Dear Family and Friends,
I wanted to share this email with you before the funeral, but I was too engaged interacting with others who executed so well our plans for Francis' funeral.
I'll add my post about our Washing and Oiling Francis' body -- after Halima's note here on that subject:
From: Halima Sussman
Sent: Thursday, December 24, 2009 11:57 AM
To: Elaine & Francis McGillicuddy
Subject: Death is the experience of a lifetime!
Dear Elaine and Francis
We are so touched by the reality of your love in action....................
Elaine - We send you our love and support. In so many parts of the world it is completely natural to stay with, wash, and prepare the body of someone we love who has died. It IS part of a midwivery process. And can be a part of what I call good dying. Good and healing for everyone.
When my parents died, I washed and cared for their bodies at home. We sat with each of them until it felt right and finished. hours. No reason to rush anything. It pleased me greatly that they were only touched by people who loved them, and that I could be present for the slow separation of body and spirit, cooling of body.
It felt like one more gift of life. 'Naked I come from my mothers womb, and naked I return therein.' It was enormously healing for me and my family. I still feel it all these years later. There is a real sense of passage that is integrating to experience and witness.
The veil between birth, life and death is one of the great mysteries. We ALL travel this path. As a good friend puts it, Death is the experience of a lifetime! With another friend, we sang her on her way out of her body. Quite an amazing experience of accompanying. Midwifery is an apt description.
All love and power to you both. If there is anyway we can be of support, (beyond our love and prayers) let us know. love and love and love,
Halima and Abraham
Elaine speaking now:
I was very encouraged by Halima's note even though it was written after my own clear decision to wash and anoint Francis' body with oil after he died. Francis also was encouraged knowing who the close friends were whom I had called ahead of time to be with me.
If you remember, there was a "nor'easter" that Saturday night of January 2. But the three people who arrived to join our niece, Jane McGillicuddy and me nevertheless were able to get out (Some couldn't) and brave the storm: Dr. Ann Lemire took a taxi, Bridget Franciose a certified Hospice nurse who had taken care of my mother when she died (and Bridget had never forgotten the daily scripture quotes I had sent to her mother as she approached death,) ...well, Bridget simply drove out, as did Barbara DeCoste, a friend of Francis' before I even knew him. So there was one doctor and three nurses with me. (The Hospice Social Worker Annie Blanchard had told me it's a good idea to have someone experienced.)
I was pleased to hear these medical professionals marveling at the excellent condition of Francis' skin and muscles, -- for a man who had been lying in bed almost all of the last four months.
This confirmed for me the importance of massaging and moving the limbs of a bedridden loved one. I told them about the massages Carolyn Ehringhaus had given Francis which so helped him he had surprised both of us by saying "This feels so good!" on a day when he had surfaced only a handful of times to speak. (That was on January 1, really only one day before his death, since he died at 1:25 AM on Sunday January 3.)
When I reported this amazement of our friends to Carolyn she responded: "Thank you for telling me this. I was also very pleased to see that Francis’ skin was responding, as on my first visit I feared bedsores (looked like the process had begun) but by the third I did not see this evidence. (In addition, Francis seemed to be able to use the body work for more internal purposes; that was another aspect of my third visit, feeling these deep internal shifts.)" Thank YOU dear Carolyn!
The date of death reminds me to tell you this story (by way of digression:) Francis had joked about wanting to hang on until his Social Security check arrived on January 3rd. Lynn had observed Francis and Lee bonding over this point. In fact Lynn told me when she shared the news of Francis' death with Lee, he said: "Did he make it?" Yes, indeed we think Francis had deliberately held on until I was assured of that check which would help pay for his funeral.
Of course we also heard him say earlier -- and I love to repeat his response to my question "What's holding you here?" -- "The joy is holding me," he had said. Not just the SS check, but the joy, -- the joy of good food, good music as we reminisced about special moments in our lives since we met in 1968. I believe it also gave him joy to share his journey as death approached.
We put Francis' body in a soft fuzzy thick single bed fitted sheet. This "shroud" was pale green, the color of new life. Before we put the top sheet over the bottom one, with Francis body enclosed in it, someone said his shroud looked like a crysallis, one of the life stages of some insects -- butterflies -- undergoing transformation. Chysallis is a very apt image here because it's Francis who chose Michael Dwinell's quote for his memorial bookmark. I'm attaching it as sent to the printer. Those attending the funeral got a final copy with photo, but I have extras at home for any who would like a bookmark.
While awaiting the funeral home personnel who had to shovel a path to our house, we four talked long time into the night, before and after they arrived.
I heartily agree with Halima that our ritual of reverently washing and anointing Francis' body was as healing for us who survive as it was reassuring for Francis who knew ahead of time it was loved ones who reverently handed over his body for cremation, not strangers.