dying well.

3 May
I don’t know entirely what that phrase even means.  The words get tossed around in seminary.  There are probably books on the subject.  Chaplains in care centers and with hospice probably would know best.
I think I caught a glimpse of it today when I visited a man who is dying this afternoon.  I’ve known his mom since I came to Red Oak Grove but this particular man, who lived with his mother until she went to the care center many months ago, never came to worship with her.  I got the impression he wasn’t much for church at his age in his early 60s.
He joined the congregation of Red Oak Grove this past February.  I was visiting his mom in the care center and he approached me.  “I would like to join the church.  I’m dying.”  This man was diagnosed with cancer six months ago and given three months to live.  
We’ve connected time and again at the care center over coffee with his mom.  I’ve made plans to visit but it seems those are always the days he is the weakest and not up for visitors.  Today, I finally made it to his brother’s house, in whose basement he will live until he dies.  This is a recent move when hospice joined the picture.  
If there is a way to die well, this man is doing it.  Without any prompting or leading questions on my part, he led me in this wonderful conversation.  Discussion of his wishes in regards to funeral and burial and his complete peace in this end of life.  We talked about faith and how church isn’t a building.  It’s not a front – he is truly seriously at peace with this all.  “I’m not scared,” he told me.
His three children – who he has not seen for many many years – just visited from England and Washington DC.  He discussed his plans with them and, as hard as it sounds, said goodbye.  The next time they come will be for his funeral [which he requests be at 1pm on a Saturday.  I’ll see what we can do, I said].
I’ll be honest – I dreaded the conversation going into it.  I really wasn’t sure how to talk this man I barely knew and who was dying.  It turns out I was nervous for no reason; he guided me through the conversation with the honesty and pacing of a man who is at peace with this fate of death.  A dreaded conversation turned into this holy, blessed conversation.  A gift, if you will.  A gift for tough, faithful discussion that didn’t feel pulled or prodded from a person who wasn’t interested in sharing.  It is likely one of the most honest conversations I’ve had as a pastor.  A gift for me and I hope a gift for him as well.
[We also talked about the perks of socialism, the perks of gatorade, and how none of his children are married because of their dedication and focus on their respective careers.  “It’s like you.  You’re focused on your career.”  Inside my head, I laughed.  If only my perpetual singleness was the result of my career focus.]
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