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The Importance of Blessing the Dying

FernA few hours after our return from leading a tour of leaders to the Holy Land my wife and I received a call from the hospital.

Fern had suffered a couple of strokes and was not doing well.

Three months earlier Fern had reappeared on our doorstep. She had just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and the doctors had indicated that three months would be a probable timeframe.

Her question: What does God want me to do with this time?

We had come into the lives of one another 15 or so years earlier when she had sought out a small congregation we served.

I remember that during one conversation about personal gifts and deep desires she said, “Wouldn’t it be great to just be in the most terrific physical shape you could be!” At the time I didn’t give it much thought, putting it in the same category as my New Year’s resolutions – nice but not probable.

A few month’s later she had sold her organic farm and was moving out of her marriage and into becoming a personal trainer and triathlete. She travelled the world competing in the triathlon, sometimes representing Canada.

As she sat across from me that day relating the chronology of the tests and the trajectory of the coming months, she wondered where God was in the midst of it all. I was deeply saddened and challenged.

We talked about how highly God values relationships. Were there ruptures that should be attended to and other connections that should be celebrated and enjoyed? We talked about the importance of joy and wonder and how God was big on those as well.

Meeting with her family in the hospital waiting room it was clear that she had followed that path – reconnecting and enjoying relationships with friends, children and grandchildren, claiming joy and celebrating wonder at every opportunity.

Now we stood beside her bedside.

She was awaiting transfer to hospice.

The second stroke had taken away her speech and much of her ability to move. So we did the talking as she reached out a hand.

Cards and family momentos were displayed throughout the room. We investigated and commented. We read some Scripture and offered a simple, unscripted prayer.

Thanksgiving and gratitude were dominant, a request and assurance of forgiveness for the hurt caused, intentional or other, thanksgiving for the presence of God during all the transitions of her life and assurance of the continuing accompaniment of God.

A sacred time.

Although the focus was upon Fern I became deeply aware of the importance of a benediction for each of us: a celebration of the moments that life has been lived well – gifts used, opportunities seized, duties fulfilled; the need for forgiveness for all the ways, great and small, we have fallen short; the assurance of being loved in the deepest part of our being and the reminder that, as in all the twists and turns of life, we will not be alone in this time.

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