Four Deaths and a Welcome Grace

A personal experience of God's presence in the context of death

Rev. Yme Woensdregt

Last week, I wrote about the question “Who is God?” I quoted Walter Brueggemann, one of the foremost Old Testament scholars, who reminds us that God is a real character in the story of the Bible, a God who acts, sends, delivers. We meet this God on every page of scripture. God is not an abstraction. This God comes to a particular people and chooses to be vulnerable and open to change for the sake of the world. This God is not an impassible force, but One who is capable of a range of emotions. God is filled with love and compassion. God knows anger and hate and even violence. God enters into the pain of God’s people.

I have had personal experience of this “presence” a number of time in the last few months. It was always in the context of a death. Let me explain.

Late August 2015. My wife Lori was in the USA visiting her children for the summer when I got a phone call that she had been admitted to hospital. Her children thought it might be a stroke, but the MRI showed it to be a brain tumour. We airlifted her to Kelowna, where it was diagnosed as malignant and aggressive. Nothing could be done. We had to prepare for her death.

Thankfully, we had talked about what we might do in such a circumstance. So we decided pretty quickly that we would take no action except to minimize the pain. She was flown home to Cranbrook, where she stayed in hospital for some time, and then moved to Joseph Creek Care Village, where she received exceptional care. I cannot commend JCCV highly enough.

Lori died on New Year’s Eve. While we were not afraid of death, the process itself was horrendous. As she put it, “I’m tired of losing bits of myself every day. I wish this was over. I want to die.”

We knew from the very beginning that there would be no other outcome. We were prepared for her to die. We were not prepared for the process of dying. It was hard and painful work for both of us.

Many people supported us: they prayed for us; spent time visiting; prepared meals for me. A precious gift during this time was the care exercised by the Cranbrook Kimberley Hospice Society worker. She spent countless hours with Lori as she slowly wasted away.

These people lived out God’s love for us in this dark time. Their care sustained us.

The second death occurred in the midst of all this turmoil in my life. A close friend died very quickly doing what he loved to do. He had a heart attack which took him in an instant. I felt two overwhelming emotions with his death. The first was profound relief that for him it ended so very quickly. He did not have to face the long, slow process through which Lori and I were living. I knew that it was hard for his family. They had no time to say goodbye. It took them some time to deal with their sudden loss.

The other emotion I felt was jealousy. I wondered to myself why Lori couldn’t have had a quick death. In the midst of that pain, a friend called me out of the blue and told me that we had no control over the time, we could only control how we dealt with the time we had left. Again, it was as if God were there with me.

The third death was that of a woman whom I loved as a dear friend. She was suffering from a chronic condition which was causing her to waste away. She had decided that since medical assistance in dying was not available to her in Canada, she would organize a trip to Switzerland for a “voluntary death.”

One of the consequences of not having medically assisted dying in Canada is that people have to die too soon when they travel to another jurisdiction. They need to be healthy enough to travel, and to give informed consent in that jurisdiction. And that, dear friends, is a terrible choice to have to make. It is a powerful argument in favour of medically assisted dying in Canada, and I am delighted to know that Parliament has finally drafted a law enabling the dying to exercise this right. It deserves the widest possible consideration and conversation. Needless to say, I am a strong advocate for medical assistance in dying.

The fourth death was my dog Moe. He had already become weak as Lori was dying, but I simply couldn’t have him put down at that time. It was more pain than I could bear. Hence, I waited until the same week as Lori died. As I held Moe in my arms, I couldn’t help but think how humane this was. A faithful companion and comfort to the end, Moe lived without complaint, even when his old, arthritic body could no longer do what he wished. He died peacefully, without pain and without complaint.

In all of this, I understood again that life and death dance together in a wonderful and intricate dance of grace and hope. Death is hard. Life is hard. Yet in the midst of such pain and difficulty, I knew once again the truth of the faith which sustains me. The last word does not belong to death. The last word is a word of grace, compassion, hope and love.

Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook

Just Posted

With high temperatures forecasted for the week and into the next, Interior Health is offering some tips on how to keep yourself safe from heat-related illness. (Pixabay)
Interior Health offers safety tips as temperatures soar

“Too much heat can be harmful to your health.”

Kurt Swanson’s dog Kona takes a break from the heat on the Summer Solstice near Cranbrook, B.C. (Kurt Swanson photo)
Very warm temperatures forecast across the Kootenays this weekend

Nelson, Castlegar forecast to hit 39, Cranbrook 37

The view from the Eager Hill lookout in the Cranbrook Community Forest. (Corey Bullock/Cranbrook Townsman file)
New ‘Padawan’ trail at Eager Hill now open and ready for use

The 5km green flow trail is suitable for all ages

The City of Cranbrook and the Ktunaxa Nation raised the flag of the Ktunaxa Nation at the arches entrance into the city’s downtown core during a ceremony on Monday, June 21. Photo courtesy City of Cranbrook.
Ktunaxa Nation flag raised at downtown arches entrance

The Ktunaxa Nation flag was raised at the Cranbrook arches — the… Continue reading

Kimberley Search and Rescue were able to quickly respond to a call for service and transport an injured mountain biker to East Kootenay Regional Hospital over the weekend. Kimberley SAR file photo.
Kimberley Search and Rescue respond to injured mountain biker on Bootleg Mountain

Kimberley Search and Rescue responded to a call for service this past… Continue reading

Pictured is Mrs. O and her grade 4/5 class at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Cranbrook. Mrs. O challenged her class to read 36,000 pages in May and they far surpassed that goal. The students were then allowed to choose her fate. (Corey Bullock/Cranbrook Townsman file)
WATCH: St. Mary’s Catholic School grade 4/5 class wins reading challenge

Teacher lets students choose fate after reading over 47,000 pages in one month

Penticton mayor John Vassilaki and Minister of Housing David Eby have been battling over the Victory Church shelter and BC Housing projects in the city. (File photos)
Penticton heads to court over homeless shelter as BC Housing audit begins

The city was not satisfied with the response from Minister David Eby regarding the ongoing situation

People enjoy the sun at Woodbine Beach on June 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin
BC Hydro assures customers it has ‘more than enough’ power to weather the heatwave

Despite an increase of pressure on the Western grid, blackouts are not expected like in some U.S. states

Air Canada planes sit on the tarmac at Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Pilots say no reason to continue quarantines for vaccinated international travellers

Prime minister says Canada still trying to limit number of incoming tourists

Six United Way chapters around the province are merging into United Way B.C. (News Bulletin file photo)
6 United Way chapters merging around B.C.

Money raised in communities will stay in those communities, agency says

Val Litwin is the latest candidate to declare his bid for the B.C. Liberal leadership. (Litwin campaign video)
Political newcomer joins contest for B.C. Liberal leadership

Val Litwin a former B.C. Chamber of Commerce CEO

Golden Ears Mountains, captured in May 2021. (Black Press Media files)
2nd year of day passes required for entry into 5 provincial parks launches in B.C.

Pilot program seeks to protect the environment by addressing visitor surges amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Lincoln Mckoen. (YouTube)
Anglican bishop of the central Interior resigns over sexual misconduct allegations

Lincoln Mckoen was elected as a bishop of the Territory of the People region last year

Left to right: Doug Ford, Jason Kenney, Brian Pallister (photos via Wikipedia)
Pollster paints a perilous premier picture

As we know, our friends at Angus Reid Polling like to take… Continue reading

Most Read