A very close friend of mine is preparing for the afterlife. Around the New Year, he walked down to his mailbox, and fell on his driveway. He got up, and fell again, several times. He is in his 90's.
He and I go back more than half a century. I served under him in the armed forces.
Over the decades we were at each others weddings, celebrated birth and naming of children, watched our young ones play and grow up together, worked with each other in the community of commerce, did Chaplaincy together, went to hear each other preach in our respective Congregations, observed each others holidays as families, sang "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during 7th inning stretches, downed hot dogs with sharp deli mustard and sauerkraut, and drank diet sodas in bleachers during the summer.
He is in a nursing home now. I visited him in hospital, and now nursing home since his falls. His youngest is a registered nurse. She tells me his legs are limp as boiled noodles. When I visit, he asks me to assist him with PT exercises. He cannot move either leg on his own any more. Increasingly, he cannot negotiate the major Activities of Daily Living (ADL's).
As a retired Deacon is his beloved Lutheran Church, he did his fair share of Chaplaincy in Hospice and Palliative Care. He knows what is coming up, and is at peace with it. People of faith have this inner peace about our mortality.
When I visit him daily, as I will later on today to watch the New England Patriots - Denver Broncos game together, I continue to bring him allowable treats (small boxes of organic raisins, bottled spring water, daily newspaper, and print outs of things we find of interest and funny). Earlier this week, I brought him printouts of Henny Youngman one liner jokes, and Burma Shave four line poetic ads from billboards decades ago. Today I bring him print outs of quotations from Karl Barth and Paul Tillich, two of his favorite theologians.
He loves G-d, and enjoys high level theological discussions. Last night he asked me about Orthodox Jewish ideas on the after life. Today I will listen with great interest to Classic Lutheran theology on this topic. We have mutual respect, a high mastery of heritage, and a genuine desire to share intelligent discourse. We enjoy each others company and thoughts.
By his request, I work with his Pastor, who I know from Chaplaincy interaction. My friend wants a traditional Lutheran Service when his time comes.
His young adults are not yet ready to assist in this planning process emotionally. That is perfectly understandable.
To muddy the waters, his oldest, a son converted to another Protestant Denomination, that of his wife upon marriage. His middle offspring, a son, stopped being religious after having his body ravaged, and his life fell apart during and after service in the Army in the First Gulf War. His daughter, the youngest of the three converted to Roman Catholicism following her marriage to a gentleman of that expression of Christianity. There is not agreement on how best to handle his spiritual send off among his young adults. He asked them to honor his request to crown his life in the same way and format in which he lived it. A person should depart this life as they lived it. That is their call. That is how it was when his beloved wife of decades passed on some years back. The family accepted this.
When he and I chat, in addition to reviewing ways in which each of our spiritual traditions are in agreement on topics of enduring concern, we also share memories of times past.
Times when we went to German-American restaurants (he and his wife attended Lutheran Churches whose services were conducted in German), and I ordered for all in German. Times when we went to Israeli-American and Kosher Deli's, and he ordered for all in Yiddish or Hebrew. In our times together, we confused more than a few servers.
There were times when our families spent times picnicking at the nearby Finger Lakes. Times of laughter, shared meals, children napping, and adults watching the sun set and rise over the waters. It is nice to recall the good times of lives well lived.
Once he asked me why, as a Deacon in his Church, the most religious and tasteful Christmas and Easter cards he got annually came from Mrs. E. and I to him and his family? Some of the cards he got from fellow congregants he found tasteless commercialized dribble. For him, not surprisingly, religious holidays were about religion, not economic stimulus or rampant consumerism.
My response is for the precise same reason that he and his departed wife always sent us the most religious Rosh Ha Shanah, Yom Kippur, and Passover (Pesach) cards we received.
In both cases, part of the people we are so close to are as they are very much because of the power of adhering to and living fully their faith and wisdom traditions.
You cannot fully accept them as friends and fellow children of the same G-d without accepting the value of what they believe and live by for them. Life is like that.
When his time comes, it will be the loss of this world, the gain of the next level of existence.
May we all in our lives be blessed to have contact and interaction with people of his and his family's caliber.
Amen Selah (So be it, for ever and ever).