I am surrounded by the process of death all day long.
I guess that's what you sign up for when you take a job as an elderly companion. Slowly you watch as the curse of sin ravages your clients; the people you've grown to love, even as their speech slurs or is completely absent, as their hearing fails, as the smiles fade.
One of my clients resides in a nursing home. His home is on a wing with twelve other people in their last stages of life. People who once were in the busyness of life raising families and mowing yards and planning events and running the church are now wheeled to the table, served their food, and need help for the most basic of tasks.
These are my people. I have grown to love them even as they die. Today when I went to retrieve the food for my client I saw a woman who's been taking her lunch in her room for the last month.
"Where have you been?" she asked.
"Oh, I've been here. Where were you?" I responded.
"I've been cleaning cupboards. Oh, my back and shoulders ache just terrible. But they were such a mess."
Multiple Sclerosis, not cupboard cleaning, is responsible for the ache, but she reminds me of the blessing of work, and I am thankful that her mind plays this trick so she feels useful, unlike so many of the others.
We chatted a bit longer, then she reached out her hand, which I took. She shook my hand, then brought it to her mouth and kissed it.
As I helped my client with his meal, the man in the bedroom behind us is dying. He is no longer eating, but this man, who once served in a foreign land as a missionary, who has gone in and out of confusion, was lucid today after a bad day yesterday. The doctor stopped to see if he needed anything.
"Not a thing," was his response.
I smiled, sensing this man's giddiness as he looks forward to his heavenly home. Take him gently, Lord, I pray.
It is not only my job that brings death to my door. Every Tuesday I visit the man who lived next door to my husband and me for nineteen years. He is in assisted living now, waiting to join his wife who went to heaven a year ago. Last week we cleaned out his cupboards. Sometimes we rearrange his furniture. Mostly we reminisce.
And then there's the friend battling cancer; the friend I don't want to die, the friend I have prayed for and laughed with and driven to bible studies and who, when she is not well enough to come to my bible study, texts me and thanks me for preparing the study even if she isn't able to be there.
And there's my own immortality. Each year when I go in for my skin check because of my "suspicious mole" I am reminded that God has numbered my days. Before this year's appointment I planned my funeral...just in case.
You can't help but live differently when you are surrounded by death. When you see the shriveled hands and crippled feet you aren't too concerned with the size of your jeans. And you don't complain about having to work in the yard or around the house when you realize so many would do anything to be healthy enough to do so. And you never miss an opportunity to smile or notice another person when you realize some people hunger for the smallest token of kindness. And when a hymn comes to mind you sing it, out loud, even a little out of tune, because your client doesn't mind. In fact, he smiles just a little, and you sing just a little louder, in case someone else needs to be reminded of God's faithfulness.
And though God doesn't tell us, I wonder if there isn't a welcome home party when we get to heaven. Maybe there's a a sign of some sort to let those who have died before us know we'll be joining them. I hope so, because when I get there, I can't wait to see all the ones who've gone before me, who have taught me how to live, and how to die.