May 2017

Dear Beloved Congregation,

           Jim and I want to thank you for your kindnesses and condolences upon the death of his father, Gil, who passed away in our home on April 21st. The timing is significant – April 21st would have been his 71st wedding anniversary, and his wife died almost exactly one year ago, on April 22nd. I want to say that it was our privilege to care for Gil in our home during the last 3.5 months of his life, and that we appreciate the skilled care and support of Willowbrook Hospice.

In the beginning we shared meals together, then he and I would watch the news together and talk politics; Rachel Maddow was our favorite. Many evenings we spent time listening to his stories about growing up on a farm on the Eastern Shore of Maryland during the Depression; working at a button factory until he could join the Navy; serving as an airplane mechanic in World War II; his dream job as an illustrator at National Geographic; and eventually founding his own commercial art business, Emerson Art Service, where he and Jim worked together for many years – their favorite client the Dodgers baseball team. He, a lifelong atheist, enjoyed talking with me about religion, theology, and an afterlife; it seems he took some comfort in discovering that we agreed in our disbelief of the traditional concepts of heaven/hell.

There is a saying that people die as they have lived – and Gil died well. He was cheerful about his life, and peaceful about the reality of his own dying. He faced the hard facts of his body’s decline – and even his own suffering – with equanimity. One thing that made it possible for us to care well for him was that he had been so clear about his wishes for this time of his life. We had talked frankly about them many times over the past 31 years, and he was consistent in his choices. We did our best to give him autonomy in this final chapter of his life, and to honor his choices and wishes as best we could.

This is my chance to say that I’ve been a minister to families who struggle to “do right” by their dying loved one because they were never able to have the “…when the time comes…” conversations. And, I’ve been a minister to families who are able to say really good goodbyes because their loved one’s wishes were clear and direct. If you have not had this hard yet very meaningful conversation with your family members, I encourage you to do so, and I am available to help you. Please remember that I also have “Five Wishes” forms available, and am willing to meet with you and your family as you offer clear direction about your choices and wishes for your own end-of-life care.

While there is sorrow that Gil is no longer with us, there are wonderful memories about the past 3.5 months, about the past 31 years that I was his daughter-in-law, and for Jim, the past 64 years when he had, in his words, “the best dad I know of.” It was a time of loving care and supporting Gil so that he could die in the way he had lived: grateful for the fullness of his life, and with respect for the natural cycles of life and death of which understood himself to be a part.

With loving gratitude, Rev. Carmen Emerson