 20s. A few days later they received a call from the manager. A unit had opened up, did they want it? Since they were the only ones without living arrangements in place (and to get out of) the spot went to them. It was a miraculous provision, and not without purpose. They moved in and began to enjoy their new community. Aunt Judie began attending a bible study in the complex, and decided to turn her life over to Christ. Uncle Bill soon followed.

Not long after, Aunt Judie began experiencing some health problems, and was eventually diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. As her health began to fade, she decided it was time to be baptized. Due to her failing health, this had to be done in their apartment. Their very very small senior housing apartment. Along with the pastor they invited a few friends, but word spread and a few more people decided they were coming. Although they feared that there would be too many people for the space, and that it would be too overwhelming, Aunt Judie and Uncle Bill did the gracious thing and accepted the larger crowd. They opened up their home and shared their lives, even in a time of great sorrow and infirmity. After witnessing the baptism three other women there decided they too wanted to commit their lives to Christ. God used Aunt Judie's weakness to draw others to Him. He used her willingness to open her heart, her life, and her home. Blessings can flow from sorrow. Our hard stories can have sweet, meaningful endings when we allow God to use them.

Knowing all this, we came to Aunt Judie's side. She looked so much better than I had prepared myself for, but there was no doubt that she was in her last weeks. Despite a great deal of medication and I'm certain more pain than I can imagine, she was able to speak with us, look at family pictures, crack a few feisty jokes, and pour out words from her heart. She went in and out a little, but she was often very clearly there, and continually communicating that she intended to see us again, and that she knew she was in God's hands. We thought we would be spending fifteen minutes, or perhaps half an hour with her, but we were able to spend two hours at her side. Sitting at the side of someone who is dying well is such a privilege. The intimacy of those moments is a priceless gift.

A few hours ago I picked up the phone, and listened to my mom tell me that Aunt Judie passed away early this morning. She had been having a rough night, so the hospice nurse came to stay over and help. The nurse sent Uncle Bill to the store to pick something up, and when he returned he said to Aunt Judie, "I love you little one." She replied, "yep." Those were the last words she heard. The last word she said. I imagine that she probably hung on until he got home, just so she could be with him. I am so thankful that Uncle Bill had this last tender moment with her.

As we mourn Aunt Judie- her warmth, her concern and care, her thoughtfulness, her feisty attitude and sense of humor, her ability to turn a few balls of yarn into something truly impressive - we will rejoice in her release from pain, and in the peace we know she has found in the arms of her Savior. Blessed assurance.


mary said...

Amy what a fitting tribute to Aunt Judie. thank you for sharing your gift of writing with us. I would like to print this and send it to Uncle Bill and Mom

Tom said...

That was very special