On November 22nd, the anniversary of C.S. Lewis’ death, I am revisiting the book he wrote after the death of his wife titled, A Grief Observed.
The section that interests me most this evening is about loving God and persons rather than merely our ideas or images of them. Here is the relevant excerpt:
While we’re alive, we have a lot of workshops, education, and professional development on how to do things more strategically.
But, when is the last time you considered a strategy for how to die better?
The other day, I came across this great podcast episode by Dr. Yosefa (Fogel) Wruble on precisely this.
In it, she reflects on how Moses is an exemplar of dying well.
Here are three intriguing reasons she gives, which continue to be instructive and resonant today:
1) Appoint your successor
“One of the biggest gifts that a leader can give to his or her followers, to his or her community, is the clear – very clear – appointment of a successor. We know so many Hasidic sects and groups and different political parties and there’s so much history surrounding the lack of appointment of a successor and whenever I read the number of passages in which Joshua is appointed, it always makes my heart so happy because it’s one of the most basic lessons of leadership: When you’re a leader, learn how to delegate and when you’re done leading, when your time has come to a close, make sure that you find someone who can take your place and who can bring the institution or this group of people into their next era.”
The other day, a friend of mine shared this extraordinary quotation by one of my heroes – Fr. Alfred Delp:
A community that gets rid of someone—a community that is allowed to, and can, and wants to get rid of someone when he no longer is able to run around as the same attractive or useful member—has thoroughly misunderstood itself. Even if all of a person’s organs have given out, and he no longer can speak for himself, he nevertheless remains a human being. Moreover, to those who live around him, he remains an ongoing appeal to their inner nobility, to their inner capacity to love, and to their sacrificial strength. Take away people’s capacity to care for their sick and to heal them, and you make the human being into a predator, an egotistical predator that really only thinks of his own nice existence.
Fr. Delp was a German Jesuit and those words were his response upon viewing a 1941 Nazi propaganda film.
Who, in our lives, is appealing to our inner nobility?
Who is drawing us out of ourselves and our “own nice existence”?
To whom do we let ourselves to explode our inner capacity to love?
For whom do we let our sacrificial strength be tested?
These may not be the most natural questions to ask ourselves, which is why luminaries like Fr. Delp are so important.
Photo: My mom visiting her brother-in-law’s mother Mrs. Hall. My mom’s care for Mrs. Hall in her final years is one example among many of my mom’s inner nobility and sacrificial strength.
This past weekend (from Saturday night to Sunday night) was Tisha B’Av, the Jewish date for communal mourning of the destruction of the temples in the Jerusalem as well as all other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people through history.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to experience Tisha B’Av in Jerusalem and perhaps that will provide inspiration for another post.
Today, however, I wanted to share something I heard on Yocheved Davidowitz A Deeper Conversation podcast episode for Tisha B’Av.
In it, she discusses the solidarity Jews experience in mourning loss collectively and also the profound rituals Jews have for funerals and the grieving process.
Yocheved then discusses how, in her work as a therapist, she would notice the sense of dread people have about feeling sadness and mourning.
Today Facebook reminded me of this quotation I’d posted a few years ago from Brother Alois’ 2018 letter:
In privileged circles, where people are well fed, well educated, and well taken care of, joy is sometimes absent, as if some people were worn out and discouraged by the banality of their lives.
At times, paradoxically, the encounter with a destitute person communicates joy, perhaps only a spark of joy, but an authentic joy nonetheless.
This reminded me of what has been among the most joyful times of my life – the semester I lived at a homeless shelter as part of an intentional community at the Calgary Mustard Seed.
Sixteen years ago, Terri Schiavo died.
I remember that when she was in the news, I heard the term “vegetative state” for the first time. It immediately struck me as a completely inappropriate term for any person since it explicitly dehumanizes someone by applying an incorrect analogy. Initially the adjective meant, “endowed with the power of growth” but it has come to denote exactly the opposite in public bioethics – that a person is incapable of any significant growth or development. We do not tolerate those who would dehumanize others by calling them cockroaches, so we ought not tolerate the dehumanizing language that refers to persons as “vegetables.”
When I think about Terri Schiavo, I think especially about the impact that her life and death had on my friend Taylor Hyatt. She wrote this great piece several years ago titled, “13 days that changed my life: Remembering Terri Schiavo.”
In the piece, Taylor reflects on how Terri’s story captivated her when she was in Grade 7.
One of this blog’s readers, Lisa Wright, reached out to me to share about the organization she co-founded called the Living Wish Foundation.
Lisa, who is an Registered Nurse specializing in palliative care, and her co-founders established the Foundation with the mission “to provide medically supervised and supported end of life wishes to patients in the region who are facing a terminal diagnosis.” They do this by granting wishes that enable patients to reframe hope so to enhance their quality of life until their death.
I was fascinated by this initiative, and delighted to interview Lisa by phone to learn more.
In particular, I wanted to hear from her about how granting wishes serves to “reframe hope.”
In a short essay, Gilbert Meilaender reflected on attending a workshop on “advance directives” at a nearby hospital. Throughout the workshop, participants expressed their intent not to be a burden on their family members at the end of life. But the more Meilaender thought about this, the more he determined that this was not his view. He reflected, “I don’t know how to make the point other than too crassly–other than by saying that I want to be a burden to my loved ones.”
He then goes on to discuss the various ways he cared for his children that “burdened” him but that he certainly does not resent – teaching sports, playing games, attending recitals, volunteering at school, negotiating dinner choices. While he does not begrudge these things, he does ask, “Is this not in large measure what it means to belong to a family: to burden each other–and to find, almost miraculously that others are willing, even happy to carry such burdens?”
I just finished reading U.S. Senator Ben Sasse’s book, Them: Why We Hate Each Other–and How to Heal.
Published in 2018, it’s an excellent book that deals with the themes of modern loneliness, the monetizing of polarization, and the ways in which technology is making us less free. What I appreciated most about this book, though, is that Senator Sasse does not only present and bemoan the state of affairs. Rather, his preliminary analysis leads to the best part of his book titled, “Our To-Do List” in which he offers some constructive and edifying antidotes.