January 1, 2011

Silence and dying

Sometimes this time of year can have a quality of silence to it... The silence of a twilight, windless snowfall, or the silence of a three-generation family gathered around a table just before the golden roast turkey is delivered from the oven to it's audience.

For me, this year in particular, I've noticed the silence of The Good Raised Up.

Blogging started for me as a way to connect with other Quaker bloggers: when their blogs were active, so was mine. (Yes, even Quakers are not immune to being codependent.) I've struggled to carve out time to write--which in turn means one of at least two things:

1. I've struggled to carve out time to reflect or

2. I've struggled to find time to dedicate to Quaker things--attend events, read Quaker writings, even attend business sessions.

To be fair--and gentle on myself--my dad has had two significant medical events occur in the past four weeks. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, and three weeks later, he had a mild heart attack.

Each of us three kids are coping with the realization that we are losing our dad. There's a certain type of silence now when we are talking among ourselves that didn't exist before. Leave it to me to ask the question that pulls us into what is weighing on our hearts or drifting in our minds.

One recent conference call among us--we are spread across the country, in Boston, Minneapolis, and southern Oregon--began with my suggesting, "How about we just take a minute and share what it's been like for each of us, what our inward and outward reactions have been in the last week or so...?"

That's when I learned that out of the three of us, though we are only two years apart and I'm not the oldest, I've had the most exposure to people who I see regularly as they face end-of-life issues: sudden illness, slow, progressive illness, emergency rooms, rehabilitation after a long hospital stay, and hospice care.

Even watching my parents cope with their own immortality, I now more fully appreciate the witness that my Quaker friends have been living out--or more aptly, dying into. Aging Friends seem more willing to accept the physical limitations that their chronological age displays in their bodies and expresses through their intellect. They give up their car keys and ask for rides. They stop trying to lift the metal chairs in the meetingroom. They use the elevator in the building instead of insisting that they are steady enough on their feet to take the stairs.

And they surrender to their mortality with grace and dignity.

They're sad when they're sad, and they let their fellow Friends into a rather intimate period of their life. Rather than putting up a strong front for the sake of appearance, they come to worship and sit in a heap if they must. They welcome Friends to come to where they live, for fellowship and worship, sometimes to sing or share a meal; other times to just be, in the silence, the Great Silence, so holy...

I find I ache for the silence my parents cannot lean into at this tender time. And I pay close attention to how I wish to live into dying, when my time comes. With divine assistance.



Mary Ellen said...

Liz, I'm sorry to hear of your father's health problems. It's something I anticipate having to deal with, though for now (at 88) my dad is pretty healthy. I like the thought you raised up about elderly Friends going into that transition with grace and acceptance. This gives me hope.

naturalmom said...

I found this post beautifully touching, Liz, though I'm sorry that your father is so ill. The first bit spoke to me as well. My own blog, though not specifically Quaker in content, has been more silent than I would like. When I think about posting, I find I have nothing in mind to blog about. I'm afraid that I can chalk it up almost entirely to your reason #1. I love keeping in touch with far-flung friends on Facebook, but I believe it is killing my blog, and that's probably not it's worst effect. Something to reflect on, for sure. (If I ever find the time...)

Iris said...

Thank you, LIz, for sharing this journey with your family as you cope with your father's decline; your story ministers to all of us. You undoubtedly know the power of offering questions rather than answers, and your questions to your siblings are among the gifts you are sharing with them. I hope you're reaching out (certainly your blog is one way) for support for yourself. I'm holding you all in my thoughts and prayers.

Liz Opp said...


Thank you for taking the time to read me and to comment. I continue to feel buoyed up and connected at a time that could really isolate me and bring me down.

Iris - One skill I have that I rely on quite a bit is my ability to reach out and talk very openly about what is going on so I can get support. No worries there!

Naturalmom - I've written elsewhere on The Good Raised Up about my own struggles with Facebook and how it has interfered with my blogging. But I will say, that when I affirm that I indeed want to blog, I am good about disciplining myself to do so. But the choice is not always easy to stick to.

Mary Ellen - You and I probably know more than two handfuls of aging Friends in the meeting who are patterns and examples of how to face age-related difficulties with grace and tenderness...