Thursday, October 02, 2008

The Hereafter

I've been thinking a lot about a woman I met early in my CPE program this past summer. Privacy considerations preclude me from providing many details, but I can say that I was called for a withdrawal of care (life support), that the initial phone call gave me the impression that the family had made the decision, and that that impression was far from accurate.

The final decision involved most of my afternoon and much of the evening of the on-call chaplain, and included a consultation with a Catholic colleague who carried around a little book outlining the Catholic position on extraordinary life support measures and the cessation of same.

At one point the anguished woman asked me whether I believed in heaven. "I do," I said.

"What is it like?" she asked, with that intensity that you only encounter in these situations, an intensity that demands absolute honesty.

"I don't know," I said.

I am not consoled by a belief that we will meet our loved ones in heaven, that life there will somehow maximize the good things of life here. (It seems that C.S. Lewis and I are in agreement on this one -- he mentions cigars as a would-be desirable feature.) I am not by any means a Biblical inerrantist, but I tend to believe that when the Bible says we shall be changed, it means that we shall be changed in a way we cannot imagine as long as we are still here.

I was intrigued when I spent an afternoon summer before last walking in the cemetery behind the Glasgow Cathedral and picked up a guidebook, from which I learned that the great cemeteries founded in the second half of the 19th century (like the one in which I walk at home) were designed on the basis of a fairly new-at-that-time development of sentiment surrounding death. The park-like atmosphere was meant to foster opportunities to "visit with" the dead, and certainly many people continue to derive great comfort from the sense that they are doing just that.

And maybe they are.

I don't know.


Kathy said...

I want to take you and hug you real tight ... because I do not have any words at all to help ease your pain. Know that you are thought of daily and that if I could, I would [do something]

Kathryn J said...

I don't know either but I believe in heaven. I could do without cigars but am tired of orthopedic issues so my hope is for no pain.

My mother did the family genealogy when I was young and I developed a lifelong love of old cemetaries. Others find them creepy, I find them comforting. Are you up for walks these days? If I were there, I would walk with you. Once I get going, I do pretty well.

Many thoughts.

Paintdancer said...

I have not visited your blog in so long and I came here today because I had been reading of Celtic churches and recalled your amazing trip a couple summers ago.

I am physically sick at your loss.

I have been thinking so much about spiritual things these last months- so many questions unanswered- so many people in pain, grief and suffering all over the world. What is the higher purpose? None of us have any answers to this and nothing we can say can help alleviate your pain.

I did however read quite recently a book that gave me hope in my moments of dark confusion, and although it certainly might not match your own religious convictions, it nevertheless provided comfort to me , and hopefully will bring some comfort to you as well. It's called "90 minutes in Heaven". When my husband brought it home, I rolled my eyes and said, "Great, another New Age back from the other side type idiotic book."
I wasn't even going to read it, but I'm so very glad that I did. It looks at heaven from the viewpoint of a Christian who died and did not want to return to earth after being in heaven, though God in His infinite wisdom, had other plans. I hope it can bring you some vestige of comfort to you in these dark times.

My prayers are with you and your precious family right now.
I am so sorry.

Lisa :-] said...

RE: cemeteries... I find them historically fascinating, if a bit melancholy. Not creepy or threatening (since I have one right next door.) But when it comes to "visiting" my loved ones there, I do not find it comforting. I just...cry.

LawAndGospel said...

I am in awe of your sharing what is intense. I have found historic cemeteries where others are buried to be peaceful. I have never felt anything like that in a cemetery where someone I love is buried. And wish I had better words, or any words that could offer comfort, other than that I continue to lift you up in prayer and in my heart.

Stushie said...

The cemetry above the Catherdral is called "The Necropolis" - the city of the Dead - in Glasgow, my hometown. I used to walk there many times - I lived about a mile from the Cathedral and was born half a mile away in Duke Street Hospital. It was very peaceful to walk amongst the great stones and read them.

At the top of the Necropolis is a statue of John Knox looking towards the Cathedral. It's a remarkable place.

Thanks for continuing to write.

"PS" (a.k.a. purple) said...

(o) Just wanted to let you know I stopped by.

Michelle said...

Just a night prayer for you...

RevDrKate said...

Was just thinking of you, praying for you, (0).

Stratoz said...

I am clueless, but fully expect pearly gates! A Jesuit, his brother, and his sister-in-law wrote a book called Good Goats. They speak of a loving forgiveness that is so great, that it is unimaginable to resist God when we die. that gives me hope.

Ruth said...

I'm so glad you're continuing to post. When I think of that 1 Cor 15 passage "we shall all be changed" I agree the change will be "beyond our ken" right now -- but on the other hand, I do believe we will recognize the essence of each other, I really do, because I believe in the eternal soul. I mean, I marvel at our bodies, how they house us, but they are not "us." I'm saying that I do think you will see your son again, and recognize him and commune with him on some level that everything you're going through now will seem like a lifting mist. I don't say that to minimize your grief, not at all. But in my never-having-been-there belief system, that's how it makes sense to me now.