18 hours ago
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Death - A Beautiful Moment
I just sat with my Mom as she took her last breath. It has made me think about how privileged I am to have been present at this moment. My mom was 94 years old and married for 72 years. She had an incurable disease which allowed her to die gradually and peacefully without pain. I witnessed her strong faith when six months ago she made the decision to accept Hospice care and to move to the nursing home where she died. Yes, she is at peace now and hopefully embraced by God in His Kingdom. But this moment is still a haunting one for me. Of course I miss her, but I wonder how I will face this same moment. Will I show the same faith?
She was a Methodist and in the process of making the arrangements for her I was troubled by their lack of tradition to care for her soul. She had made arrangements to cremated. I had to honor her wishes and sat at the funeral home with mixed feelings as my father and I arranged for this event prohibited in the Orthodox Church. The funeral home did have a policy of preparing the body for viewing prior to the cremation and emphasized the respect and care they had for the body once they received it which was a bit of comfort.
I then had to think about the services we would have for her. When I talked with the minister, he said "What would you like me to do? What prayers and hymns would you like? I was a bit taken aback by this as in the Orthodox faith there are specific services for these important moments. Whatever service we wanted to have was to be tailored to whatever I and my family wanted. When I inquired about the internment of the ashes, I was told that it was not necessary for anyone to be there. They would see that they were put in the memorial garden next to the Church. They could be mailed to the church so we wold not be troubled in any way. Again no special attention or tradition. This is such a contrast to Orthodoxy tradition where there is no question about what to do at such moments because there are beautiful prayers and services that have been repeated for centuries for such occasions.
I had earlier contacted the local Orthodox Priest to see if he would be willing to do a Trisagion service at the viewing we were planning to have for the immediate family. He said, "No, I cannot do this. She has her faith. They need to take care of this." As I was going through making all these arrangement with my father I felt separated from my church. Neither my church or her church seemed to have a way to respond based on any tradition for such a time. We had to make it up. I wondered why the Orthodox Church would not be willing to pray for the repose of my mom because she was a Methodist. It seemed to me our Orthodox prayers were needed in light of their lack of tradition. I had talked earlier with my mom about the hymns she liked and other memorial services she thought were well done. So I was able to put together a service for her memorial which was to take place three days after her death. She had a favorite singer she had heard at her church. My Dad called him the morning after she died and miracously he was just getting off the plane when he called and was open for the next days service. He has a wonderful smile and connects with his audience when he sings. It was comforting to hear and see him perform. The minister, a presbyterian serving in a methodist church, organized the event. It turned out to be a very nice memorial but still nothing like our Orthodox funeral service with attention to the soul, its need for forgiveness and prayers.
We had the viewing, the minister came and said a short prayer. We all said good bye to Mom and headed off to the memorial service which was held in a beautiful chapel that is part of the retirement community where they have lived for the last 20 years. I did not feel emotionally upset, but felt a deep sorrow, not just for the loss of my Mom, but that I felt abandoned by my church in this moment.
The last breath of life is a beautiful one, it is when we begin to make the transition from this world to God's kingdom. One thing is for sure, from now on, this moment is imprinted in my mind in a way I can never forget. I will never take for granted the beautiful services we have for this as well as other significant moments in our life. The value of tradition was made very clear to me.
Glory be to God for the Orthodox Faith.
Lord have mercy.