Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hard prayers

The other day I had a conversation with a woman who is no stranger to dying parents, having traveled back and forth to the east coast to sit with a father on Nantucket, of all amazing places (shoot, I'd have sat with him, just to spend time there!).  She's met Mom several times over the course of our time here in Bellingham, and always asks about her.  When she asked the other day, it spurred a conversation about assisted suicide.  Sue said, "If I ever get to that place, just put me out of my misery."

We all say things like that now and then.  Beve'll get stuck behind one of the walker-brigade at the retirement complex where Grampie lives, inching along like Tim Conway in the old Carol Burnett sketch.  Once he's finally past them, he'll whisper to me, "Just take me out and shoot me when I get like that."  I smile and nod, saying, "Beve, you're almost like that now, on your bad days."  But neither of us mean it.  We absolutely believe in God's sovereignty in all things, particularly that He is in control of our living, and, perhaps even more, in our dying.  Sue doesn't have our world view, though, and there was an earnest conviction in her voice when she spoke to me. I suggested that Mom is already too 'gone' to make any kind of decision, even if she (Mom) was actually of a mind-set to believe in assisted suicide.

But  this has led me to think hard about my equally earnest prayers that God take Mom home, that HE put her out of this misery.  Earlier in my Christian life, I would have been aghast at the idea of praying for someone to die.  It somehow felt wrong. Shouldn't I always be praying for healing? Sure, sometimes healing comes after life on this earth ends, and that I have seen clearly.  But the actual, fervent, active prayer for someone's death?  Doesn't even reading that sentence turn your stomach a little? But that was before Alzheimer's took up residence in Mom's life.  That was before the deep, horrifying cruelty of this disease stripped Mom of everything that makes a person a self.  Now, it seems to me that the only loving prayer, the only active participation in seeing Mom well again, herself again--or, hopefully, a better self than she has ever been--is to pray for her death.

This prayer no longer worries me, makes me feel badly, or weak.  As hard as it sounds in the abstract, this prayer is the strongest, truest thing I can do for her now.  In the last semi-well years of her life, Mom became preoccupied with spending time in the Word.  First reading and doing devotionals, and then--when her capacity for understanding diminished--simply copying long passages of scripture.  That year it became my practice was to call her every morning to pray for her.  Some days that's all I did.  We had no conversation, not extra words at all, just that prayer. And I have to tell you, they were hard prayers.  I mean, some days I didn't know what or how to pray so that she could understand.  So mostly I prayed that she be marinated in His love, that He protect her and give her peace. And she cried--almost daily. Many times she spoke of how much she loved Him.  I've thought recently that it was like she was storing up 'food' for the winter. All those hours immersed in scripture, all those prayers. It wasn't long after that Lenten season when she told me she could no longer pray, and had stopped reading.  Now she's in a great hibernation, and I'm pretty sure she has no idea who or what God is.  But it's in there, in her real self.  And, as I told her one day, "It doesn't matter if you forget God.  He won't forget you."

So today, as every day now, I ask Him--boldly!--to remember her, to marinate her in His love, to grant her peace for today, and to PLEASE take her home, where she belongs.

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