Sunday we had a speaker between the two services at St. George’s. She’s my good friend Elizabeth Keith, PhD, a sociologist, a college professor, a healer, a Cherokee, and she spoke on how to respond to the dying as friend, family, or medical professional. Set off an interesting series of questions and anecdotes. Some of the dying speak in side references, she said, such as getting on a train or ship, crossing a river or the ocean. Some see deceased relatives or even Jesus in the room with them. A little boy spoke of how he was going to on an elevator with Jesus in such explicit terms her mother became frightened of taking an elevator. The instructions to witnesses are: reassure. For example one man was sure he was going to catch a train, but fretted that he didn’t have his ticket. Elizabeth reassured him by saying his ticket would be at the window at the station. Another woman knew she had a new dress to wear but was frantic about having no shoes. Elizabeth actually went to a store and bought a fancy pair which she showed to the dying woman, who then passed on content. Some people want their family around them, but others seek solitude and they take an opportunity when no one is around to quietly sneak out of life. It was a very interesting session.
On my way home, I was listening, as I often do Sunday mornings, to a country radio station that plays old-time country hymns and I was singing along to one (“I’ll fly away, O glory, I’ll fly away. When I die hallelujah bye and bye, I’ll fly away”). You might find this odd for a high-church Episcopalian, but I find this old music comforting. I saw a big bird circling in the sky down Minnetonka Avenue – and then when it turned and the sun hit its back, I saw the tail was white – it was a bald eagle. I’ve seen him before, but a just that moment it was . . . interesting. An omen? I don’t know, but it wasn’t a scary one. But it gave me to think, truly.