Hurry Home

Fifteen years ago today, Jim’s dad died from cancer. Jim had taken some time off to be with his parents during those last weeks of his father’s life. He and his mother were with his dad when he died, at home and in peace.

Two years ago, when Jim was sick, we spent a lot of time on this anniversary talking about his dad’s death. “He was not afraid to die,” Jim remembered.

Soon after we marked this anniversary, Jim’s brain cancer spread to his spine. His legs began to weaken and then he began to fall, repeatedly. It was frightening to see Jim’s condition worsen every day and to watch him decline.

I looked up “end stage brain cancer” to see what the symptoms were; Jim had them all. We knew this time was coming, but at that moment of awareness, I remembering being overwhelmed with sadness.

One day, as we left the grocery store, Jim said, “I wonder if any of the people walking by me know I could be dead in a month.”

Sad, sad, sad.

And yet, from the day of his dad’s anniversary, we both had a strong sense of his presence with us.

I don’t think Jim had realized it at the time, but during those final weeks of his dad’s life, Jim was learning how to die. When he was facing his own death, he remembered his dad’s dying, and his dad’s example gave Jim strength. If was as if his dad was coaching him, encouraging him. “You can do this,” I imagined his dad saying to Jim. And to me.

I most strongly felt his dad’s presence in moments of exhaustion and frustration, when I doubted that I could lift Jim after he had fallen or help him up the stairs when his right leg was not working. In those moments, I felt his dad encouraging me, assuring me that I could do this for his son.

As much as I felt God’s approval, I also felt Jim’s dad’s approval. He was with us through those difficult days. The line between this life and the next seemed a tenuous one.

Near the end of Jim’s life, we marked my father’s death anniversary—March 25, the feast of the Annunciation. It was a day Jim would have liked to have died. On that day, he had the sense my dad was reaching down for him, trying to pull him into heaven.

I am certain that both of our fathers welcomed Jim into heaven.

Now Jim’s mom is on hospice care, and I can almost hear Jim whispering to her, “Hurry home, mom. We are waiting for you.”

 

 

 

 

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10 thoughts on “Hurry Home

  1. Elizabeth Mosier

    I love the idea of “learning how to die” — as it reminds us that death is part of a process. Thank you for sharing what Jim learned from his father, and what you learned from Jim.

    Reply
  2. Madeline Bialecki

    Libby, It was clear to me from the moment Jim knew he was going to die that he drew on prior experiences. He had ministered to many dying people, and he brought the lessons from others’ deaths into his own process. I think our culture fears death and tries to deny death; consequently, many people don’t know how to die well and their deaths are needlessly prolonged and painful, not only to the dying person but to those who care about the person.

    Reply
  3. Maria Strauman

    Madeline,
    When I read this, I imagined Fran being welcomed by both of our Dads. How beautiful! Thank you,
    Maria

    Reply
  4. John

    You’ve stirred wonderful and sad thoughts, Madeline. If I may add a “Jim” story.
    I don’t remember the circumstances, but I said to him one day, “I look to you as an example.” He turned and said, “I’m no example. Don’t look to me.”
    That was Jim. He saw his imperfections clearly. And although he was plainly an example of holiness, he never sought acknowledgement from others.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  5. Madeline Bialecki

    Thanks for sharing John. I think Jim was deeply aware of his weaknesses and imperfections. When people saw his as more than he saw himself, (and I would point it out to him) he would say that it was not his problem, that he could not control how people saw him. When he was sick and people were writing to him about how good and holy he was, and he was being a brat as a patient, I would say I was going to set the record straight and tell people how he really was. He did not care. He just was who he was.

    Reply
  6. Marie Morrissey

    Madeline,

    This reflection really hit home for me.  It will be 2 years on January 25th that Pat was diagnosed but she had not been feeling well and also losing weight from around Thanksgiving.

    I never thought too much about it before but now I feel I journeyed with her in her dying process and I certianly learned about dying.  Thank you for helping me at this time.

    I’ve been off work 2 days due to snow (12 to 14 inches in Wallingford) and it is bitter cold.  From the news, the Michigan is having its fill of snow and cold.  I hope you are coping.  Take care!

    Marie

    Reply
  7. Madeline Bialecki

    Marie, I think that Jim learned from his dad how to die well. He also saw many people who did not die well, and he learned from them, too. He watched people being kept alive, in hospitals and dying alone–and knew that was not what he wanted. His friend Msgr Tom Herron used to tell Jim that a priest has to be careful not to give the impression this is the only life there is. When Jim would quote Tom, I would tell him that was true for every Christian. Fear of death is contrary to our faith. Tough lesson to learn, though.
    We got more snow last night; I am getting used to it. Be safe and warm.

    Reply

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