The once immaculately dressed man has the detritus of a beard trim and several meals on his dark sweatshirt. His voice is weakened and high- pitched from pain. He stumbles, slightly off-balance, as he moves down the narrow hallway. My heart catches, and stumbles on. I am sick with fear watching this once proud, well-groomed man become elderly, frail. Even his once handsome smile has changed, the victim of age and the poor dental plan offered the elderly in this country. My heart aches to see it as I scan for other signs of decline.
Part of my fear is the thought of losing him, but part of it is for myself, wondering if this is what my own future holds. Will my children one day be scanning my face for signs of decline and find themselves horrified by my loss of dignity? Is this inevitable?
I long to scream in the face of death as an affront, yet I acknowledge it’s inevitability. I believe there is some lesson in humanity and in love that is taught through caring for the frail and failing but I’m not sure I’m learning it. I believe there is also some value in our own failing frailty.
I think our horror has more than one side. One side of it is fear, but the other side is a recognition that it wasn’t supposed to be this way. We were created with the possibility of life without death until sin. And death is now a blessing in a way, in that it allows us to slip into eternity with God, rescued from our depravity, from our frail bodies, and from that which separates us from God.
Our ever-increasing frailty keeps us from clinging to our earthly lives, keeps us from thinking we can do it all by ourselves.
This decline in our physical bodies and in the mind, when that happens, is a hard mercy, preparing us to slip these bonds and to prepare ourselves for meeting our Creator. Lord have mercy.
I can scarcely count the friends, the family who have passed, unwilling to reduce them to numbers. They have names, these precious ones, and instead of counting them I name them: Max, Steve, Grandma, Grandpa, Jack, Jack, Robb, Pat, Bertha, Bob, Craig, Fred, Rich, Tiffanie, Betty, Frank, Jared, Peter, Glenn…oh, I could continue. It’s a blessing the list isn’t even longer than it is.
Proverbs says that it’s better to go to a funeral than to a party because death is the end of every man. A wise person will take that to heart. I believe that. I make it a practice to go to funerals both as a reminder and as a sign of loving respect for the families. It is far more important than heading to a wedding, as much fun as those are.
Such is the end of us all. It is a truly hard mercy.