Weekly reflections for those who tend to the dying
Thursday, May 7, 2015
Unafraid in the Land of the Dying
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On Wednesdays, my kid and I go to the cemetery. If it’s nice outside and we have the time, we out among the tombs and graves, and he plays. Bouncing from headstone to headstone and digging in the dirt, the boy loves the graveyard. For a child the land of the dead holds no terror, the bodies beneath his feet no fright. When it’s time to leave, the child pitches a holy fit same as when it’s time to leave Grandma’s or the park. He’s sad to go home because he has so much fun with the dead. We go to the Lutheran cemetery, which sits directly north of the Jewish cemetery and south of the Bohemian graveyard, just east of First Ave. These cemeteries are located here because this is the spot where the train line used to end nearly a century ago. It was the last stop for Chicago public transportation. In other words, the cemeteries were formed as far from the city and the living as possible without being out of reach. You can judge a society by how they treat their animals and their dead. We aren’t bad to our pets, but we want as little to do with our dead as possible. We like them just on the edge of our vision, the land of the dead a blurry haze deep in our periphery. Often the same goes for the dying, tucked away in hospitals or facilities removed from the land of the living even before they draw their last breath. Like the cemeteries, the dying are pushed just to the limits of our reach. You who care for the dying serve as a foil to this. Part of your duty is to open the gates to the land of the dead and dying and let a little life in. It is through your kindness, your bravery, and your love that people can become a little more like my child who walks unafraid in the land of the dying. Then they, like my son, can find a measure of comfort among the tombs. In helping others come to the dying, in helping them to stand by the bed side, we allow those leaving this world to finish their days well and loved, surrounded by those they care for in the land of the living.