Category: the departed

I’m glad we had that last moment

by Andrea Elizabeth

George had the idea to carry Pippin to the back yard Saturday around noon. It was a great idea. At first he sat up and watched George trim a dead branch off the tree and looked around like he happily owned the place. Then he actually got up and circled the pool before walking to the porch and laying under the steps. Before Punkin died we let them roam free around our fenceless yard, so I think it reminded him of those good old days. We haven’t gotten a fence because of all the rocks and uncleared parts of our 2 acres. I brought him a little bit of water, and he came out. He actually held it down so I let myself hope he wasn’t dying afterall. Then George called him up the steps to sit with us on the porch. I couldn’t believe he could force himself up while looking at me. He had such will power despite his arthritis and increasing weakness that overtook him so much more suddenly starting Friday. I got him a little more water and put some salt in it. He didn’t like it as well, but his ravenous thirst pushed him on. Then I got a little more water and put some sugar in it. He liked that better. After a little while I got him some more, then he controlled his descent back down the stairs and threw a little of it up and laid there. At least it wasn’t the old “coffee ground” blood that he started throwing up Friday night. This last effort was the end of his rally, unfortunately.

George carried him back in as it was getting warmer. He was always so hot here in Texas and preferred laying on the concrete in the livingroom or tile in my bathroom with his belly against the floor to cool it. He waddled to me, then back to my bathroom and laid down. That was the last time he walked. His breathing got more and more labored as he laid on his side. Every now and then he would sit up and try to turn over, which we helped him do. It was sort of restless, and maybe like he needed to aid his circulation because his heartrate was rapid and weak. Around 5pm we thought maybe it cooled down enough for him to go back outside where he last looked happy.Ben laid him down in his new side position with his head extended for more air access. He tried to roll twice more, then he just laid still. Slowly his eyes seemed to lose their focus and his breathing got more labored. We brought him back in and laid him on his dogbed which we placed by my chair in the living room. He looked more comfortable on the softness, and since his body was cooling, like maybe he wasn’t too hot anymore. We stroked him for a long time. I began to think maybe I would take him to the hospital to hasten it afterall and got distracted looking up weekend availability on the internet. I found it opened Sunday noon, and decided if he still lingered by then I’d do it. Then I started watching tv. When I looked down, I saw how much faster and bigger his emaciated chest movements were and stroked him like I described in a previous post to calm him down. That’s when he gave up. I felt his chest and there was nothing. His head jerked down three times to its normal position. I wonder if that was his final effort or just spasms, but he looked more natural and comfortable. It was 9 pm and I am so glad he didn’t die alone after I went to sleep.

This process, including my dealing with it, is so hard. I feel that part of it is letting myself feel the pain of it and remembering. That the pain of death is somewhat cleansing, a necessary part of dealing with the fall which brought pain and death in the world. Yes Christ came and trampled it down, but still we are called to join in the fellowship of His sufferings. I always enter more into Lent and Holy Week and don’t know quite what to do with the triumphalism of Pascha. It seems like something that happened to Jesus and his mother since they were resurrected, but the rest of us still wait, so the celebration seems premature. But it will be fulfilled in all of us some day. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Pippin’s passing

by Andrea Elizabeth

I had epidurals with my first deliveries, but not with my last. I wanted to experience childbirth and not avoid it. Since the ’50’s we’ve been told childbirth is too painful for people. We’ve become very afraid of pain.

With the same idea, we chose not to take our old,  dying dog to the vet to be put down. Since studying natural deaths at home and natural burials without embalming, I’ve come to appreciate leaving out institutions in normal situations. I leave room for extraordinary situations. I want to die at home, surrounded by the people closest to me. And I think I want to chose when my last breath will be. I believe that normally we have some control over that. Last night, after a day of labored breathing, that definitely progressed in natural stages, about how long labor lasts, actually, I took a little break from Pippin’s side on his pillow on the floor in the living room and sat in the chair above him. After a bit, I saw that he was fighting really hard and fast all the sudden. I thought he was anxious, so I placed my foot on his head and rubbed behind his ears to calm him down. He did measureably. Then he drew one last breath, purposefully. And quit. I know he wanted to get my attention to say goodbye before leaving. You can’t do that when euthanized. And I know doctors administer Morphine to comfortably stop people’s breathing who are lingering. We are of course afraid of being oxygen starved, but natural deaths are different than being suffocated. I think we are given the chance to give up our spirits on purpose.

