Grief in Community

"The door is locked! Why won't they unlock the door and let me in?" Peter was dying of prostate cancer, but the "door" was closed to him.

Fortunately, the hospice social worker understood the symbolic language of the dying. She gathered the family and friends who were immediately present and simply noted: "Peter is very near death, but there is something holding him here, and it sounds to me like someone has not given Peter permission to die. That needs to happen so Peter can let go to travel on to meet his God."

The youngest son emerged from the group discussion, went into the bedroom, and gave his father permission to die. Within a few hours, Peter went through the door!

Murray Trelease has noted in his work with natives of Alaska that "community is the key to the liberation of the dying" (found in On Life After Death, by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross). That was certainly true for Peter. It is true for so many who have the opportunity to make a gradual exit from this life. But I believe it is equally true for those who are left on the sidelines-the bereaved. At least it was and is true for me.

As my wife, Dawn, was going through the difficult process of decline in health, diagnosis of cancer, the many futile treatments, and the wait for her own door to open, it was the community that provided the key to liberation for both of us. We had been meeting with our Christian Life Community, Siloam, every two weeks for six years. While their very existence was an important support to us, their agenda came to include the specific question of "how are you doing with it all?" The "it" could include anything from one of the many pending surgeries or treatments, the decision to do no more, the funeral plans....

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1995
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