By Blake Sitter, Director, Catholic Health Association of Saskatchewan (CHAS)
(Reprinted from the June 2020 edition of the CHAS Communique)
When my dad was dying of cancer, my mom phoned me and asked me to come talk to him. When I asked why, she simply responded:
“You have to tell him he’s dying.”
Dad had inoperable throat cancer and had not been able to eat for months. This did not stop him from demanding a small bar fridge be put in his hospital room filled with pies and beer. These were not for him but his visitors.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
Mom calmly replied, “He keeps asking about why they are not starting radiation or chemotherapy. He doesn’t know that this is it”.
The “it” my mother was referring to was, of course, death.
No one likes to talk about death but as Christians, we know a little secret known only to the faithful and a few poets: Death is not a door that closes; it is a door that opens.
What people of faith can bring to the conversation about healthcare is a peaceful awareness that death is what makes life so precious; death is our most intimate encounter with a life much brighter than this fragile one we live.
In the words of Canadian songwriter, Hawksley Workman, “The one certainty of living is that you’re gonna die, so why not stand in awe of it instead of asking why?”
This courageous hope around the reality of death is an invitation to sigh bitter-sweetly when we consider everything from how we want to live our life and how, when our time comes, we do not have to fight it. We can invite it into the room with us and offer it a slice of pie and a beer.
I headed over to the hospital and sat beside dad and we chatted. He was a farmer and a pilot. He liked hunting and fishing and visiting with family and friends.
From the window of his hospital, he could see out to the west. He could see the land he farmed. He could see the skies he flew in. He could see the river that led to the lakes where he fished and that ran by the places he used to hunt and drink rum.
He stared out the window silently.
“I’ve had a good life. I have a good family. I have no regrets,” he stated.
And then he pointed to his bag of Ensure that was giving him all the nutrients in his body and proclaimed, “When that bag is empty, I’m gone”.
I tried to reassure him that it would not be that sudden.
“Dad, dying is like giving birth. A woman goes into labour and everyone gathers around her to support her. We are all here to support you but it could take some time. You are not alone in this”.
Dad’s bag of Ensure ran out that night around midnight and by 2:00 a.m. he was gone. He was a good man, he was grateful for his life, and now he is somewhere where neither the most beautiful poetry nor erudite theology can describe except to say that he is home and well for all eternity.
If you are interested in learning about the work of CHAS or would like to become a member, please contact Blake Sittler at firstname.lastname@example.org or (306) 270-5452.