Dear Family and Friends,
Who knows if it's time yet or not ? !
Things are getting deeper now because it's been happening every morning since Sunday, -- this feeling Francis has of being "torn between one reality and another, torn between letting go and eating." On Sunday he said it was "hard to take." On Tuesday he called it "a struggle," and yesterday he used the word "terrified," and "panic." He shared all this with Bill yesterday afternoon.
I've been witness to specific instances of Francis' equally strong pull to live: He told me Tuesday morning: "My own energy is pulling me toward living, if I can surface enough."
Then we had another feast Tuesday night in which he visibly reveled. For one thing, we ate special Christmas dinner leftovers. Secondly, I played one of our favorite CD's bought directly from Oud virtuoso, Alan Shavarsh Bardezhanian's Middle Eastern music at one of several concerts of his. We used it for part of the background music for Francis' unforgettable 75th birthday celebration in 2002. We had rented the whole of Bella Cuchina Restaurant on Congress St and had filled all the tables with special people representing all aspects of Francis' life, -- family, parish, priesthood, peace, yoga, dances of universal peace and just plain good friends.
And third, encouraged to reminisce by the nifty little recorder Dr. John Devlin (Francis' diabetic doctor) brought us on Sunday, and with the same background music entraining us into the glow of that special night when everyone in the room seemed caught up in a joy bigger than all of us, -- (Francis had given a little talk, Joe Brannigan had given a toast, and I had recited from memory Shakespeare's Sonnet 116, -- "Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments" in his honor,) -- Francis and I talked on Tuesday night for almost two hours!
Then yesterday, when Francis took his lunch of barley mushroom soup, fish, and some delicious "Seriously Seedy & Nutty Wafers," (loaded with...pumpkin, sunflower & sesame seeds,) which Ann Lemire brought, he said, -- "This is all strengthening food, isn't it!"
In mid afternoon I asked him: "What keeps you wanting to life?" "The joy is holding me here," he said.
And that joy was blissfully visible on Francis' face when Lynn and Lee came and Rowan came for our family time. Francis was positively beaming!! Especially when 5 year old Rowan climbed onto the other side of his bed not to disturb the "pee bag." I have a photo of her hugging "pepere" that Lynn and Lee want (Haven't even uploaded it yet.)
So he has a will to live. But he's bound to reclining in bed, not even able to sit fully upright without pain, even with two sources of pain control. And the cancer hasn't shown signs of easing.
So he's got a foot, literally, in two worlds. In the Hospice booklet this sign of approaching death is called "Disorientation." Bill made an excellent point yesterday, -- that perhaps it should be called a "different orientation." When Hospice's Chaplain Jennifer Mancini called, this morning, she suggested -- "an inward focus." Francis said: "Yes, it would be."
Lynn told us at dinner time last night when she and Lee and Rowan came for our family time (when we also exchanged a few gifts) -- that she learned from a very recent article in the New York Times on palliative care that some of the panic experienced at end of life is likely chemically induced. I'm eager to see the article. It throws a new light on Francis' dilemma. If his battle is chemically induced should he take a drug for that anxiety? Even before we knew of the NYT article we thought of that. But the three of us concluded another drug might not be needed.
Especially since the great blessing of Bill's visit resulted in Francis' and my realizing we perhaps already have on hand, very readily, the "drug" that broke through the "wall" he once faced until Ken Hamilton of H.O.P.E. visited and asked Francis to sing his heart song. Francis had known immediately what it was. After 13 years of being steeped in the joy of that Aramaic Beatitude, -- that's the one, and the other Aramaic chants he loves too, and hymns.
So we decided to be more faithful to singing our prayers together as we have done only spontaneously. Before Francis' bedtime last night I lit the candle Abraham Sussman made and, because Francis' energy was low, he asked me to sing the hymn I had chosen for my mother's funeral which also strenghtens me. Bill and I sang it for Francis yesterday afternoon:
"I heard the voice of Jesus say, "Come unto me and rest.