Rest in peace, you faithful, devoted, shepherding dog. We love and miss you, but hope you are pain-free and happily running around in cool, Welshlike Corgi mountains with your family and maybe mine who have passed on. Here’s an Orthodox perspective of the place of animals in God’s Kingdom.

that other country

by Andrea Elizabeth

I just happened to catch Pat Robertson, televangelist, talking to a family who had lost a son. His sister wrote about his life with a heart condition and his two near death experiences before he finally succumbed to it.

Especially heart-wrenching was her description of a conversation they had one night on the dock about how peaceful and at home he felt in the light during his near death experiences. I tend to agree with the family that he was in heaven, but we are taught to be cautious about personal experiences. It could have been a deception from the devil seducing him to give up his struggle and to leave his family. So did he prove his love for God by eventually dying, or did he take the easy way out? I am aware that most deaths occur against our will, but I think there is also something to the idea of our ability to “give up our spirit”. Some terminally ill people have to be persuaded to let go. And some people live this earthly life somewhat reluctantly, but will themselves to keep going out of a sense of duty to God and their loved ones, even amidst enjoyed perks.

Give me liberty or give me death! Death and the Civil War 2

by Andrea Elizabeth

To get context for the Civil War, as slavery was in America almost from the beginning of the colonies, I then watched a reenactment of Patrick Henry giving his famous speech. In addition to comparing the British to slave masters, Henry explained their actions of disarming the colonists while arming themselves for war.

“Suddenly Henry stepped out into the aisle, bowed his head and held out his arms, pretending they were chained. This is what he said: Hear It Now - Patrick Henry “Our chains are forged—their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston. The war is actually begun. The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms.” Then Patrick Henry threw off the imaginary chains, stood up straight and cried out clearly, Hear It Now - Patrick Henry “Our brethren are already in the field. Why stand we here idle?… I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!” (description from here)

My first thought is, how hypocritical! How can slave owners say it’s wrong to be enslaved!? That it’s better to die than be enslaved? And then use that as a means to motivate people to kill instead? But the black lady’s commentary at the end said that this speech had ramifications Henry never expected. Instead of unequalized people thinking he was a hypocrit, black people, Indians, and women felt empowered themselves to revolt against bad treatment.

But what I think Henry did was define what it meant in our country to die well. Dying well is discussed at length in the American Experience documentary, “Death and the Civil War”, that I recommended in my last post. When the deaths started mounting up, soldiers began thinking more about what it meant to die badly. It was bad to die alone in an open field and to be left there, which is what they saw happening.

Our country was founded on the notion that freedom is worth dying for. It’s not like the founding fathers didn’t realize that there was a discrepancy with their all men are created equal words, and their treatment of people of African and Native American descent.

“Although Washington personally opposed the institution of slavery after the American Revolutionary War, he had no tolerance for slave revolts and in 1791 as President he authorized emergency financial and military relief to French slave owners in Haiti to suppress a slave rebellion.[1] In 1789 Congress passed and President Washington signed a law that reaffirmed the previous ban on slavery in the Northwest Territory; it did not free slaves already in the territory. The 1790 Naturalization Act provided a means to incorporate foreigners as United States citizens, but was available only to “free white persons” of “good moral character.” Washington signed the 1793 Fugitive Slave Law, the first to provide for the right of slaveholders to recapture slaves even in free states that had abolished slavery.” (from Wikipedia)

Apparently people get so caught up in business and in their own success that they lose sight of those they are responsible for. This tunnel vision makes one blind to reality. It demonstrates a lack of empathy with anyone other than people like you, aka cronyism. Women are said to be more empathetic than men. This is why it was mostly women, most notably Clara Barton, as well as a bereaved father, that organized care of the wounded, and then the retrieval of bodies during and after the Civil War.

