“Dot’s very low … We’ve called the ambulance!”
Bert’s normally strong voice was quivering as he broke the news he’d been dreading.
“I’m on my way, Bert.”
I put down the phone, picked up the car keys and headed for the door.
Driving out to their farm, my mind was a whirlwind of gratitude, curiosity, anticipation, pain and the repeating questions and prayer: "LORD, how can someone who has lived so well; and been so healthy; get struck down with liver cancer? What can I say to these dear people? Please give me the words. . . “
Bert and Dot were pillars of the church; a chalk and cheese match that declared to the whole world that opposites attract. They had opened their hearts and their home to a whole spectrum of people who sat somewhere and everywhere between their own extremities. For while Dot was quiet, even-tempered and organised; Bert was – to quote his family doctor – “always jumping on a horse to ride everywhere at once!”
After completing his war service in the air force, Bert and Dot settled onto a virgin acreage of tall hardwood forest interspersed with coastal scrub; and they carved out a farm.
After about ten years of struggle; as materials and services eventually shifted off wartime rationing; they began poking quite large holes in their financial horizons. Raising beef cattle; with a few varied crops as a sideline; gave them a secure, profitable base for a hard-won, hard-working idyllic environment of love that pervaded their household while their kids grew in size and in numbers.
Now their nest only refilled for family reunions, but they had kept the farm going, as Bert learned how to work as smart as he had earlier worked so hard.
But today I had an ambulance on my radar, and my car was not equipped with flashing lights or a siren to clear my path. It normally took about fifteen minutes to drive to their farm, but today the trees and clearings swept past me. The car was gliding through the ceaseless stroboscopic blur of sunlight and shadows that were dappling the road front and rear; but I still ran a very poor second.
The ambulance had reversed up to the back gate by the time I arrived, and I raced up the path to the back door. It swung open, and I stepped aside as the blue-uniform of a paramedic backed towards me, gently guiding the gurney out through the doorway.
Strapped in, beneath a blanket, Dot’s yellowed eyes shone a strained smile in my direction. I reached across and gave her hand a brief, gentle squeeze as she passed me. I waited as Bert followed her out; flanked by Dot’s sister Lucy and her husband Alex; then us four fell into line, out to see the gurney’s wheels telescope with a clatter against the ambulance’s bedframe as Dot was gently slid inside.
A final kiss and a brief hug before the door was closed; and in no time the lights and siren were back in action as the vehicle raced back towards the highway.
The rest of the afternoon is a blur of going back into town and waiting at the hospital for an incredibly short time before Dot was gone. We wept, we prayed, we wondered. But we thanked God for his grace, as he had touched us in so many ways through her.
Later that night is etched into my memory. I went back out to the farm to see how they were. The phone was running hot as they contacted friends and relatives and made some basic arrangements.
Then, as we sat around the kitchen table and held hands in prayer, we sensed a move to celebrate communion together. With no formal rituals or sacramental elements, we paused – just as Jesus had done at his last supper - to ask God’s blessing on what we were eating and drinking, as we gave thanks for his doorway through the barrier of death because of Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection.
It was a blessed moment; all the more because we knew that while Dot was no longer with us physically; we only had symbols of Jesus’ love-offering; instead she was face to face with him in all his eternal reality.
Still so close, yet in a deeper dimension of God’s grace.
Bert, Lucy and Alex have all since joined with Dot.
I’m still here, for a who knows how long...
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