Lay down thy weary head, lay down, thy head upon my breast."
I came to Jesus as I was, Weary and worn and sad.
I found in him a resting place, And he has made me glad.
I heard the voice of Jesus say "Behold I freely give
The living water, thirsty one, Stoop down and drink and live."
I came to Jesus and I drank Of that Life giving stream.
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived, And now I live in him."
I heard the voice of Jesus say, "I am this dark world's light,
Look unto me, thy morn shall rise,
And all thy day be bright."
I looked to Jesus, and I found in him my star, my sun,
And in that light of life I'll walk, Till trav'ling days be done."
Francis latched onto the last line of the first verse, -- about being made "glad:" "I found in him a resting place, And he has made me glad."
I prayed the sealing of his sleep with this prayer-song would help him face down any possible terror he might encounter again this morning.
When Jennifer called a while ago around 9:00 am Francis told me, with her listening through speaker phone, that "Today it's still there. I'm very weak this morning. My energy is pulling me away from eating.....There's no panic right now because you're right here in the flesh to talk to, -- the three of us. This fact gives me strength so I have more strength to keep going into the outer world."
At this point I asked Francis if he WANTS to "keep going into the outer world," and he said yes. However, just now, he asked me -- lunchtime -- if he should force himself to eat. I said no and reminded him of what his nurse Pam had said, -- that it should be a natural thing for him. It's possible part of his decision not to eat right now has to do with timing: The home health aid is due here at 1:00 for his bath, and he needs to rest. He also said, -- "Not now," implying he would eat later. But it's clear there's a progression here.
Though it's also significant that he agreed to Jennifer's suggestion that she call every morning at 9:00 to check on him so "the three of us" can be there for him.
Before his final tucking into bed last night I anointed Francis' forehead and ears with the healing oil given out to participants at "Shrine Sunday" (every August) in Canterbury, New Brunswick. The beautifully simple St. Francis of Assisi Shrine (St. Francis being his namesake) is built on land donated by Francis' great grandfather more than 80 years ago. Francis was born on that land, and several times over the years he drove alone to Canterbury NB for that communing with his Irish ancestors."
So I ask you dear family and friends, as I did when I wrote the very first of these updates on September 24, -- Please pray for Francis as he gradually increasingly approaches the other world.
Francis' sister sent him a prayer she uses every day. I told her it reminded me so much of the beautiful prayer my mother taught me as a child. I heard my mother praying it too in the late 90's when her sister (my Aunt Rachel) died. When she herself was dying I brought it up and she assured me she had been praying it:
I'll translate, but in French it's this:
Jesus, Marie, Joseph, je vous donne mon coeur, mon esprit, ma vie.
Jesus, Marie, Joseph, assistez-moi pendant ma derniere agonie.
Jesus, Marie, Joseph faites que je meures paisiblement dans votre sainte compagnie.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give you my heart, my spirit, my life.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, assist me during my last agony.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, let me die peacefully in your holy company.
After maman died I read The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying and was gratified to see that maman had spontaneously gone through every one of those steps, using her own tradition, listed in that healing book.
When I told Jennifer this morning that even the company of good close friends tires him out (though family -- Lynn, Lee and Rowan -- does not) and that I'm going to be very protective of him now, she put it so well, -- "You're protecting his sacred space."
So I thank you ahead of time for your prayers! Lee gave me an important reminder last night, -- not to try to respond to each email. Know that I do read them all, and for now at least Francis hears your "Message to Francis" too, -- sometimes days later. But I will follow Lee's advice to free me for funeral preparations.
Francis has heard most of the details, and smiled at some of them, -- like letting people look at the VCRs of him following my instructions in doing one yoga pose within three minutes, live on TV. We had the privilege of doing that on Channel 13 once a month for 3 years. He was my star model yoga student there as well as in class.