Archive for the 'Death' Category

04
Apr
11

afterward…on the way home

Last December I introduced peace and justice activists, Mark and Sara, and their friend, death row inmate, William Glenn Boyd. (See: Red Velvet Cake and the Spirit of Christmas; In the Bulb There is a Flower; State By State )

On March 31st, Glenn was executed on schedule at 6:00 pm. The following day I posted some details in Forgive As We Forgive, along with my thoughts and point of view. Today, I want to share Mark and Sara’s thoughts as they drove home from Holman Prison last Friday.

Hello to all,

The sun is shining and the morning breeze is turning warmer. Rev. Megan is driving, Mark is sitting next to our son, and Grandma is entertaining our grumpy little baby girl in the back seat. Before we head back to home, we thought we would take a quick detour to the beach and see the ocean.

Glenn’s spirit has been traveling around—making lots of stops and visits. He is now free to go see loved ones he hasn’t seen in years.

We had a wonderful visit with our brother Glenn yesterday. He was in good spirits. We talked, laughed, prayed, and had communion together around 10:00 am. We even had a last supper together, around 3:00 pm. Glenn had requested fried chicken, french fries, tomatoes, and apples for his last meal.  He knew he wanted to share the meal with all of us, so that’s why he ordered some vegetables—to appease the vegetarians amongst us. They brought it into the visiting yard. We bought a couple of sandwiches from the vending machine to supplement. There were eleven of us and not enough food, so each just had a little bit…symbolically sharing the meal together. We kept encouraging him to eat the chicken and he insisted that we all share it and eat together. so we split up all of the food, shared and communed together. It was absolutely beautiful.

Be still and know that I am God.

I want to give a shout-out to the corrections officers who were part of the ‘execution’ team. They were so kind and compassionate towards us and Glenn—so deeply respectful. I would never have expected to experience God through them, but I did.

Glenn was strong through to the end. We left the prison around 3:30 pm. Two of his spiritual advisors stayed with him in the death cell until 5:30 pm.  They then moved him to the death chamber. His pastor and another of his spiritual advisors were in the witness room. Glenn was able to focus on them until his last moments.

We were out in a pasture near the prison, praying and reading psalms 23 and 91. Shortly after 6:00 pm, a hawk flew towards us and circled over the pasture a few times and then flew on towards the creek. We stayed, prayed and sang Amazing Grace. Just as we were about to leave, his pastor, Don, came to the pasture and shared with us that Glenn was strong and at peace up until the very end. He did not have any last words, but that is normal—most guys don’t. He imagines that there are so many thoughts going through their heads.

Glenn had written a letter to the victim’s family. His plan was to read it as his last words, because nine members of the victims’ families came for the execution, but was not allowed to do that. Glenn’s lawyer now has the letter and we will be sending it to the victims’ families. It was a short, but beautifully written apology. At the prayer vigil, while sharing about what a great and wonderful person Glenn was, Mark started to say, “…and Glenn was…”

Glenn’s brother, Billy, piped in and just said one word: “Amazing.”

Glenn was amazing.

Love,
Sara and Mark

*****

This account puts a very human face on what has been reported in the news. No gorging of food, no cowardice, no lack of repentance…only compassion, generosity, truth, and God’s loving presence. Sara’s letter ended with this postscript to her church family and friends:

I had a moment where I nearly broke down before entering the prison on Thursday morning, but I felt your prayers. One of the corrections officers ministered to me, and I felt your prayers through her as well. Thanks to all of you who have sent us prayers. They were…and are felt.

*****

Yesterday, at church, I learned that a few days before the execution, a bereavement card addressed to Mark and Sara was waiting for them when they returned home. It was from Glenn, carefully sent a few days earlier. It was simple and sweet…consoling them for the loss of the friendship they had shared together over the years. As I remember the weeks and days leading up to the death of my adopted daughter Bettina, I know how important it was to Glenn to be able to make that last gesture. I remember saying tearfully to Bettina, that I would miss her. Her reply was: “I’ll miss you too, Mama.” We needed to tell each other…to assure ourselves connection over the great unknown. Death, however it comes, is a sacred mystery.

