10/18/2013 | Share this article: View CommentsBy Tania ~
Almost five years ago, I was standing on the side of a highway when a semi-truck came around a curve, its 53-foot trailer fishtailing all over the highway. I yelled at the man standing beside me to run. Another man, who was also standing with us, saw the truck fishtailing, and he ran, too. My car, which had been pulled over on the side of the highway, was totalled. I didn't hear the crash. I didn't see much of the truck that hit my car – the tractor was blue and the trailer was white, but that's all I saw. What I do remember clearly is what I was thinking as I was running to avoid being hit: “Hmm. I didn't think this would be the way I would die.” After realizing that I had survived, my next thoughts were about my parents – how, for their sake, I was grateful to be alive, because I'd heard and read many times that the death of a child is the most difficult type of death to deal with. I had a few more thoughts at that time, of course. One of them was that I needed to sleep with my stuffed bear that night – something I hadn't done for a good 15 or so years. Another was, “Thank you, thank you, thank you...” I don't remember if, “It is well...all is well...” was one of my thoughts at the time; nowadays, if there were to be a similar situation to that accident, the thought probably would be there.
I would say that in the last three years, along with becoming less religious, I've also become less spiritual. I'm not so sure I'll ever be a person who meditates, places crystals in certain places in my house, becomes a Buddhist, studies astrology, or helps distribute communion wafers. My guess – and there is a slight, slight chance that I'm wrong here – is that I will remain an agnostic humanist for the next 60 or so years until my passing. I'm okay with that (except in the moments when I become really nostalgic and wish things would just go back to how they used to be, or in the moments when I'm overcome with anger at all that was and now is no longer, or in the moments when it's all just so very sad...).
When it comes to death, I've seen quite a lot. There are reminders everywhere – sometimes sad, sometimes happy, sometimes just...there.
I think often of some of my “favourite” hospice clients I sat with in nursing homes, in the local hospital, or in their own homes. I remember drinking many cups of tea and coffee. I remember waiting in many hallways while I waited for nurses to empty bedpans or administer medications. I remember whispering what I hoped were words of encouragement to those who were in their last moments. At times, I remember seeing pain; at other times, I remember death being so natural and peaceful.
I was driving home from a restaurant yesterday, when an upbeat country song came on the radio. It was a song that had played during the slide presentation at a funeral – a funeral for Tatiana, a five-year-old girl who died last spring when a tree fell on the back of the truck she was playing in. She was rushed to emergency, but she did not make it. I remember going into the prep room at the funeral home, and this tiny, sweet, innocent child was on the table. The other staff dressed her and curled her hair. The casket was small, white, delicate. It was so wrong. It was so sad.
There is an overpass that I drive over a few times a year, and each time I approach it, I remember, “This is where Mr. Y. killed himself...this railing is where he hung the rope, this is where he climbed over, this is where the rope gave way....” I see the beauty all around the place where he died, and I am overwhelmed with feeling sorry, helpless, hopeless.
I think of Mrs. R, dressed in her Doukhobor funeral clothes, lying peacefully in her casket. And Mr. K's casket being carried down the church aisle as “How Great Thou Art” was being played through the speakers. And Mr's B's sister running across the parking lot, telling the driver of the hearse to slow down so that she could give him a can of Pepsi that was to be cremated with Mr. B.
I started to stop “believing” almost three years ago, and some time after that, I altogether stopped believing the things I used to believe. I don't feel guilt or fear anymore. I don't worry that I am sinful for doubting. It is well. It is well with my soul. Every once in a while, I stop by the cemetery, and I'm filled with peace as I think that this is a place where there is a closing, a goodbye to this world, a feeling of stillness that is a welcome relief from the chaos of this life.
The memories of working so close to death make me ponder; at times, they make me smile, or cry, or shake my head, or ask hard questions.
And all of this makes me think, too, of my own eventual passing.
On my piano is the sheet music for “It Is Well,” a hymn written by Horatio Spafford in 1873. Even though the lyrics aren't written on the sheet music, I can still remember bits and pieces of the song: “...when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, 'It is well with my soul'...haste the day when my faith shall be sight...it is well, it is well with my soul.”
I started to stop “believing” almost three years ago, and some time after that, I altogether stopped believing the things I used to believe. I don't feel guilt or fear anymore. I don't worry that I am sinful for doubting. It is well. It is well with my soul.
I have let go of my ideas about who God and Jesus are. I am not so concerned about following every teaching down to the detail. I know that my heart is in the right place. I know that I am trying my best in my relationships. I know I am not perfect, but I'm pretty sure I'm progressing. It is well. It is well with my soul.
I am in awe of life, nature, mystery. I lack answers to many of the big questions. But it is well, it is well with my soul.
I don't have a clear picture anymore of what my afterlife will look like. But it is well with my soul.
I see the world around me, the mess and the beauty, the happiness and the pain. It isn't so well out there a lot of the time. We try to fix it. We try to make it better. We do whatever little things or big thing we can to make life more bearable, more pleasant, more beautiful for others. Sometimes all seems well, and sometimes it just seems to get sadder.
We see that somehow, it is all connected...and we also see that all we are in control of and responsible for is ourselves, our own thoughts and words and actions. In the end, who we've become is all there is.
It is well with my soul.