Directly after the MRI a few nights ago David and I went to J and M’s, a couple who are blessed with the kind of home that can host a large number of people. Once every month or two a panel of speakers in a forum format meet in their home to discuss ways that ministries to the poor, marginalized and refugees of Buffalo can be improved. We decided to attend.
A medical doctor who is the founder of such a ministry was on the panel that night to discuss the suffering we encounter when we work among the poor and refugees……or so I thought. The story he told was the story of Polly who was a dear personal friend of his and his family. In fact, Polly and her family lived in community with them (same house on the poor west side of Buffalo) and worked together at the ministry’s medical clinic where Polly was chaplain.
Now, here is where it got tense. Polly’s story was basically that she came down with breast cancer in 2004 with a stage so low it might as well been called stage 0. She died several years later. The host came to me afterwards and apologized saying that she did not know that the speaker was going to share that particular story. No apology was necessary as there is no way that any of us can or should be protected from uncomfortable stories. But the irony of the circumstance was not missed on me or on David. He held my hand through the whole telling of the story.
After the shock of, “I can’t believe I am hearing this; this is not what I thought I was coming to hear especially after coming from a medical procedure to see where else cancer might be,” I finally settled back and listened; really listened to an amazing story of a woman’s faith who continued to reach out to others until she was physically unable. She continued to work at the clinic as a chaplain; listening, praying and counseling people all the while knowing she was dying as she was told there was nothing more that could be done for her. Dr. G explained how their families functioned as hospice care providers around the clock during her last few weeks. She was unresponsive the last week but turned her head once towards Dr. G and smiled as he tried singing to her one night to keep awake and as an attempt to bless her in a way that was out of his comfort zone. He thought possibly it was a sympathy smile since his less than perfect singing was well known. At her very last breath she surprisingly lifted both her arms in a posture of worship and died.
Dr. G went on to say that if you have ever witnessed a death, of which he has witnessed many, you know the moment that life is gone, really gone – there is no mistaking it for what it is. But mysteriously something else happens in that moment as there is a realization in the midst of the despair of our finiteness that “a something has ended for a something else to begin.” The story of our lives is far from over.
So, in conclusion and in perspective: everyone’s story does not have to be mine, and probably won’t be. Who knows anything for sure. But, if it is, then this is the way I want to go out. Whatever the circumstances of my dying or the timing, whether in my 60s, 70s 80s 90s or 100s, “Oh God, let me be a Polly.”