 

 

Be still and know that I am God

Be still and know that I am

Be still and know

Be still

Be…

 

If you would like to contact Mark or Sara concerning Christian Peacemaker Teams, the death penalty, or other peace and justice issues, here is the contact information:

Mark Frey, Administrative Coordinator
Christian Peacemaker Teams
PO Box 6508
Chicago, IL  60680-6508 USA

Phone: +1-773-376-0550
Fax:   +1-773-376-0549

01
Apr
11

forgive as we forgive…

Mark and Sara are on their way home from Holman Prison in Atmore, Alabama. They and  pastor Megan, drove down to spend the few days of life their friend, William Glenn Boyd, would have before the state would exact payment by lethal injection,  for the lives he had taken 25 years ago.

“You have heard it said, `an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not set yourself in violent or revengeful resistance against an evildoer.”

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:38)

Some statistics rank the United States as having an 85% Christian population. It is astonishing to me that out of an estimated 224,457,000 Christian persons there are simply not enough souls who understand Jesus’ teaching—further, that forgiveness by grace given through the Holy Spirit are the core of the Christian faith.

In Matthew 6:9-13 Jesus gives us the mother of prayers, which we refer to as the Lord’s Prayer. Whether your Lord’s Prayer uses the word trespasses, debts or sins, the request for forgiveness is followed by a promise to forgive “…as we forgive…”

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”

“Forgive us our debt as we forgive our debtors.”

William Glenn Boyd served 25 years on death row. In that time he reckoned with his sin, asked for forgiveness, received it and led a transformed life. For many he was the salt of the earth and a light to the world  (Matthew 5:13-16). Yet, to the political system in Alabama, he could not be forgiven without just payment. Not much different from the Roman order of the day in Jesus’ time. Then, Caesar was god. I don’t think any of Alabama’s Christian citizens would say that Governor Bentley was God; nevertheless, if he is a Christian, the governor’s decision not to honor the appeals of this redeemed man was not in accord with God being God.

You can Google William Glenn Boyd and find quite a bit of coverage of the execution that took place at 6:00 P.M., Thursday, March 31, 2011. It will vary from sensational to respectful and include blogging sites. I choose the report by Bob Johnson of the Associated Press published in the Gadsden Times to include here. As soon as I hear from Mark, I will post a follow-up.

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948)


25
Feb
11

In the Bulb there is a Flower

In December you read about the Christian Peacemakers Teams, my friend Mark Frey and his friend Glenn who has been on death row for 25 years. The post was titled,  Red Velvet Cake and the Spirit of Christmas.

Today Mark writes to say:

Glenn called this morning, saying “It’s a bad day, brother. They gave me a date: March 31.”  That’s when Alabama (but really it’s our society) will kill him at 6:00 pm.

He was task-focused, trying to figure out what he needed, and wanted, to do before the end of his life. He was filled with regrets about all the things he’d wanted to do and letters he’d wanted to write before the end, but just wont have time to do.

He asked me to call his “soul-mate” in England, so that she’d find out about his date from a friend rather than through the internet. She took the news well: “We knew this was coming.”

“Yes, but it’s real now,” I said.

She and Glenn are devout Christians. She responded, “He’ll be with the Father, in a much better place.”

“Yes, I know that……” I said. Her voice full of emotion, she emphasized for me and herself, “He’ll be having a party, talking to old and new friends….He’ll be in GLORY!”   Amen!

Later in the day Sara and I shared with Glenn the hymn text from, “In the Bulb there is a Flower.” (The composer Natalie Sleeth dedicated it to her husband who was diagnosed with cancer soon after she wrote it.  And a few years ago Sara and I participated in a memorial service choir for a close friend’s father who was taken very suddenly by an aggressive cancer.)

In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;
There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

We’re still trying to wrap our heads and hearts around this news that we knew was coming.

We are trying to arrange things so that we’ll drive as a family to visit Glenn the days before his execution, and hold a prayer vigil while the execution takes place.

Please pray for an end to the death penalty.