One can get down on men for the slave trade, the near extermination of the American Indians, war in general, and the Industrial Revolution, which I suppose filled in the gap left by departed slaves, (and football concussions). All of this can also be laid at the feet of greedy women, but they didn’t credit or allow the women in their exclusive clubs or meetings, so…. I suppose it’s all part of the curse. When Adam was sent out to till the ground, he had to take it from something if not someone. Did it really have to be this way?

Thoughts about our trip to where Connie is

by Andrea Elizabeth

Cats and dogs don’t forget you if you’ve been gone for 9 days on a trip.

Departed people, if saintly enough, can order beautiful sunsets for your driving pleasure if you go to their grave to commemorate the anniversary of their passing.

What makes them saintly is their love for others while here on earth. My mother in law worked really hard to bless anyone in her path. She would offer encouragement to strangers and family alike by telling them they are beautiful and that Jesus loves them. Bless her heart.

My mother in law loved to paint. Her paintings are displayed proudly in her families’ homes and are nearly all landscapes with lush green vegetation and water, be it ponds or the ocean. She painted a clipper ship on the rough seas with my husband’s boyhood model as the model. She even included the misplaced string that joined the mast. He’s not sure if she knew it was attached in the wrong place.

One year later, her family seems more peaceful. I think it’s because of her prayers and the assurance that she is no longer suffering and is in a place of verdure.


It’s about time

by Andrea Elizabeth

Today is the 1 year anniversary of the passing of my much loved Mother-in-law. I didn’t have her death in mind as the reason for my coincidental sabbatical to a new blog, but perhaps it is fitting that the anniversary signals the time to return.

I have noticed with other people that major life decisions can follow the passing of a loved one, even if one is not conscious of the timing. I have wondered if it is a result of stress, but maybe we take more stock in what is truly important when we become more acquainted with death.

Today is also the first Monday of the Nativity Fast for Orthodox Christians. The Scripture reading for today from Colosians 2:

So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths,
which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.
Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,
and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.
Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations –
Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,
which all concern things which perish with the using – according to the commandments and doctrines of men?
These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.
Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.
For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

The first thing that comes to mind is the Protestant criticism of our Church calendar with its feasts and fasts and veneration of angels. But to reject them totally would be to deny the Scripture, “when you fast” and would tend towards gnostic denial of material things, and thus the Incarnation. So I suppose we read this as a reminder that Christ is the goal of the observances, and not an independent adherence to rules.

A blessed fast to us all.

A place of verdure

by Andrea Elizabeth

I’m not saying the details aren’t important, they’re just stressful right now because they divide us. There’s a time and place for them, I suppose. And who knows how God will deal with them? Will I be found to keep them well enough?

The details are doctrinal, personal, and painful. I’m writing the personal and painful ones by hand in a journal my mother gave me. They are the details of our two week trip to the northeast to visit our graduate student son, George’s dying dear mother, who did pass away in the middle of it, and Poppy, the 32 year old horse that she loved so much, who died 5 days before she did.

“O God of spirits and of all flesh, Who has trampled down Death and overthrown the Devil, and given life unto Your world, give, we beseech You, eternal rest to the soul of Your departed servant, in a place of brightness, in a place of verdure, in a place of repose, from whence all pain, sorrow, and sighing, have fled away.

Pardon, we beseech You, every transgression which may have been committed, whether by word or deed or thought. For there is no man who lives and does not commit a sin. You only are without sin, Your righteousness is everlasting, and Your word is the Truth.

For You are the Resurrection, and the Life, and the repose of Your departed servant, O Christ our God, and unto You we ascribe glory, together with eternal the Father, and Your Most Holy, and Good, and Life-giving Spirit, now and forever, and for ages to come.” Amen

“May our gracious and merciful Lord, who rose from the dead, Christ, our True God, through the intercessions of His Holy Mother and of all the Saints, establish the soul of His departed servant in the mansions of the righteous; give rest in the bosom of Abraham, and number [her] soul among the just, and have mercy upon us and save us”.

