On Monday morning, October 5, I went into my husband’s bedroom to remind him that I had a Zoom call with my spiritual formation group and asked him if he wanted breakfast. He shook his head no. I told him I would fix his lunch after the call. I think he nodded.
About ninety minutes later, I went back into his room and reminded him that it was time for his nebulizer. I helped him put it on and then went into the kitchen. After two or three minutes, something told me to go back into his room. I walked in to see him struggling to get the nebulizer off. I took it off. The rails to his hospital bed were up; I had never tried to lower them. I leaned over and took his hands and began crying. He looked at me; then rolled on his side. His body jerked three times. And then he was dead. I had no idea what to do. He had been with hospice about three weeks. We had talked about how to make him comfortable, not what to do if he died. I called a member of my spiritual formation group who is a retired hospice nurse. She was in the car taking her grandsons somewhere. She told me to call hospice, and she would call another member of our group to come and help.
After that things were a blur. I went in and out of Fred’s bedroom, I guess to see if he had really died. My friend came and called the funeral home. The hospice nurse finally came and, checking him, verified that he had died. She began carefully cleaning him up. I thanked her. She said, “It’s an honor.” Then she said, “I can’t believe this happened so soon; he was doing so much better with the changes in medication.” I agreed and left the room sobbing.
The men from the funeral home came, and put Fred on a cart and rolled him into the garage He said I could say my good-byes and then they would take him to prepare him for cremation. I immediately flashed back to a scene more than twenty-five years ago when Fred and I and his ex-wife awaited the transport of his 22-year-old son from the prison where he had died of unknown causes. They brought him into a hallway with a blanket over him from the waist down. Fred collapsed and life changed forever.
I was determined not to collapse, but I didn’t know what to do as the men stood in the hallway waiting for me to say good-bye. I held his hand and stroked and kissed his face and then walked away, never to see him again.
For weeks I struggled with the question, “Where’s Fred?” At the beginning it was a real question. I would wake up, get up, and wonder, “Where’s Fred,” I would walk in the house after getting the mail and wonder, “Where’s Fred?” I would run into his room to share some news event and see that the room was empty. Several times I dreamed of wondering in a panic through huge open rooms or out in nature, calling for Fred.
About three months ago, “Where’s Fred?” became more of an existential question. I created a “grieving wall” in my study where I taped poems and notes and writings from people who had faced the deaths of loved ones. During Holy week, I read everything on the wall, noticing how many paragraphs I had saved spoke of Resurrection. They had touched my heart and my soul and even spoken to my intellectual questioning. On Good Friday I decided I would share some of them on a blog post; perhaps someone else in mourning would find the help I had. And now, on Easter, here they are.
“For if we genuinely love Him,
we wake up inside Christ’s body
Where all our body, all over,
every most hidden part of it
is realized in joy as Him
and he makes us, us utterly real, and everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged is in Him transformed
and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in His light
we awaken as the Beloved”
in every last part of our body” (Symeon the New Theologian, 949-1022)
“Where are we going? After a very short visit to earth the time comes for each of us to pass from this world to the next. We have been sent into the world as God’s beloved children, and in our passages and our losses we learn to love each other as brother, or sister. We support one another through the passages of life, and together we grow in love. Finally we ourselves are called to exodus, and we leave the world for full communion with God” (Henri Nouwen).”
“The resurrection is God’s way of revealing to us that nothing that belongs to God will ever go to waste. What belongs to God will never get lost – not even our mortal bodies. The resurrection doesn’t answer any of our curious questions about life after death, such as: How will it be? How will it look? But it does reveal to us that, indeed, love is stronger than death. After that revelation, we must remain silent, leave the whys, wheres, hows, and whens behind and simply trust” (Henri Nouwen).
“In the eternal world, all is one. In spiritual space there is no distance. In eternal time there is no segmentation into today, yesterday, and tomorrow. In eternal time all is now; time is presence. I believe that this is what eternal life means: it is a life where all that we seek – goodness, unit, truth, and love are no longer distant from us but are now completely present with us” (John O’ Donohue).