If you would like to contact Mark…write a letter of inquiry, or one of kindness to Glenn, here is Mark’s contact information:

Mark Frey, Administrative Coordinator
Christian Peacemaker Teams
PO Box 6508
Chicago, IL  60680-6508 USA

Phone: +1-773-376-0550
Fax:   +1-773-376-0549

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.

05
Nov
10

what sense does it make?

I am an Anabaptist/Mennonite, not by birth as many are, but by God’s leading and my choice. The Anabaptists were so named in the 16th century for their preference for believer’s baptism over infant baptism, but that is only one of the stances taken by these brave souls. Central to the faith are the teachings of Jesus and discipleship. Jesus spoke in love and taught peace and reconciliation. This is one of the core values of the Anabaptist belief. It is not a core value of the social system in which you and I live. The tension is obvious. Search the gospels. You will not find a word from his lips that support violence or retribution of any kind, nor do we.

This morning when I opened my email I found this letter from one of the members of my little church at the edge of the city. He is one of several in the church who are members of our denomination’s Christian Peacemakers Teams. He and his wife believe people can change. So do I. So did Jesus. So does God. That is what Grace is all about. If it were not so, how do we find ourselves still here, chugging along trying to be better people despite our many continued failings? I am not talking about leaving the toothpaste cap off the tube or grumbling about things. I am talking about attitudes, behaviors and actions that wound the spirit in other persons—abuse in all it’s many forms. I have done this many, many times.  I once was blind, but now I see….

Here is the letter that came by email to my congregation this morning:

Alabama killed Phil tonight, November 4, 2010, to my church…

Tonight the state of Alabama killed Phil who was on death row at the prison where our friend Glenn is also awaiting execution.

Earlier this year Glenn was originally scheduled to receive a ruling mid-October which would have set his execution date, possibly as early as mid-November.   And then in August, Phil was assigned a death-date of November 4, and Glenn knew he would live to see another Christmas and New Year, because Alabama only kills one inmate each month (Phil in November) and they don’t kill people in December (too close to Christmas — after all, it would be un-Christian to kill someone so close to Jesus’ birth.  Best to have a little distance…..).   And then, in addition, Glenn’s court ruling was postponed until later this month (at which time he will get an execution date).   But if things had fallen differently, Phil’s execution could have been Glenn’s.

I Googled Phil, and this is what I found.  Phil has been on death row for over two decades.  The information focuses on what he did many years ago; who knows who he is today.  I have learned from my conversations with Glenn that people can change in amazing ways while on death row.   The death penalty is wrong because it denies the possibility of God’s transforming love for victim and perpetrator.   More on that in a later email or other sharing in church.

I talked to Glenn tonight, he was somber, as were the rest of those on death row.

After I hung up with Glenn, I went to sing Eli songs as part of his good-night routine, and Eli asked to sing “Alleluia, the Great Storm is over.”

The thunder and lightning gave voice to the night;
the little lame child cried aloud in her fright. .
“Hush, little baby, a story I’ll tell,
of a love that has vanquished the powers of hell.

Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!
Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!

“Sweetness in the air, and justice on the wind,
laughter in the house where the mourners had been.
The deaf shall have music, the blind have new eyes,
the standards of death taken down by surprise.

Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!
Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!

“Release for the captives, an end to the wars,
new streams in the desert, new hope for the poor.
The little lame children will dance as they sing,
and play with the bears and the lions in spring.

Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!
Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!

13
Jul
10

beginning and ending

The day started with what I thought would be an early visit to the doctor for a cholesterol blood draw, followed by a pleasant, sweet-treat breakfast and chat with one of my dearest friends.

I drove up to the medical building somewhere between 8 and 8:30 this morning, parked my car in the nearly empty lot (lucky me), phoned my friend to say that I’d be at the cafe shortly and smartly proceeded to gather my belongings from the front seat of the car. Oh, oh, no purse…everything else, but no purse! That meant no driver’s license, no insurance cards, no money and no credit cards. Bummer! I (not so smartly) phoned my friend again to say that I would have to drive back home and start again. She was gracious as usual. I was feeling the result of having been too pre-occupied with a challenging email I’d read before leaving the house to think straight. Multi-tasking had eluded me once again.