Eternal be Your memory.

This world is not my home

by Andrea Elizabeth

“I’m just a passin’ through”, as the song goes.

I’ve been thinking (“a dangerous past time, ‘I know'”, as another song goes, [from Beauty and the Beast.]) about the relationship between matter and consciousness. Since I don’t really know the relationship, I’ll just list some observations in the order I remember or think of them.

Imagination and dreams are very compelling. Who can live without literature and now movies?

Stories draw from knowledge of material things.

Death separates us from material things. Resurrection will some day reunite us with an altered form of them.

Meanwhile, we are to strive for a healthy detachment from passions associated with material things. The attachment itself is at first immaterial, but it usually seeks a material consummation.

The Church consecrates material and immaterial things that we can properly attach to. Monastics commit to these being their only attachments. People in the world may attach to a broader number of things, which St. Paul says leads to inevitably being burdened by worldly cares.

Even monastics are encouraged to read stories, like those of Charles Dickens, which are mostly about people in the world. But since they are fiction, Dickens can achieve an immaterial relationship with them. Our relationships with immaterial concepts so depicted undoubtedly influence our relationships with material beings and things in our physical circle. If there is conflict between our conceptualized desires and our immediate circumstance, we seek escape from the latter. Perhaps this is not bad in itself. Perhaps our unfulfilled (meaning not yet materialized) desires are valid, and worthy of being dwelt upon in a desire for harmonic perfection of our inner and outer states. But we should stay open to the process required to bring about such harmony. Our circumstances, and our selves, are rough hewn rocks that require much chiseling. Actual escape is usually a premature burial of what could have been. But I will say that some stones are too unwieldy, and should be scrapped.

What happens if our culture, by becoming less human, makes it more difficult to achieve inner and outer harmony? Isolation occurs, but perhaps it always has. One is never alone who doesn’t seek to be, however.

Guaranteed happiness

by Andrea Elizabeth

In Bleak House by Charles Dickens, Esther is a young woman who was unloved in her younger life. It is natural that she would crave love as a result. Her character is such that she doesn’t solicit it, however. She focuses more on loving others. When love is expressed, though, this is her reaction, “Well! It was only their love for me, I know very well, and it is a long time ago. I must write it even if I rub it out again, because it gives me so much pleasure. They said there could be no east wind [John Jarndyce’s term for bad feelings] where Somebody was; they said that wherever Dame Durden [their pet name for Esther] went, there was sunshine and summer air.”

What does love mean? That you will always be enough for someone and they will never need anything else? That you will save each other? The way the story plays out indicates that this is not the case. Only the characters who have consistently exhibited strength of character have happy endings. It is not their strength alone that saves them, but it seems a belief in cosmic karma guarantees that they will get the help they need eventually. I have read that Dickens was a universalist. I don’t know how that plays into his pattern of bad characters getting knocked off.

This is somewhat related in my mind to Whitney Houston’s funeral. I was impressed with T.D. Jakes’ sermon about universal resurrection. It is true that all the dead will be raised. But no one talked about Judgment Day. The last sermon, at the end of the 3 hours, given by an Atlanta pastor who was Whitney’s last, I believe, only addressed the prosperity doctrine. I cannot understand what it has to do with her death or the afterlife. I could stretch it into some universalist belief, I suppose, that God only wants everyone eternally happy and well-fed. This is true, but it takes something on our part. How much and when are the universal questions. The Sinner’s Prayer? Another chance after death of intellectual acceptance of Jesus as personal savior with a guaranteed result? Or only upon repentance and constant vigilance in this life, with some trials still to go though after death?

I was so hopeful for T.D. Jakes being on to something that I looked him up yesterday. Oh yes, he’s in nearby Dallas. Oh, he’s into the prosperity doctrine too. Nevermind.

