Five Days to Live
This is one of those times of great sorrow. A few weeks ago our niece’s husband, a young man, by today’s standards, in excellent health with the best habits of eating and exercise, unexpectedly, suddenly died, leaving behind a devastated wife and daughter. Everyone wonders why, how could that be? And everyone grabs on to their own mortality.
My mother, 95 this year, in a health care facility, is slipping away from me. She is content, and in good health, generally, but very frail and lives in a different time and place, alone with her jumbled thoughts and words. I know we will say goodbye soon. I sit with her nearly every day.
Three weeks ago, my husband’s younger brother Tom, had a severe stroke. Based on his eating and exercise habits, this shouldn’t have been unexpected. Yet, it was. His wife and other family members rallied around; he wasn’t expected to live. But, he did. We had a week to laugh and remember the good times, and he talked with loved ones he’d not seen for a while. He was ready to be moved to a physical therapy facility to begin recovery. And then, the unexpected words, “He has five days to live.” His wife spent the night beside him in hospice and he gently stroked her arm, before falling forever asleep. We were all grateful to have had a week to celebrate his life with him. One day after the 5-day sentence, he slipped beyond our reach. What will we do with four more days?
We will be present for the living, for each other, facing the imminent death together. Denying death makes it harder for people to grieve and support one another, I think. Using euphemisms, like “passing” I don’t find helpful. Healthy grieving depends on facing the reality of death. People of faith can express grief, rather than fear or despair, and face death with hope because faith gives comfort. I don’t know how people without faith deal with death, do you? Perhaps they repress grief. But those who do suffer more emotional problems in the long run. In Ecclesiastes we read that everyone needs time to laugh and dance, but also need time to weep and mourn. It’s part of living.
Many times when someone dies, the survivors suffer regret of guilt about things they said and did or didn’t say or neglected to do. But people of faith know God doesn’t want that. Instead, they repent of their sins and look forward to a reunion. They know grief is temporary; but joy will be forever.
No one knows that hour, that moment of the end of life on earth. No one expects to hear those words, “You have five days to live.” The thought has occurred to me that if everyone lived as if they had five days to live…how different our lives would be.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Matthew 5:4