Big World Small Boat

Private Diary of A Priest. OK, so we're not all angels...Everyone needs a place to get things off their chest! And yes, I do talk to God about it all! Even He has a sense of humour! Want proof? Well, he made me, didn't He? Oh, one last thought-If you don't like what I've written, please keep in mind - it's MY diary. Go write your own!

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Location: England, United Kingdom

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Having A Good Death

It has been a challenging week. I’ve seen what I’d say was humanity at its sweetest and its’ most bitter during this week.

I sat with a gentleman who slipped away, never regaining consciousness from a massive stroke. He was only fifty-six years old and according to his older sister, the man had a penchant for the 'good life,' primarily consisting of copious quantities of alcohol and grease infused foods. (Well, it was his interpretation of the ‘good life’).

I’ve introduced the nearly dead to the recently deceased with the poor child who is addicted to heroin. The struggle she faces could be beyond the comprehension of many.

And I collected the ashes of my friend Sarah. She’s here with me right now, as I write, waiting patiently for me to strew the final remains of her earthly life in the same spot as her beloved husband. It will not be a task to do so; it will be an honour.

Shortly after I returned home last night, I was contacted by a family to inform me of the death of an elderly gentleman. He had died that evening, in his bed, at home. This morning I mentioned to my children during breakfast that I would be gone for a few hours, whilst I made a pastoral visit to the family. My son said to me ‘well Dad, at least this was a ‘good death’ instead of a bad one.’

So what then is a good death? In the past that was not a difficult question, because the answer was given us - by the church, into which most of us were baptised, and whose principal doctrines we learned, if not at home, or at church, then at school.

A good death was above all prepared for. In our final days this would involve making our peace with God and neighbour. But long before that, it would involve living out our lives in the knowledge that this life was in part, a preparation for the life of the world to come.

That gave us a certain ‘orientation,’ so that when we did come to the end of our lives, whether it be short or long, they would not seem pointless and we could look back with a contented heart.

But in these more secular times many have taken death, so to speak, into their own hands. Clergy are no longer needed or desired. And in some instances, considering some of my fellow clergy, I might take the very same stance! People are finding their own ways of bringing meaning to the loss of a loved one.

So, what is a good death now? When I asked my son to share his idea of a ‘good death’ he simply said that it was to go to bed and not wake up. In other words, to slip from this world into oblivion, or wherever, without knowing - to die unprepared, the very opposite of the ‘traditional’ church-inspired understanding.

In another age, when life expectancy was short, when illness struck suddenly and carried us off quickly, that might have been the expectation and hope of many. But if the countless octogenarians I visit each week in our coastal care homes are any indicator, most of us can now expect to live well past the point where we can’t physically do much more than move from a bed to a chair and back to bed each day. We shall have years of reflecting upon our mortality before we succumb to some degenerative disease and know that our final days are upon us.

So what is a good death?

The starting point for us all, believers and non-believers, is the same: we will die. The practical things we can all do: making our peace, setting our affairs in order, giving consideration to family and friends and the needs they may have. They all become acts of kindness towards others.

But, as a priest, I know that this is the easy part. The difficult bit is finding that final peace of mind and calmness of spirit that comes from being able to reconcile all that has gone before - successes and frustrations – warm memories and sad ones as well – all coming to the inevitable reality that it is going to end.

The ‘believer’ achieves that reconciliation when he says; ‘Lord into your hands I commend my spirit.’ It’s that reaffirmation that this is only a passing of time and that there is a new life ahead. To me, that remains a good death.

In fact, I can’t imagine coming across a better.

Írásos Bill atya gyűjteményéből. Imádkozunk az egészsége. LR


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wanted to write to say how much your words have meant right now. My husband is in EIRH with pancreatic cancer. He is in such pain I can't let him see me cry. Both he and I know he will die soon. We have accepted that. What I don't understand is if god loves us why do we have to suffer so much? Your words have given me a great deal of comfort tonight. Thank you. JP

Anonymous Anonymous said...

a very tough area. References to beeing recieved by God....well I suppose but timing is everything,as they say.

I found 2 phrases which seemed to offer something.

1 "keep an open mind"

2 "we've all been dead before,(we were alive)-it wasn't so bad for me..."

3 "...Gods last precious gift...."

Anonymous Anonymous said...

