Monday, September 29, 2008

The Only Emperor...

Last night I had to step up and learn how to face a very human experience: death. Cameron's Aunt Shirley is not long for this world (I like that saying- to me it's a happy cliche, because soon she'll be in heaven). She is dying of colon cancer. First they gave her a couple of years, then months, weeks and now days. She is a shell of herself. She looks as if she's aged 30 years since the last time I saw her in July. She's in and out of heavily medicated sleep. She can hear you, yet her body cannot muster the superfluous need to communicate. It's all about basic function at the moment. I've never had to say good-bye to someone who is about to die. My Grandfathers both died before I was born and my Grandmothers are still alive and kicking. Before all of our medical advances and hospitals where our dying live out their final days, relatives died at home. We as human beings were faced with death more often. Now we tuck it away behind curtains and in rest homes. I have never been face to face with a gaunt 55 year old mother who is taking her last breaths.  I was not close to Shirley, I didn't know her well. She was kind but had nothing in common with me. Sometimes, I found her odd. I'm being honest because I hate when people pass away that we all of a sudden were their "best friend" or we "loved them so much". We do this to lavish attention on ourselves for our own sake. I'm not doing that. 
I am in mourning for her though. I am terrified for her 15 year old son, Jerry who already has quite a bit of difficulty in this life. Her husband, Mike is falling apart at the seams. He can't give himself his insulin shots (something Shirley did for him) and doesn't have any qualms about  forgetting them.
Although it might seem like a completly different subject, I'm reading 'Salem's Lot.  It's #3 on my "read all things Stephen King" kick. It's not really a different subject, because that book is about facing fear and facing death. Not hiding behind religion, and what true faith is (that's a whole different blog that I'm working on). In the book there is a poem:
The Emperor of Ice-Cream
by Wallace Stevens:
Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchens cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Not a terribly cheery little number. A tad surreal.
I think it says something about how we mourn and how we try to ignore death...
we need not ignore it. Rather, face it down. We are the victors because we are children of God. That stinging death has fallen and we've stood on top, not swayed by fear or the devil. We are saved by grace. 
Perhaps it was in this thought that I prayed over Shirley last night. I'm not one to pray out loud for people. I'm not one to lead prayer groups. I once was and found it to be narcissistic of me to a certain extent. Last night with my husband in the room and my son in my lap, I prayed. I didn't know where to begin, what do you pray for the terminal?  I don't really remember, it was hard to do. Leaving the room I was crying, still holding Josiah and I was met by her brother and sister. I know that it was the Holy Spirit, and I prayed with them. In a very unlike me moment, I said: Let me pray for you. Again, who knows what I said.  It wasn't me. 
No matter what accouterments we place at a deathbed, there is nothing more beautiful than the victory of salvation and heaven. 

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