As I hugged Cindy tightly a comforting thought came to mind. All along I’ve been drawing the wrong parallels with Cindy’s eventual passing. Cindy does not have to pass away like Mom, in a nursing home with no family by her bedside. Instead, Cindy’s experience could be more like Pop’s, when his immediate family gathered at the hospital giving him support before he left for his failed operation. Treating each of our hugs like the last one helps ensure this.
Last year around this time I started preparing a memorial service for Cindy and started gathering information for what needs to be done once she passes away. That turned out to be way premature. A year later finds me preparing Cindy for winding down with life. Perhaps I still am being premature, but I feel the need to do more than good hugs.
Aboriginal cultures, featuring our natural selves, are much less fearful of death than civilized ones. Even so, many civilized folks get it right in time, finding ourselves at peace when the end is near at hand. Cindy seemed to fit into this category from the moment she received her diagnosis and I try to cultivate this further.
I started with ordering collections of essays by Loren Eiseley and Lewis Thomas that alleviate the fearful mystique surrounding death for civilized folks. I started reading these essays to Cindy at bedtime but felt they were too esoteric. I turned to the Bible next, with unsatisfactory results as well.
The best parts of the Bible, like the Gospels, are more about how to live than how to die. Some parts of the Bible are comforting, like the 23rd Psalm, one of Cindy’s favorites. Yet many of the comforting psalms of the Bible are by King David, the epitome of a self-absorbed person. These have little appeal to someone like Cindy.
Ah, but hymns? Now that’s the ticket. I’ve sang in church choirs and sacred choral groups for many years, but I never realized until this episode of life just how well they filter out the chaff from the biblical wheat. You don’t get the whole Bible with its narcissistic and less savory parts, at least not with the most popular hymns; you get the overall comfort, joy and wisdom that stuck with inspired composers, whether their inspiration came from the Bible or a more direct connection to God.
I sing almost every night to Cindy from the hymnal I pilfered from our church (they know). Given our family history this is deeply satisfying. When our kids were infants and toddlers I sang them to sleep every night. Through a return to this nightly bedtime singing I’m achieving closure in multiple, symbolic ways.
At bedtime I also read from the Chicken Soup series of books that Cindy loved. Some stories are not appropriate for my intended purpose, but I just skip over those. Usually I sing two or three hymns first, followed by two or three stories, at which point Cindy has closed her eyes to sleep.
Earlier in the evening I often read from the journals Cindy kept while we hiked the American Discovery Trail. I follow along with slides of our journey as well. This may or may not prepare her for passing on, but at least this helps provide a sense of who she is and what she has done up until the end.
As we continue to hug I reflect on how I might further enhance Cindy’s winding down. I recall just how good Cindy feels when she’s feeling useful. Her work as a visiting nurse and even her hobbies such as cooking and quilting were geared towards doing something useful. That gives me an inspiration. Years have past since she has been useful, at least by her standards, but she doesn’t have to think that. Hugs provide the perfect opportunity.
I tell Cindy: “You give really good hugs. They make me feel better. I needed that. Thanks.”
I’ve been thanking Cindy for her hugs ever since that inspiration. She has not been able to clothe or feed herself for years, but several times a day now she gets thanked for being useful. Does that make a difference for her winding down? Hard to say. It does make a difference for me as I steer Cindy towards an end more like Pop’s than Mom’s.