Thursday, October 2, 2014

The audacity of choosing death

The time has finally come. Yesterday we made the decision to put Hal’s father, Bill Thomas, under hospice care. The doctors say he has less than six months to live. The decision for hospice means we will no longer take “heroic measures” (hospital-speak) to keep him alive. Comfort is now the aim. And a good death.
At 97 years old, it seems appropriate.
But it also seems audacious for us to decide this. We’ve tried to involve Hal’s parents in all the decisions we make about their lives, but that has not always been possible. Family finally had to insist Dad relinquish his driver’s license. And the last few moves have been, in a sense, forced upon him and Mom.
And now Alzheimer’s, diabetes and gangrene have joined forces with old age, and Dad has moved somewhere beyond reason and choice.
And yet—the spark of life still surges. On good days, the smile that lights up his face as he recognizes us could warm any room, no matter how cold the weather. His grip is surprisingly firm, and he doesn’t want to let go. I think the phrase, “twinkling eyes,” was invented for him.
Yesterday, the day of the decision, was not one of his good days. After our conference with the doctor, we sat with Dad in his hospital room. He seemed confused and disoriented. He asked us several times where he was.
At one point as he looked out the window at the pine-covered hills of Portland, he asked, “Is that ‘up yonder’?”
“Yes,” Hal replied. “And soon you’ll be up yonder. You’ll greet your mother and father. You’ll give Jesus a hug.” That seemed to settle him, and he drifted back to sleep.
Today he comes home from the hospital, this time to stay. The hospice care team will welcome him back, and a customized hospital bed will be ready. His wife of 71 years is anxious to have him back in their room.
An audacious choice? Yes. But we also sense that we are standing on holy ground.
May the Lord have mercy on us all.


  1. Yes, yes, holy ground.

    Beautifully written, Nancy.

    Thank you.

  2. A month ago Bill shared in Open Worship a tender testimony of the love and grace of God in his life that blessed us all.
    After walking those days with my Daddy, my Mother and just over a year ago, with my husband, Bob, I know how sacramental they are.
    Blessings. Marcile Crandall

  3. Nancy, I'm grateful we can walk through these experiences together. May God grant our parents and us comfort and anticipation of "up yonder." I love how you write about holy events. Love you, Mary

  4. When I read your words I feel the good in me welling up; I am more tender and more courageous today than I would have been without them. Holy ground. Holy time. Holy now. You remind me of things past, the terror and trust of being in that moment in the presence of God and being tenderized and strangely sheltered at the same time. Blessings on your journey into one of the eternal thin spaces -accompanying a beloved on the journey from life into Life.

  5. Nancy, thanks for putting our feelings into such wonderful and meaningful words. We've been preparing ourselves for this time for the past 6 years when we first moved Bill and Esther May into our home. We've lost them bit by bit as their memories and abilities have slipped away. We thought that we were ready to let them go, but we find that with the word hospice and this decision that we have made that it is more difficult than we expected. We know that their bodies are tired and worn and that they look forward to being face to face with their Lord, yet they are still our parents and we are still just children after all. Thanks for walking this road with us and standing with us on this holy ground! Carol & Clyde

  6. Thank you for writing about this special journey which your father-in-law and your family are sharing. "Thank you dear God for enfolding this family with in your grace, comfort and peace." I wish you smiles and gratitude, if possible, within any struggles 7 tears that may occur. May there still be some twinkling in those loving eyes as the journey continues! As you know, your love, your hands and care are those of Christ! And this from my experience, call on Hospice with no hesitation for medical comfort; they are on your team of love and comfort. Yes, we are walking, and praying, and singing with you! (I'm a Hospice volunteer and a member of a Threshold Choir.) In Jesus' peace, Alice