My younger brother is dying now with a cancer that is spreading rapidly. I am 4000 miles away and cannot be there until Friday, when I hope he will still be with us.
Being 12 years older than he is, I am a different generation, and I have to admit that over the years I have not been as close to him as he would have liked. I now feel over come with grief and guilt that I did not make more of an effort to include him in my life.
Your down-to-earth approach has helped more than any others that I have been reading, and I hope that if I am lucky enough to see him again in this world, that I will have the fortitude to do as you have suggested.
Thank you.

Anonymous Steven said...

I'll be honest. My life is so miserable I am not really in dread of dying. I'm depressed and obese. Each day is very awful. It would be a relief to die.

Blogger Father Bill Haymaker said...

Steven, I'm heartbroken to read your comment. I can share with you that each of us is the World's Greatest Expert at our own opinions; but when I feel down, at the most utter pits of despair, the way I pick myself up and dust myself off is by planting seeds!

Don't take the time to shut down your computer, just get up and walk away from it and go out the door and do what I'm about to share with you: Steven, go commit a random act of kindness. Find a stranger and do something for them. It needn't be anything spectacular - just definitive: If you've queued up to buy a cup of coffee, pay for the person's behind you. If your neighbour has a front lawn that is overgrown with grass, cut it for them, or go find a homeless shelter and contribute an evening of feeling sad and lonely to listening to someone else's life of sadness and loneliness. Before you know it, you'll discover that you've just consumed an amazing elixir!

Now, get up and go do something for someone. You'll find your own way and the reward will be greater than you could ever measure!

And as you wreak havoc upon the world of the lonely, lost, and sad, never stop saying to yourself that you are loved!

Fr. B+

Blogger T Friedman said...

My Grandma is dying. She has had hospice care for about 6 months. I'm worried that she is afraid to die and that is why she is hanging on. She is unresponsive in bed. The most she can do is open her eyes, occasionally say "yes" or "no", drink a little water and unfortunately grimace a little when she is repositioned. She has rejected religion for a long time because of a Father at the church she once attended offended her (at least forty some years ago!) I so badly want to say something special to her to help her feel at peace and I have no idea how to approach her. If she has any regrets she should know that how she has treated me has made her a saint in my eyes. Could you help me have the words to comfort her please?

Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you or a loved one is dealing with unbearable pain at the end of life, usually changes can be made to improve quality of life. If the dying person is clear-headed of course this is their choice, but they should know that we have the technology in palliative care to keep most people comfortable, through higher doses of medications, sedation, multimodal pain control, local anesthesia, epidural/spinal. Sometimes clarity of thought is compromised but....pain compromises thought as well and so does the dying process itself. I think many doctors and hospitals don't do enough to manage pain at the end of life because every effort is put into extending life at any cost without regard to the quality of life.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

sometimes giving people "permission" to leave helps people pass peacefully. Sometimes I think people hold on for the sake of loved ones. I'm not religious, I can't comment on that, but sometimes people just need to hear that it's ok to go, that you and other loved ones will be ok. Id have to think that if she turned away from religion 40 years ago, that she's had time to think that over, so I'm no expert, but personally I'd err on the side of assuming she is at peace with that decision and not mentioning regrets. Reassure her about any worries she may have about after she's gone....for example if she has pets make sure she knows they will be cared for.

Talk to her about fond memories, about things that make her happy. But really just "I Love You" and knowing you are there with her, loving her....just the sound of your voice, talking to her as a human rather than a patient or dying person.... should help her be at peace.

I'll never forget seeing big tears rolling down the cheeks of a "tough" ~85 year old retired farmer on his deathbed in the hospital as his pastor held one hand and told him to relax, embrace this final experience on Earth, and enjoy his journey, while his wife of 65+ years held his other hand and they told each other "I love you". He was clear and lucid and could speak though, while he was on positive-pressure oxygen. The next day he decided to have his artificial oxygen support cut off to let his disease take its inevitable course and he died an hour later, having listened to his granddaughter sing Amazing Grace that whole time. I played my violin for him (and everyone else in the ICU that day) and told him I loved him. If anything, just say "I love you". Those 3 words, at least for me, go further than any others. I struggled with what I would say, how I could say goodbye to someone for the last time. But when I got to the hospital, hugged him, kissed him on the cheek, things just went naturally and I realized I just needed to listen to our hearts. Of course HE made it easier by keeping his dry sense of humor until the end. Gosh I miss that man. I wish he could have lived long enough to be a part of my baby's life. Oh how I wish they could have met. But my baby was born 11 months too late for that.

Tell her how much she means to you and how she will live on in your memory. Touch her, kiss her, hold her hand. Listen to your heart.


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