Facing Death: Releasing and Retaining

Facing Death: Releasing and Retaining

Yesterday my father was moved into a hospice. He left his home for the last time. On the same day, I received news that a colleague had lost her mother and that the father of another had terminal cancer. We are united by the loss of loved ones, our mourning, and our faith in the resurrection and the communion of saints.

Facing the death of a family member or friend involves a process of releasing and retaining. We have to let go of the image of someone who was vital and energetic. At home, my father was confined to a bed with only occasional visits to his favorite chair. He weighs less than ninety pounds. We are also challenged to release resentments, failures, and wounds that inevitably affect every relationship. My father played favorites. He never really understood my calling to international work. He was socially conservative and struggled with the values of his children and grandchildren. His customary generosity of character could be betrayed by stereotypes and prejudices. As death approaches, I choose to remember him at his best. I hope that others will give me the same grace.

The imminent loss of a loved one requires us to make deliberate choices about the memories that we will retain. I am reflecting these days on an orchardist that took pride in his crops, a member of parliament that spoke out for farmers, and a community leader concerned about safe water for families. I retain images of evening meals before the fire watching the Toronto Maple Leafs play hockey. I recall working with him on building projects at our local Christian camp. Above all, I remember my father tenderly holding the hand of my mother as she died.

St. Paul wrote that neither events of life nor the finality of death could separate us from the love of God. I release my father into God’s loving arms.

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