I wish the dying process were more like the movies — relatively quick without protracted pain or suffering — but it seems it’s rarely that way. It certainly wasn’t for my brother-in-law, John, as he went through this process a few years ago. He’d been diagnosed with colon cancer that eventually spread to his other organs and, bit by bit, over the year, his body deteriorated from the handsome, vibrant, strong man he used to be.
This process was more like a transition, like a hesitant young swimmer going into a cold mountain lake for the first time: the swimmer first wades in the water at the shore’s edge, and then comes back. Then perhaps he goes in a bit further…up to his knees, perhaps…and then comes back. The water is cold and takes getting used to, but finally he makes the full plunge and swims free…gloriously free! This seemed to be what it was like for John as he experienced less and less of “the shore” and more and more of “the water.”
A few years ago, on March 31st, at 6:30 a.m., John made that final transition. Though the week had been full of gray, rainy days, that particular day dawned with a glorious sunrise that highlighted Mt Hood in orange and pink clouds. It was as if that day were specially made for John’s transition.
At noon that same day, we gathered for a bit of lunch in my sister-in-law’s dining room that overlooks downtown Portland from the Northwest hills. Our hearts were heavy with sadness at John’s passing and yet light with the realization that he was no longer confined to a body that had wasted away. As we sat at the table overlooking the city, a sight appeared, like no other, before or since — a huge bald eagle, flying free and strong about fifty feet away, just beyond the house! I felt strongly that it was John’s spirit that came as a comfort and testament to the glorious relief and new life he felt. That image has stayed with me and is one of the special times that I treasure that testifies to the presence of The Light.