In the Great Litany, prayed by many on the first Sunday in Lent each year, we ask God to deliver us from dying “suddenly and unprepared.” And while our culture seems to value a quick and painless death, the church understands the grace and the opportunity made possible by a prolonged dying process. Tortuous as slow decline and diminishment can be, it can allow for a faithful preparation — reconciliation with friends and family, a time to express fears and to be offered healing, a time to get financial and legal affairs in order, a time to celebrate the life given. Much of this is to be done by the person who is dying and by the closest members of their family, when possible. But the church can help. Indeed, sometimes the church can take the lead.
Tom told me of his cancer diagnosis on a beautiful sunny afternoon over a cup of coffee and a sinfully delicious cookie. If he went with the chemo, his doctor had told him, he’d maybe have six months to live.
Tom had been a founding member of the Advocate. He was our first senior warden, and our seventh. He was a steady presence in our rocky first decade. The congregation reeled at his diagnosis. And we wanted to honor him before he died.