Monday, February 4, 2008

To Be Absent from the Body

My grandmother breathed her last at 5:00 am this morning. Until yesterday she had stayed very sharp, and relatively free from pain. Yesterday morning the pain got very strong, and as my cousin Amber worked to stay ahead of it with substantial doses of morphine, my grandmother slipped into unconsciousness. By late last night, she was breathing very slowly, down to five or six breaths a minute. My grandfather was in the room with her, and heard her stop breathing. He called Amber, then laid down beside her on the bed, with Grandma's hand in one of his, and Amber's in the other. He had been cold all night, he said, but he immediately felt warm, with the presence of God filling the room. When I showed up several hours later, he had a smile on his face, and was clearly at peace. "She's gone, and our prayers are answered. She's in the presence of Jesus, and her pain is over."

All through this slow, painful process of watching my grandmother die, I've been reminded of G. M. Hopkins' amazing poem "Felix Randall the Farrier":

FELIX RANDAL the farrier, O he is dead then? my duty all ended, Who have watched his mould of man, big-boned and hardy-handsome Pining, pining, till time when reason rambled in it and some Fatal four disorders, fleshed there, all contended? Sickness broke him. Impatient he cursed at first, but mended Being anointed and all; though a heavenlier heart began some Months earlier, since I had our sweet reprieve and ransom Tendered to him. Ah well, God rest him all road ever he offended! This seeing the sick endears them to us, us too it endears. My tongue had taught thee comfort, touch had quenched thy tears, Thy tears that touched my heart, child, Felix, poor Felix Randal; How far from then forethought of, all thy more boisterous years, When thou at the random grim forge, powerful amidst peers, Didst fettle for the great grey drayhorse his bright and battering sandal!

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