My tea is bitter today on this Ash Wednesday. I don’t much care for it without honey. Yet, it seems so appropriate on this day when we remember ashes and death. There is little sweetness in dying. It is usually painful, arduous work. Yet, I have seen the sweetness of death.
My grandmother, suffering long with Dementia and a body strong from a lifetime of labor, finally succumbed to pneumonia. As she lay dying, laboring to breathe, knowing no one, not even my mother, she suffered. Yet, a moment came when she ceased her painful breathing, opened her eyes and looked upon my mother with a smile of recognition and joy upon her face. She sighed, then died.
My father, a quiet, determined, hard working man who adored my mother since they first met as young teenagers, had lung cancer. He was literally suffocating to death when the chemo caused congestive heart failure. Now he was drowning. When the doctors declared he was to be released home with hospice, he smiled, forced out the words, “no, I will not do that” and died. Determined to the end, he even managed to stay until his dying would become unbearable to his family.
Death is bitter to those who still live. It is like tea without honey. We still have life but it has lost some of its sweetness. To those who die, it is often release from this bitterness. Our spirits, detached from the body which anchors us to the world, is free. Free to become one with the dust from which we are made.