07 August 2008

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me."

Cricket is still here, but just barely. She has stopped drinking and is just lying in bed now. Other bodily processes are shutting down. No more intake, so no more output. Her breathing is more rapid and shallow now. I debated whether to put this photo, taken last night, on the blog, thinking thoughts of respect for the dying, etc. But I want to share with people what the journey has been like, even up to the part where she doesn't look cute anymore. I did at least tidy up the towel (dirty from icky drool) in Photoshop. I felt kind of like a mortician beautifying a body. But I didn't touch up her body at all. She looks peaceful and dignified to me, if not altogether beautiful, in spite of how close she is to death.

I've spent most of the day, on and off, by her side, on a mat on the floor, reading, stroking her, dozing. I've taken breaks to sleep in my own bed, eat, do stuff on the computer. But I made sure to be with her for the transition past midnight. A silly little thing, but even if I miss her last breath while I'm asleep, I want to at least know what day she died. I'm learning through all of this, though, to give up trying to control anything. I cannot predict or control God's schedule.

As those who are dying prefer darkness, I've kept the lights off, using just a small clip-on reading light (aimed away from Cricket) after the sun went down. By its illumination, I'm continuing to read Johann Christoph Arnold's Be Not Afraid: Overcoming the Fear of Death. (Just to myself now. Cricket is sleeping or zoned out most of the time. The pain meds are keeping her comfortable.) I'm finding it very illuminating. Here are some good quotes from it:

"I have met people who say they'd rather die a quick death than undergo the drawn-out suffering of a slow one. Still, in three decades of counseling I've never met a dying person who wasn't grateful for the chance to prepare for death."

"There is something deadening about going through life cautiously -- testing the water, toeing the line. But there is nothing as exhilarating as living it to the ful. It requires rising to challenges that come your way, rather than evading them; sticking out your neck, instead of hiding in the crowd. It means daring to take false steps -- and leaps of faith. And the reward...is calmness in the face of death."

"Elisabeth Elliott points out that...there is a price to be paid 'every time we satisfy our need to rationalize such things as suffering. Once we think we have unlocked a mystery, we tend to close the books to further study. Unsolved, the problem captivated us with the challenge of discovery; shelved, it loses relevance and meaning.'"

Arnold quotes Solzhenitsyn (who, incidentally, just died a couple of days ago) as saying "the solution to suffering is this: that the meaning of earthly existence lies not, as we have grown used to thinking, in prospering, but in the development of the soul."

"[G]iven the number of people I know who have not only coped with enormous suffering in their lives, but come through it stronger than before, I have come to feel that maybe we ought to stop approaching pain as something purely negative. If we allow it, pain can be an occasion for redemption -- a crucible of sorts that may refine and renew us."

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