Some weeks ago I brought Holy Communion to an elderly lady, who is a resident in a nursing home.
On that occasion two of her sons were sitting at her bedside. She was feeble and obviously they were concerned. Then last week I called to anoint her. On this occasion there were two different sons keeping vigil. She was now asleep and obviously close to death.
I introduced myself to the two men. They told me their mother was in her 90s and I was able to tell them that my father lived 95 years. We chatted for a while. I am always conscious when I visit the sick and arrive in a room of strangers how important it is to respect those present. When we meet strangers we know nothing about their lives and life-journeys. Walking out of the woman's room and back to the reception area of the nursing home I bumped into the son I had met some weeks earlier. We exchanged hellos and smiles.
The following day, walking my dog close to the nursing home I recognised a group of people walking on the other side of the road. They immediately struck me as being concerned, maybe sad about something. And then it dawned on me that they were the children of the woman I had anointed the previous day. They were obviously taking a break from their bedside watch. Of course they know their mother is not going to get better.
They did not recognise me. I was wearing an anorak and a cap and was walking my dog. And anyway I was on the other side of the road. For a moment or two I considered crossing the road and introducing myself. But no, I kept walking as they did, though they were walking much slower than I. She is an old woman and her children are naturally in deep grief.
Those days preparing for the death of a loved one are difficult to endure. The death of a parent is a terrible experience, the death of a mother shocks us to the core of our being. There is a finality about death that makes it so upsetting. The death of a parent breaks a link, a bond that we take for granted the way we take air and water. Indeed, something infinitely stronger. We can't imagine life without our parents. Death is always shocking and I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like for a parent to lose a child.
Life after death, resurrection? Wow, big words, big ideas. That's why anytime I walk into the room of a dying person I am always on edge because most times I have no idea what the people in that room think about life after death and resurrection. What does it mean for me?
Christians are still celebrating the feast of Easter-a belief that light overcomes darkness, life overpowers death. It really is an extraordinary thing to say. Maybe in the not-too-distant past in Ireland it was taken almost as a given that there was a God and so an afterlife. It's different today. There are those who believe in life after death and there are those who say the end is with death.
Poet Emily Dickinson, born in the US in the 19th century, in her poem 'I felt a Funeral, in my Brain' writes: 'And then a Plank in Reason, broke,/ And I dropped down, and down -/ And hit a World, at every plunge,/ And Finished knowing-then -'
Haunting words that attempt to capture that dreaded moment.