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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Battle Beneath the Grave - Resting in Peace or War!

By Basil C. Hill

I accidentally discovered the "key" to understanding the roots of legal and social hassles over people supposedly "resting in peace." People who die financially poor do not have relatives fighting over their legacies after they die. I made the amazing discovery, quite accidentally one day while doing hospital rounds.

I noticed one patient in a community ward staring at the ceiling. Next to him was an old rancher I knew as a child. Even though he was a bit of a flirt and had many children with different women (some of which he did not support) it was heartening, I thought, to hear some of those siblings say to him that they forgave him for the wrongs he did to them and their mothers. I watched the children hugging each other praying for papa. Next to him was the ceiling gazer.

"No relatives?" I asked. "The difference between me and him is that I blew all my money; I have nothing left for anyone to fight over." That hit me hard.

One day, I asked the stargazer: "Have you ever lived abroad?" "Been in New York for many years"-he replied. That was it. In the waiting room outside, I made an imaginary phone call.

"Joe Blow," not his real name "is in a public hospital. Didn't he work for the Long Island Railroad for over 25 years? Aren't they one of the companies that pay pensions to their employees' survivors for at least 10 years after their employees die?"

Within one week, family and friends appeared almost literally out of the woodwork. His sudden receipt of flowers, fruits, and health-juice cocktails obviously puzzled him. How could I tell him about my imaginary phone call? Did someone overhear? Guilt confronted me daily. The fact that I could not confess my error because of possible ramifications made things so much harder. Every time I went by the hospital, Uncle Joe had too many visitors; that made private conversations impossible.

One day, the former stargazer got worse until his speech was hardly discernible. I leaned over intending to confess my mischief. Since all eyes were on me, instead I whispered within hearing distance of one of the hospital attendants, "I hope he made arrangements for his pension and social security payments to be transferred for all of his years in New York." He opened his eyes immediately. As if the sudden realization of what I said injected him. He either coughed or laughed a mischievous laugh or both. I became a chicken and left.

Did he have a pension plan? -I don't know. Did I lie- maybe yes or maybe no. I never found out. He died in his sleep one night-hopefully peacefully.

TEN YEARS LATER. About two months ago, a missionary friend of mine asked me to accompany him to a nursing home. A self-employed taxi driver had been diagnosed with cancer. The home was filled with people whose faces were the portraits of pain and resignation. None seemed willing or desirous of continuing life's journey. All appeared in different stages of readiness to face an inevitable destiny. All seemed prepared-I thought-until we found our former taxi driver. He was scared; he was frightened. He shivered and trembled uncontrollably. He kept repeating how much pain he was in and lamented on the fact that no one came to visit him; he had no one to turn him over. He wept openly. It was sad. Immediately I reflected on one of my grandfather's sayings: "once a man twice a child." Here was a man who was at every ballgame. He was a regular at all the live shows. He was popular; had lots of female admirers. He was in his 60's; but looked like a forty-five-year old prizefighter. He ate heartily, not sensibly. I would run into him at restaurants-females in tow. His meals were lavish steaks, lots of butter, and the best and most expensive drinks deprived his saliva of their natural functions. As the reels of memories spun slowly from the video of my mind, I stopped the film in time to see a shadow in front of me--a shadow of who he was-diapered and bedridden. He accepted our offer for prayers, and even though the Lord took away his pains, he still cried himself to sleep. It was sad. The last words we heard--the nurses also--- were "Just imagine all I did for people and now, not one of my friends is here to turn me over."

I am comforted that the prayer he accepted was what Catholics call the prayer of confession, and what Pentecostals call "the sinner's prayer"-a prerequisite for eternal salvation. I firmly believe that every person should visit a hospital or nursing home at least once per month. When trains are rolling, it is easy to become complacent. With the aggressive competition for our time, space, and energy, most times we are too busy to think of anything except the "now" and immediate future. Since we do not hold the keys to tomorrow, it cannot hurt to peek behind different curtains of possibilities. It might come as a surprise, but not because we say "Rest in Peace" means the departed obey us. Sometimes their destinies are already sealed.

Suggested readings: "The Golden Fleece Found by Basil Hill--   

1 comment:

Ellen Cafferty said...

Thank you so much for this very touching article. I believe this article should be emailed to as many people as possible. Thank you..thank you...thank you...

Ellen Cafferty