Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Saying Good Bye

One of the things about being part of a parish congregation is that you interact with people of different ages who are not part of your immediate family. Not everybody gets to do this, in our culture, where whole subdivisions can be full of people of a certain age with school age children, where older people move to independent living and assisted living facilities or even to regular apartment buildings which don't allow children. But on a Sunday morning you may find yourself at the communion rail with a two year old on one side of you and an eighty-two year old on the other. But living in this intergenerational community, this household of God, means that some people grow old and sick and even die. Cora has been a part of this congregation longer than almost anyone. For as long as I have known her she's lived just a short walk from the church. She looks the same as ever: wonderfully white hair in tight curls, pink cheeks, trim figure, gold earrings. But we've known for a while that she's not been herself, growing forgetful, reluctant to go out in public and we've worried about how she's been coping while wanting to honor her dignity and independence. She has no family here but her nephew from the west coast came a few weeks ago to help her move back west with him. Well miss her, here, and her pew mates and other long term friends took her out to lunch at Pietro's -- her favorite place, it appears, lucky guess on my part-- to say good bye. Here we are, bidding her farewell.

Meanwhile, just last night Ruth, another older parishioner died. She had been a faithful member of our early service congregation and of a Tuesday morning service which dwindled away to nothing as people became too ill or infirm to attend it. She was tiny with whitest white hair and a fascinating configuration of wrinkles which seemed to be the legacy of decades of smiling. The fog of dementia had claimed her several years ago but when I went to see her a couple of weeks ago she was just as sweet as ever, taking my hand, thanking me for coming. And she could say the Lord's Prayer with me, though she seemed pretty vague about who I was and why I was there. So the joys of being part of this multigenerational family have their sadnesses, too, as those who have been so much a part of our lives slip away into illness and into death. But they continue to be part of God's life, just as we who remain are, even though we miss them.