I drove home, picked up my purse and started out again traveling back the toll road route, which is faster but unpleasantly nerve-wracking. The parking lot had filled in a bit, but miraculously the space I’d vacated 40 minutes earlier was invitationally still there! Still more miraculously, I didn’t have to wait an hour at the lab, only about 15 minutes. What luck!

“Are you fasting” the technician asked?

“No one told me to fast; I had one cup of coffee,” I said somewhat reluctantly.

“Black? That would be fasting,” the technician’s supervisor announced.

“Cream and sugar,” I said.

“Sugar? Sugar? That’s non-fasting…write non-fasting and go ahead with the test,” the supervising lady replied, while keeping her gaze directly on her computer screen.

I was given the choice of right or left arm for the poke and so it was done. I got out of there quick without caring one whit what the test said one way or the other, and called my friend to say that I was on my way to the cafe, where we would have whatever looked good to us. Coffee with cream and with sugar, for sure! We had a fine time eating, enjoying each other’s company, and celebrating her birthday. It was a lovely couple of rejuvenating hours, then time to say goodbye and head home—richer and deeper for the shared time together. What is better than that?

I drove home along the same road I’d gone  back on the first time around. It was 3 hours later. I was mulling over some things we’d discussed, and generally feeling happy, when suddenly I saw a tiny, furry body on the road. It was a small kitten about 6 weeks old—small enough to fit in the palm of the hand—black with a triangular patch of white on its chest. The kitten was lying limply on its side with legs outstretched. How does an infant cat find its way to the highway? It wasn’t there 3 hours ago when I drove this road home the first time. How did it get there? Was it feral? If so, where was its mother or litter mates? Worse case scenario: someone dumped it out the window for whatever reason. This happens, I am sorry to say. Some people think animals can fend for themselves and are better off out there. (This, of course is never true of older animals who have had human companions, or of the young who haven’t yet learned survival skills.) I have heard all sorts of reasons for the inhumane treatment of animals. Humans do not yet realize that God is incarnate in every living thing.

I gasped as my car passed squarely over that baby kitty. In that instant I felt jointly responsible as a member of the human race, and my heart broke completely. Prayers for the kitten all the way home…prayers and tears and helplessness.

Am I an animal nut? No. I am not wed to the idea of  no-kill shelters or heroic measures for the diseased and deformed. There are millions of unwanted animals in this country. I am an advocate for spaying and neutering and responsible stewardship of God’s creatures, which would include responsible and compassionate euthanasia…not the gas chambers until they are dead that often happens in county animal facilities. I do not like to see an animal suffer, just as I do not like to see human beings suffer…do not like factory farming, just as I do not like warehousing of the elderly or mentally infirm.

As I remember that lifeless little body lying there, I feel a nagging sense of guilt mixed with shame and sadness. Although life is more manageable for us now with only 2 (perfect) cats, I am filled with an urge to add another…one not so fortunate as my Ben and Bella—the prince and princess of our towerless castle. Crazy…guilt driven and compulsive…maybe I’ll just pray some more for the kitty and for all those people out there with whom I am connected as a human being, like it or not.

P.S. There will be more postings about the wedding and grandchildren…and pictures too…eventually.

05
Jun
10

june 6

This is the 3-month anniversary of Adopted Daughter, Bettina’s, death—exactly 13 weeks. The few weeks following were sometimes numb and sometimes sharp, but I was busy with preparations for her Memorial on March 27. Once that was over it seemed like life became mostly gray and I have been slogging through from oasis to oasis ever since. This is grieving 101.

My big sister Florence, a mother to me, died 2 years ago of T-Cell Lymphoma and I grieved, but in a different way. My sister and Bettina were my cancer buddies. We understood each other…walked with each other. I am the only survivor and there is a deep loneliness to that. What more can I say? Cancer: I wrote about it on my website, inheritanceproject-2.com, Project 5, Dying to Live. Check it out. No sugar coating. I write about how it really was. Cancer…the Black Plague of the modern age. I’m thinking of doing a similar project about how I experienced care giving. How it was and what it meant to me. I’ll have to give this some serious thought. Might be too soon. In the meantime… Love.

