Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Goodbye, Nadine (Dialogue Column 11.24.09)

I wrote this for The Dialogue, the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO. Often, I'll post my newsletter columns here.

Last night Nadine Hatfield passed from this life into the next. So often, I only find out afterwards when someone has died, but in Nadine’s case word got to me yesterday and I spent about five hours at her bedside. By that point, Nadine was already unconscious, but she and I talked about her impending death for months, so there was little that needed to be said. As I looked at Nadine’s face yesterday, I kept thinking that something was missing. Yes, she was dying and a body looks different when life is slipping away, and yes, Nadine never went anywhere without being made up perfectly and no makeup was on yesterday, but neither difference was the one bothering me. I was there for a little while before I realized that I was in Nadine’s presence and she was not smiling. Of course, she could not smile yesterday as her body shut down, but I realized that I had never been with Nadine when a broad smile wasn’t spread across her face. Even during the pains and frustrations of the last two years, Nadine continued to smile and laugh and share her infectious joy with all she was around.

As the nurses, social workers and others did their jobs yesterday, each shared with Nadine’s friends and family about how much they had come to care for Nadine. One shared how she mentioned once to Nadine that her daughter was getting married and how every single time she was with her from then on, Nadine would ask about the latest wedding plans and share in the excitement. Even this morning as I went by Nadine’s empty room, a nurse shared with me how much she loved Nadine. Friends who have known Nadine for decades have shared similar stories with me. Nadine was a joyous person, but in recent days the joy was fading.

A church member recently mentioned to Nadine that I continued to pray for her in worship services, and Nadine responded with a smile, “Well, tell him to quit. I’m ready to go.” When I visited her on Friday, she told me the same. We made a deal that I could pray for her to regain mobility in her broken arm and non-moving legs along with peace of mind and heart, but I wasn’t allowed to pray for her to keep on living. We had many conversations over recent months about why God continued to let her live when she no longer had her independence and mobility. I encouraged her to consider that every moment her family had with her was a blessing to them, and although she accepted the idea, by Friday that was no longer enough for her. I realized that instead of offering Nadine comfort I was trying to comfort myself. As one blessed by a relationship with Nadine, I was loathe to let it end. Nadine, however, was ready for what comes next.

During our visits, I pressed Nadine on whether she had any regrets or things left unsaid, but she assured me that she had none. She felt secure knowing that her sons and granddaughters along with her circle of friends knew of her love for them and she knew of their love for her. She talked with me about how happy she was to have been married to her husband, how happy she had been to raise two good sons and two good granddaughters. She laughed about friends and their times together. She had no doubts about God’s love for her or about what would come after this life. As one of her close friends, Virginia Wissehr, remarked yesterday, “Nadine is graduating from this life.”

Shirley Evans came by yesterday and sang to Nadine as her body slowly shut down. Nadine’s body did not respond, but I believe somewhere Nadine heard the words. As we approach Thanksgiving this week, let us offer thanks for Nadine’s well-lived life and the many other saints we are privileged to know as a part of First Christian Church. May our hearts join in the words Shirley sang to Nadine:

We gather together to ask for God’s blessing,
to turn to a wisdom surpassing our own;
the pow’rs that oppress us now cease to distress us.
O God, be present with us and make your will known.
Beside us to guide us, O God we perceive you
ordaining, maintaining the power of life.
Yes, yours be the glory; let all tell the story.
Our God, be ever with us, in gladness and strife.
Grace and Peace,

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