Essence and energies, fatherhood and baseball

by Andrea Elizabeth

I have explored the idea that the essence/energies distinction enables multiple objects to co-exist. One thing doesn’t get totally absorbed or annihilated in union with another. One popular way of self-preservation is to place oneself as preeminent. This has the effect of annihilating the other instead. Or one can disappear, so to speak, in order to let the other have a place. But is this spoiling the other? Or does it place too great a burden on the other to take turns so that they don’t feel selfish. Ideally both feel fulfilled in relationship. This is where needs are met without selfishness. Is a child selfish when it is receiving food and shelter from its parents? They shouldn’t feel that way. Parents seem to hold that over their head as a manipulative tool though when they imply that the children owe them for it. When someone is in need, we owe them to help fulfill it. To not do so is neglect. To do so doesn’t mean that more is owed back. “Each according to their need” is provided by the Father with human cooperation. To not cooperate is to be in a person’s debt. “Forgive us our debts,” in Orthodox teaching, is about when we don’t give to others according to their need when it was ours to fulfill it, not necessarily for a breach of voluntary contract. Selfishness is when needs are met in sinful ways. When we take things that aren’t ours.

I just saw a PBS documentary about a sperm donor and his “children”, who as older teenagers have sought him out after he revealed his donor number. He is basically a beach hippie who had been an “exotic dancer” and was also somewhat of a philosopher. He believed most things weren’t real and wouldn’t last (annihilation), but also in “I”ness (everything but me will be annihilated). He also had an icon of Mary who he considered the cosmic mother, and he regularly prayed for and blessed, after he smoked something out of a pop bottle contraption, the mothers and all the countless souls that had emanated from him. Four of the donor siblings (a fifth didn’t want to go) said they felt a positive energy after they arranged a reunion with him. And they also knew not to expect anything from him (except honesty), but felt good that he was there, nice spirited, if paranoid about conspiracy theories, and not some disembodied liquid in a frozen test tube. If he believed in the I-ness of himself and other souls and animals, it seems he did not believe in cosmic re-absorption. Maybe he believed in the beatific vision of essences that does not share energies. Regarding other things being of limited existence, he may have somewhat of a point. The children that he spawned are eternal beings whom he helped bring into the world. They have grown up with the physical gap of the lack of his presence, but did seem to have somewhat of his spirit about them, which they commented on. The California donor facility also played a part in their conception, including the rooms with the visual aids. I tried to observe any affect that had on the kids, and it’s hard to sort out if the way the girls dressed was a result of that or because almost all available clothing is of that type these days. Yet to have that be such an exaggerated aspect of their origination must do something. However, I got the sense that 20 years later, it had been diluted, if not annihilated altogether.

Regarding the mothers, they had entered into an agreed-upon contract with him to preserve his anonymity with no expectations, and desired no continued involvement. All but one, the one whose daughter had initiated the reunions, appeared at least hesitant about their children’s curiosity and subsequent actions. That same daughter was the most open to subsequent involvement while the others kept a safe, “oh, so that’s who he is” attitude.

I didn’t post this the other day when I wrote it, and now, after watching the exhausting game 6 of the World Series, I’ll tie this post into baseball. The pitcher is like the father. The best ones put a lot of action on the ball. It is not a piece of trash that they are getting rid of and don’t care about after it leaves their possession. Some pray over it, some talk to it, but all have a committed interest in how it leaves their hand and how what they do to it will affect its future. The batter is like the mother, very tuned into the pitcher and how they can best receive and also guide the ball. The outfielders are like the community who want the ball properly placed and guided back to the pitcher. Homeruns, well I guess they go to heaven. In the world, that would be that they are able to transcend all obstacles and reach new heights of achievement. It’s sad that the pitcher and batter are often on different teams. That could be like divorce or even the situation above. Teams oppose each other because of the fall and ultimately the battle with demons. Both those in your own team and those in the other’s. Either way, nothing is annihilated. Everything has eternal significance in that it influences the course of the game, even if some things are forgotten, or are very distant, for now.