Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Conquering Death

Liz Engle is currently a Dominican Volunteer in Chicago at Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly

                I have a friend who is Greek Orthodox, and when Orthodox Easter comes around, she spends the whole day telling everyone she meets, “Χριστὸς ἀνέστη!” She is so excited about Jesus’ resurrection that she has to tell each person she sees, regardless of whether they’re Christian (or for that matter, whether they understand Greek). She wants everyone to know that, as she puts it, “Christ has conquered death.” This was, after all, the first gospel, the first good news that the disciples set out to preach, and which we are supposed to preach through our ministry. But how do I preach that Christ has conquered death to people who so often feel that death is conquering them?
                One elder lost her husband a couple months ago. The two of them met in a workshop program for people with developmental disabilities and had been married for 43 years. After she was placed in a nursing home, he came to spend the day with her every day. He was bringing cupcakes to her on New Year’s Day when he had a heart attack and collapsed in the middle of the road. She fought DNR recommendations and had him brought to her nursing home; the staff even moved her roommate so he could stay in the other bed. Now that he’s gone, she’s left with a new roommate and a clock that’s no longer set 5 minutes fast, the way he liked it.
                Another elder is terrified that she’s losing her memory. She writes a detailed daily schedule in her calendar, then forgets to look at the calendar. By the end of a movie, she is unsure of how it began. She once told me that, in between our visits, she can’t remember what I look like, so she always imagines me as the Channel 7 weather girl. It’s only a matter of time before her landlord evicts her for forgetting to pay rent.
                A third elder received a bag of birthday gifts which is decorated with images of hot air balloons. After we’ve gone through the gifts and eaten our cupcakes, she examines the bag, entranced. “I always wanted to go up in a hot air balloon,” she says. “Although I suppose it’s a bit too late for that now.”
                It is in these moments – these times when I can’t tell an elder that it will get better or it will be alright or keep fighting or we can fix it, when I am reduced to simply holding hands and acknowledging pains – that I feel I am most preaching the message of Easter. Christ conquered death not by fighting death, but by dying. Death is part of the story, and God chose to live it, feel it, and suffer it because God knows that it is part of our story, too.

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