I recently lead a funeral service for a wonderful family at Mountcastle Turch Funeral Home in Dale City, VA.  I’ve been in a fair number of funeral homes but this was the first with a large glassed enclosure containing five finches (small birds).  The enclosure, maybe six by five feet had swings, nests, a bridge with water and food on the floor.  As I watched the birds play and fly, I was amazed that they never flew into the glass.  They instinctively knew the boundaries and appeared perfectly content within their world.

Then it hit me – maybe this is what the limits of life are like and what death might signal.

Imagine that suddenly, a glass panel opens and we can fly beyond our confines as we discover they are just created limitations.  What a wonderful analogy of eternal life.

I can image a finch leaving the enclosure to fly and experience a beyond of unimagined possibilities – a time of unlimited happiness, free from pain and hurt and exhaustion – to become new.

I bet an eternal finch can watch through the glass seeing the birds she left behind.  I bet her heart still beats with love for them.  I bet she’d love to tell them about the great and wonderful beyond, and that she'd be waiting for them.

I’m so often asked what it might be like to pass from this life.  Maybe it's not as hard as it sounds to answer.  The finches have something to teach us about dying – about passing into a wonderful, unexpected surprise.  All we need to do is listen.
It was two days before Thanksgiving and I stopped in to see a patient that I hadn’t met.  I no sooner made my usual introduction – “Hi, my name is Bill and I’m a pastoral care volunteer” – then he said, “I’m not leaving until after Thanksgiving.”  

I was about to express my sympathy when he said, “That's wonderful; I got my wish.  I won’t have to be alone for Thanksgiving.  I don’t have to leave until next Monday.”

In the midst of facing a terminal illness, this wonderful soul found a place of thankfulness.  Hospice became for him a welcoming home during a holiday that most people would dread spending away from their loved ones.

I’ve thought about this exchange many times over the past few days.   I am humbled by how he accepted life as it is and found in it – what would be bitter disappointment to others – a welcome gift. 
I had been visiting with Mary for the past week.  She had the wonderful, genteel charm of a true southern belle, even wearing lipstick and earrings when she could.   As a Roman Catholic, the daily prayer of the rosary and a real devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, were a constant.  

We were able to pray the rosary together during a number of my visits.  Sometimes we’d say the prayers together, other times she’d listen to the soothing balm of the prayers – so familiar and so important to her.

During one of our visits, she asked me what I thought dying might be like --- she like so many of those at the end of life – know they are dying.  

“Mary, I think it’s like closing your eyes to this world and immediately opening them up on the other side where you’ll find yourself in the loving arms of God the Father.  And all those folks who have gone before, they’d be there for you.”

That was the last time I visited with Mary.  She is gone now.  Yet, in the depths of my being, I know that she is in the tight embrace of a welcoming God and is joined in the communion of all the Saints.