My soon to be new grandchildren are coming to visit in a half hour. Darling Daughter is getting married. Life goes on. I will write about this too and show you pictures. Grace.

07
May
10

what could have been

I’ve been reading a new book by Kathleen Norris called, Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life. Ms. Norris is a highly acclaimed poet, and author. All of the words in the title of this book are appealing to me, even the word acedia, and that is because I had no idea what it meant. Acedia, I am told, is a state of spiritual listlessness, sadness, melancholy, apathy, carelessness, and lethargy—a pathway to sloth. Originally an affliction among the monastics and religious, it was considered to have the potential of undermining faith and sensibility. It differs from clinical depression in its spiritual orientation, but can be the precursor of depression.

After the first several chapters I came to see the funk I’ve been in much of the time since adopted daughter’s death, as acedia in varying degrees. This definition stops my free-fall state with a safety net of insight. Like a person ill for years and finally getting a diagnosis that it is not “all in the head”, I feel relief. The book is dense with messages for me on all levels of my life—from aspects of faith life, to matters of creative work, marriage, illness and death, I am infused with new insights to my own shadow side.

In the last few chapters of the book, Ms Norris shares the story of her husband’s illness and death from cancer, and her experience as sole caregiver, that got my heartfelt attention. I identify. That’s me in both places: cancer patient and caregiver. Her account of care giving, both during her husband’s illness and after his death speak loudly to me. I’ve been there. I know. I’m still there.

It has been 9 weeks since adopted daughter died. Not really that long in grieving terms, but my grief has a twist to it. As executors of the estate and caretakers of all things left behind, we have been stunned to find shelves and shelves of her life that she did not share with us—did not share with anyone. In fact, we see that she lived her life in serial compartments, like an old-fashioned rolltop desk. There is a quotation my mother would offer about not letting your right hand know what your left hand is doing. This could be applied. The problem is that the original comes from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:3) and is a moral directive to giving, not hiding.

What I have seen is a person I loved dearly enough to call daughter, who didn’t trust me, or anyone else enough to confide the many truths of her life that would have made the executing of her estate a far less messy and painful affair. But more than this consideration is that the love and trust she did give me was the best she could do. That says volumes. Hidden until the end. Every time she called me mamacita, she did so with the half she felt would not be rejected. “I would have loved you anyway’, I say to her memory. ‘I would have loved you and helped you make the crooked as straight as possible in the few days and weeks that were left”. If she were anyone else, I would be speaking philosophically and with a bit of distance, but because I took her as a daughter, I speak with the pain of not having been able to do all I know I could have done for her. This is a tragedy to me. Although I witnessed God’s redeeming forgiveness to her in those last few days, and know Grace was given completely, I feel a mourning for what was left out between us. I would have liked to give her the human forgiveness she was sure she didn’t deserve. But maybe in her morphine altered days, she knew it was there, and maybe she made that transaction in the shadows of her heart and soul…maybe that’s what I saw in her face as I administered the meds hour after hour with more tender love than I thought I had in me to give.

So what is the problem? Why does acedia haunt me like a child playing hide and seek in dress-up clothes? I don’t know. I am beginning to think that acceptance, letting go, and letting be is my spiritual discipline forevermore.

I hoped that by the time I finished writing this post I would have pushed through acedia, at least for a time. The estate is not yet settled and my personal sense of mourning for what could have been is not over. I do not have the sense of adopted daughter’s presence as I did with my sister after she died. I cannot explain this except to say that she never allowed herself to belong to anyone. Despite her promise to learn to hover in our lives, she does not. Perhaps there is a learning curve in the afterlife. Perhaps we are connected by this curve…she over there and me over here. Perhaps there will be a happy ending when my soul finally floats free.

Postscript: The deceptions we keep in our lifetimes may very well come to light after the funeral when there is little that can be done to alter them in any way.




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