Our family has been in Houston last week dealing with the death of my sister, Kathleen - "KT"- who died suddenly and unexpectedly last Sunday night at age 59 from a pulmonary embolus. She had fallen and broken her wrist 6 weeks ago and was very immobile with surgical pins and a big cast on her arm. She lived alone.
Some other biographical details were that KT was musically talented as a youngster, playing the flute and piano and attended college one year on a music scholarship. She had a citation for having written a chapter in a nursing school textbook. Kathy was never married. Over her career she was an oncology nurse, worked in public health and mental health clinics and for quite a few years in the recovery room at Metroplex Hospital in Killeen. For the last 6-8 years she lived as the caretaker of my mom and dad until their deaths. She also worked parttime in nursing homes and doing home health visits.
Kathy was a Buddhist and we had a very beautiful Buddhist service for her on Wednesday night. This was the first time most of our large, extended family (Methodist, Mormon and Catholic, Baptist, etc.) were ever around anything like that. The local Buddhist church organization is called a "practice" and the building had an overflow crowd of I am guessing 150-200 people. At the first of the service, they chanted their mantra and came forward one by one to honor the deceased and the family. The chanting went on for about 20 minutes and was very moving, almost stunning. It was an intense, machine-like, rhythmic hum of many voices, followed by the ringing of a large gong. The sound trailed out over a long period of time. My feeble interpretation of the mantra is that it is a simple expression of submission to the incomprehensible "law of the universe" (which is, for us, God). After everyone was given a chance to speak, the entire gathering sang Amazing Grace.
We, her family, were introduced to a large part of KT's world that we were unaware of, as numerous people from her family of Buddhist friends spoke about her "ministry" to them. One person told my brother how during a crisis in that person's life, KT had gone every morning at 5:30 for 30 days to support the discipline of their meditation before the person had to go to work. She walked beside many people through deaths, divorce, depression.
My sense and my aspiration about how to honor KT will be to continue to encourage people to pursue a comfortable and meaningful religious faith and to adopt the disciplines of the faith they choose. The people I see who are most empty and in need are not the people who have the wrong faith, but who have no faith. Faith puts wind in the sails of our lives, makes frustrations and problems and disasters more manageable. Faith energizes us to be able to help hold others up as we walk the road of life, however long or short it may be. If we keep our heart and mind open, faith informs our understanding more and more every day. With regard to differences of Theology, large though they may seem, I am of the opinion that we should persevere in finding our own way and let God sort out the discrepancies.
Farewell, farewell ! but this I tell
To thee, thou Wedding-Guest !
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small ;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.
The Mariner, whose eye is bright,
Whose beard with age is hoar,
Is gone : and now the Wedding-Guest
Turned from the bridegroom's door.
He went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn :
A sadder and a wiser man,
He rose the morrow morn. 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner", Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1798
Jim Chudleigh, MD
Friday, July 25, 2008
More about Kathleen
Here's a far more eloquent eulogy for my cousin Kathleen, from her brother Steven: