How do you know, and when, and then what do you want?
Big, huge, enormous questions, for individuals and for churches.
After I wrote my first post about hospice and churches, my son and I had a long conversation, most of it based on my personal conviction that I am likely to choose hospice care over medical treatment for say, stage IV cancer.
"But where do you draw the line?" he asked. When you toss survival rates, debilitation and side-effects, anticipated events such as a graduation or the birth of a grandchild, your own desires in terms of both longevity and "quality of life," and whatever fears you may harbor of suffering and death, where do you draw the line?
I find that, absent specifics, I have no idea. One friend tells me about another friend of hers who has been living with stage IV breast cancer for years; she accepts treatment periodically to hold it at bay, but otherwise she lives and works and enjoys -- onward! Another friend of mine tells me about another friend of hers who is similarly diagnosed and has elected to proceed no further with treatment. She appears, at the moment, I am told, as healthy as either of those of us discussing her -- but she is looking at a very short time frame. And of course, like everyone else, I know countless people whose stage IV diagnosis has been followed by months, or perhaps just weeks, of surgeries and chemo and radiation and then, mercifully, given the ravaged body that is left, death.
I envision myself going from the doctor's office to the hospice center, learning in detail about all my options, and then buying our family's tickets for Arizona (we've never been to the Grand Canyon), Paris (Chartres just once more, please) and Florida. If I had my druthers, I'd die after having settled myself in a beach chair at the edge of the water as the St. Augustine tide ran out. If I outlasted my plans? Well, my own living room is quite nice, and the main residential hospice here has rooms with spectacular views of Lake Erie. I'd give away some stuff and some spiritual direction time, designate the recipients of what little money I have, and leave a blog filled with writing about and photographs of my final months (weeks?).
Idle dreams, perhaps?
The thing is, I really would prefer to die with some attention to the process, some awareness of reality, and with a view of a large large large body of water.
What does this have to do with a church with a dwindling congregation?
All the same questions:
Where do you draw the line?
How do you pay attention? (Linda Loman: "Attention must be paid!"* Well, yes, but how much and when and to what, exactly?)
How do you make changes, and what are they -- so that the life you have left, no longer to be the one you might have intended, remains full and rich and giving and loving and filled with light?
What do you do with your money? Your resources? Do you direct them all to self-maintenance, or do you offer them to something new, something different, something unknown?
What view do you choose? Pastel walls and IVs and an impressive array of life support technology, or the wide open ocean that promises something beyond? The church windows that you have loved and cared for, or the world out there whose needs call to you?
I don't know I don't know I don't know.
*Willy Loman's wife, speaking of her husband in Death of a Salesman.