This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Windows into a week of dying and living

posted  on 04/28/08 at 11:05 AM

I’ve been thinking all week about how to write this post. The subject is unavoidable, but it is a different slice of my life then I usually write about. Rather then trying to give some sort of analysis, commentary or moral, I’m just going to share images from the week. The event revolve around my friend Dale (who I traveled to Vietnam with) and Ted, our friend, fellow church member and neighbor across the hall.

* * *A week ago on Saturday Charletta and I were sitting down for an afternoon chat when I got a call from a friend telling me that my Dale had had a stroke that morning. An hour later I found myself outside the door of the ICU at St. Mary’s calling through a list of Dale’s friends to give them all the news. He had developed a brain aneurysm that was leaking. The prognosis was grim.

* * *At the end of a long evening and afternoon, we stopped by Dale’s house to take care of some details and found his half drunk cup of coffee in a Ho Chi Minh mug he had picked out in Hanoi with me two weeks earlier. The beginnings of preparations for brunch were on the island in his kitchen.

* * *

I spent the following morning with Dale’s brother and two friends in the hospital. Overnight he underwent a 5 hour brain surgery to clip the aneurysm and prevent further bleeding. Some of the time in Dale’s room next to his unconscious body. Most of it in the hospital cafeteria trying to come to terms with what had just happened to our friend and brother. I ordered the Special K with Strawberries.

* * *

Monday morning after breakfast we heard that our neighbor Ted’s condition had significantly worsened and he was no longer talking. Seven years ago he was diagnosed with lung cancer and told he had 6 months to live. But Ted had defied the predictions and up until last fall he was still riding his bike around Chicago. When we moved into our apartment last summer we would often leave both our apartment door’s open and visit across the hallway. Over the winter his condition had worsened to the point where he couldn’t leave his apartment as his lung capacity dipped below ten percent.

* * *

Two hours later I got a call that Dale had been taken into an emergency surgery to remove blood that was pooling and clotting at the base of his brain.

* * *

After lunch we visited Ted in his apartment. He was surrounded by his Living Water family. I sat down beside George who was holding Ted’s feet and reading to him from the Psalms and praying. Ted was no longer speaking and his breathing was labored. The only sound in the room was the quiet hum of the oxygen pump.

* * *

Later in the afternoon a friend called to tell me that Dale had made it through his second surgery.

* * *

As the supper hour approached, Living Water members began lining up outside Ted’s door to say goodbye to him. We put our folding chairs in the hallway and opened up our apartment for people who needed to make cell phone calls or use the facilities.

* * *

Tuesday morning we woke to a knock on our apartment door. Ted had passed during the night. Would we like to visit with his body before the coroner’s came? A few minutes later we walked into Ted’s living room. The same Living Water family members from Monday afternoon were still there. Without the murmur of the oxygen pump, the silence was complete, but the prayers continued. There was a remarkable peace and serenity in that room that I will never forget.

* * *

That evening I visited Dale in the hospital. We stood beside his bed in the hospital room, held his hand and talked to him, but with no visible response. Four of us gathered at a near by Italian restaraunt afterwards and ate bread, pasta and lemon sorbet and shared memories of Dale.

* * *

Walking into the church sanctuary on Wednesday morning I found three chairs around a table with three candles and a box of tissues beneath it. I was reminded that I had only witnessed a very tiny slice of the vast outpouring of prayers and support for Dale and Ted that had gone on throughout the week.

* * *

Thursday evening Charletta and I visited Dale. We stood beside his bed and held his hand as we talked to him. We felt him squeeze back in response. I felt some of my muscles that had been tense for five days begin to relax.

* * *

Sunday at Camp Friedenswald, we gathered for worship at the end of our church retreat. One hundred of us stood in one big circle as we broke bread together and share grape juice as we remembered Ted together.

* * *

Sunday afternoon I talked with a friend that although he couldn’t talk, Dale had his glasses on and his eyes were tracking the television set in his room. I never thought someone watching television would make me so happy.

* * *

Tonight is Ted’s memorial service. Two Living Water choirs I’ve been a part of in the last year have been hastily reconvened. The first, an ad hoc group from Christmas, will sing an 8 part classical choral arrangement of Ave Maria. The other, our gospel choir, will sing “Rise up and Walk!”.

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