A lesson from dying


Special to The Message

My aunt had just committed a horrible sin – a sin so grievous it had to be corrected promptly. She had asked my mother, “What are you aiming at?” They were caring for my grandmother, a teacher of 44 years, as she was dying of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The disease had robbed her of her ability to move and speak. All she could do was blink. There was a board with the alphabet on it in her room; and as my mom would point to each letter, grandma would blink if that was the right one. After my aunt left, my mom noticed that Grandma wanted to say something, so she started pointing to the letters, until, after sometime, the message read, “Tell her, never end a sentence with a preposition.” Anna Fern Duncheon was a teacher to the end.

In the two years it took for her to die of ALS, my mom and her siblings helped Grandpa care for her. They were adamant that she would not go to a nursing home; and with my grandparent’s five children living close by, it was something that they could manage. When, over a decade later, Grandpa had a debilitating stroke and it was determined that the best care for him would be in a nursing home, the five children assigned themselves each a day of the week, Monday through Friday, and planned weekend visits as well. That way, Grandpa would never have to go a day without a visitor. I would go with my mom on her day; and in the six years that my grandpa lived in a nursing home, he was surrounded by his kids more than ever. Not all children are able to care for their aging parents so gracefully. However, I certainly have visited my fair share of nursing homes, and it is apparent that many there are lonely and are not visited enough.

In November, we remember All Souls – those who have gone before us to the Lord. It’s also a good time to remember those who are near death, the elderly and the sick – people who, in our throw away culture, are often overlooked and undervalued. That is evidenced by the fact that 10 U.S. states and territories have legalized assisted suicide, something that reduces people to inconveniences and robs children of their duty to honor their mothers and fathers.

They gave you life; you can give them your time. Along the way, you may learn a valuable lesson in suffering and love.

Keith Hart is a First Theology student at St. Meinrad.