A couple of weeks ago, I encountered two funerals of people, both of whom died of cancer. In both cases, there was a painful parting of spouses at the point of death, as is usually the case. It was easy to feel much empathy for their loss. And in both cases, I was told that when the time for that parting came, the spouses who were going to be left behind told the one who was dying “it’s ok, you can go safely to Jesus who waits for you”, or in similar words. Both cases struggled with a difficult parting.
These sharings tugged at my heartstrings because they brought home the fact that this is something each one of us human beings struggle with throughout our lives – that tension between holding on, acquiring, attaining and the antitheses of these, which is a releasing, a loosening of one’s grip, and letting go. In the world of flora and fauna, there is a similar struggle that goes on. Only perhaps less dramatic and painful.
I remember having a potted Phalaenopsis on my desk a couple of years ago. This is the Orchid that also goes by the common name “Moth Orchid”. I acquired it at the height of its full blooming glory, and it had a most beautiful cascade of elegant flowers arching over my desk lamp. This bloom was very hardy, and it managed to keep its brilliance and beauty for slightly over seven weeks. By the eighth week, the flowers started to wilt, and one by one, the withered and shriveled blooms began dropping from the stem. But each one was clinging on tenaciously till the very last moment. If nature in its inchoate forms like plants show a resilience towards parting with life, what more when we humans are on top of the pyramid of creation?
Much as spiritual writers and life-teachers remind us often that life is not about acquiring, attaining, grasping, collecting and building up, but divesting, giving up, surrender and release, each one of us will find it a struggle, at least on some level, to make that final letting go. What makes it easier and less painful will be when the people around us give us their blessing to do this.
I believe that is what happened to the two dying people. What is a blessing in its deepest level? It is an acknowledgement; a permission; a validation; a giving of confidence and an assurance. Even a blessing of houses, medals, statues and holy cards have this at its deepest essence. A good blessing of a house gives one the confidence to live there, knowing that they are secure in God’s loving embrace and presence. A blessing of a statue imparts a sense of assurance that the saint whose image the statue bears will be praying for us, and that we are not alone in our struggles. A blessing of a crucifix gives us great hope that our carrying of our individual crosses of life is never something that we do alone, and that Jesus carried one too.
A blessing at death’s door by our loved ones does all that and more. It assures the one dying that they will not be forgotten; that they are loved, and that the ones remaining behind are in good hands – and give them permission and blessing to go into hands that love them far more ours ever can. The hands of God.